Some years ago in a small group study, we were given a piece of clay and told to make a pot. Some created attractive, symmetrical vessels, while others of us (myself included) brought out of our clay something less attractive, more misshapen and lopsided. Mine reminded me of a pot I made as a child. My clay skills had not improved over the years.
Once our pots were made, we discovered that they were to hold a small tea light candle. At this point, I realized that the most artistic and attractive pots did no better job at holding the candle than my own lopsided creation! That was a good lesson for me, reminding me that I should not compare myself with others, for we are all created by God, and given different gifts, abilities and appearances.
But that was not the lesson of this exercise. When we placed the candles in the pots, lit the wicks and turned out the lights, we discovered how ineffective our pots were as lanterns. Other than a small amount of light coming from the tops of the pots, we could not see much. The sturdy clay walls held the light in.
You may remember the story of Gideon and how, with only 300 men, he overtook the Midianites (Judges 7). The men each had a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch inside each jar. Gideon instructed the men to blow their trumpets when he blew his trumpet and then to smash the jars so that the torches would shine brightly.
The problem with our pots was that they did not allow our lights to shine very brightly. The pots were well constructed, but opaque. How much of my life have I tried to construct my life as a sturdy, impervious vessel, able to withstand the various bumps and blows that life throws my way? My very effort to create a strong pot out of my life prevents Christ’s light from shining through me. Like the men of Gideon’s army, my jar must be broken open for light to shine out. But, oh, how we resist being broken open!
A life lived outside-in tries to construct a sturdy structure to prevent brokenness. If my attempts to be Christlike focus only on outward effort, I may get so caught up in “works” for God that I don’t let God inside nor do I let the light of Christ shine out of me.
A life lived inside-out understands that the light is the most important thing and must be allowed to shine. The structure thus must be fragile, permeable, cracked and broken so that the light can shine out. That is not necessarily encouraging to us, because we want to avoid suffering and brokenness. But what God wants from us is not rigidity. God is looking for cracked pots. They are the only pots that can be light for a dark world.