At the end of my last study I considered how our role in life is to be a worthy vessel, one through which God can pour out His goodness. The image of a vessel is used many times in the scripture, and many times it is to reinforce this image of our relationship to God’s goodness.
The notion of only being a conduit for good is in direct contradiction to a part of our nature. Each one of us wants to be inventors, artists, performers, athletes…someone who creates something and does it all on their own and receives all the credit for it. We desire fame and recognition, and wish for other people to call us good.
Yet even Jesus refused to be recognized as such (Mark 10:18). If the only perfect man that ever lived testified that even he was merely a conduit for the goodness of God, then perhaps we ought to start recognizing the great honor that is in that calling.
2 Kings 4:2-7
And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.
Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.
And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full.
So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out.
And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.
Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.
Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil
She shut the door upon her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out
The handmaid had nothing but a single pot of oil in her house. It was all that she gave God to work with, but it was more than enough. For it wasn’t the pot that mattered, just so long as it was a container from which blessings could flow. Once blessed by the hand of God that pot was able to not only fill itself, but also every other vessel it came in contact with.
When God asks to work through us we might feel that we are little more than a simple pot as well. It is easy for us to say that we don’t contain enough goodness or capability to fill the soul of another, but frankly we don’t have to. In and of itself, the pot didn’t have enough either, but somehow it found its extra oil in the giving of what it had. So long as another vessel was present and the oil pot tried to share with it, God made up the difference.
Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live
The oil pays our debts and lets us live. The grace of God that flows through us and into others also purifies our own hearts and absolves us of our sins. It is an astounding charity of God, for He performs the miracle, but then rewards us as if it had been our own merit.
We do not have to create the oil, we just have to be willing to pour.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Ye make clean the outside of the cup, but within they are full of extortion and excess
Jesus’s condemnation of trying to only clean the exterior rings all too true for me. I would vigorously endeavor to put on a shining appearance, while holding to vice and doubt within. I wanted people to think that I was a Godly person, while privately keeping Him at arms length.
Cleanse first that which is within the cup, that the outside of them may be clean also
This first hypocrisy I was aware of, even at the time, yet there was another fault in my discipleship that I did not recognize until performing this very study. I have also polished my exterior in terms of trying to “make myself useful” to God. I, and others like me, put a lot of effort into trying to be intelligent, well-spoken, and persuasive, hoping that this will allow us to champion God’s cause in a bold and eloquent manner.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong in trying to be a more convincing person, but I have seen in myself how it can become a distraction. I can be so concerned with being able to say things well, that I forget to gain a personal testimony of the things I am even trying to say! This is once again cleaning the outer vessel only.
The best preparation for communicating the gospel is by living it earnestly and whole-heartedly, without worrying about what the external appearance will be. As Jesus promises, those that first clean themselves within will find that the outside takes care of itself. I have seen how those that simply try to purify their hearts end up also becoming more intelligent, kind, and sincere without even trying.
Matthew 5:16, 3 Nephi 18:24
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
Let your light so shine before men
Previously I shared how I have seen in myself a desire to become a powerful champion of the gospel, and that I have done so by working on the qualities of persuasion that the world seems to value. Whenever I encounter a religious question, I rack my brain, trying to come up with the “correct” answer. Thus I perceive spiritual discussion as a sort of performance sport, one where I need to be powerful enough to push my theologies more strongly than any others. In all this I have tried to let my light shine…and tragically misunderstood the actual meaning of that scripture.
Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up
Because God is not asking us to pump the crank on our own sixty watt bulb. Frankly that light is insufficient to do anyone any lasting good. Even if I did manage to wrest up a convincing enough argument to satisfy one soul at one time, I would never be able to feed 5,000 this way.
Also, I rather suspect that God has little respect for our worldly debates and arguments, competitions where his children use the guise of “proclaiming the truth” to indulge their own egos.
This is not the shining forth that God ever intended for us to do. He intends for us to hold up His light, He wants us to say His words, He wants us to rely on His intelligence. Not ours. The next time I encounter a religious question I am going to suppress my default instinct to cast around in my intellect for the ‘right answer’ and instead humbly ask Him “what would you say?”
Acts 9:15, 1 Corinthians 1:28
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me
When Ananias protested going to bless Saul, God informed him that the man was a “chosen vessel,” and indeed one can see how Saul would be considered a powerful asset to God’s cause. He was intelligent, effective, and tireless in his pursuits, even if those pursuits were momentarily pointed in the wrong direction.
And yet the man that Ananias found in need of a blessing must have been a far cry from the self-powerful tyrant that he had been afraid of. For at this point Saul had had his preconceptions of God shattered, been rebuked by the true Lord, completely blinded, and left to wallow three days and three nights without either food or water. In short, God had broken the vessel that Saul once was, and the “chosen vessel” that he referred to, was going to be a new creature. One that would be called Paul.
And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen
Paul himself later avowed that God did His work with the base and the despised, the humbled and the broken. He spoke of how the “foolishness” of God was greater than the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1: 25). He knew this because he had been directly at the receiving end of it! While still wise in the ways of the world, he had been broken by the same Savior he had voraciously denied. And now he had thrown in his lot with those that he once considered “base and despised.”
In short, Saul, the brittle vessel could not have done anything for God, only Paul, the humbled clay could. It has been said that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. He has no need for our power, only for our will.
John 2:3, 4, 6-10
And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim
The ruler of the feast tasted the water that was made wine
I have mentioned previously that God is able to use us in ways that exceed our capabilities, we do not have to wait until we are perfect before we can serve a role in His kingdom. But…we do need to provide Him something to work with.
Jesus did not make wine out of thin air, he ordered that the empty pots be filled with water first. He did not make enough food to feed 5,000 out of nothing either, he gathered what fish and bread was available, and then made do with it. Elisha did not bless sheer emptiness to produce the ceaseless oil, he expanded the output of one pot that already held some. Moses couldn’t speak eloquently…but he could speak. Peter did not know how to fish for men…but he did know how to fish.
God is similarly not going to wield you out of nothing either. Meaning that while you do not have to be perfect, you do need to be trying. He expects you to put forth what little you can, even if it is only a pot of water or a few little fishes. He can work with that and expand it to meet the need.
2 Timothy 2:21, 1 Corinthians 3:16
If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
If a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, meet for the master’s use
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
As we have examined, we are the vessel only, and God is the goodness that pours forth. But this does not remove all responsibility from us. For if God is going to use us in His work, then He needs us to be clean. When we do try to do good while living in sin, it is like pouring water out of a pot whose inside is lined with rotting meat.
I have tried to live a double life in my past, making a great fuss about helping others while also nursing addictions on the side. It just didn’t work. My heart couldn’t be in it, and none of my efforts ever brought the Spirit of God into the moment. I would do polite things, and the recipient would politely thank me, but all we felt was a spiritual vacuum.
Bad habits need to be changed, lingering addictions need to be fought, harm to others need to have restitution made. We need to scrub off what we can, and let Him scrub off what we can’t. Obviously God is not expecting you to achieve perfection before He starts using you as His vessel, but He is waiting for you to take the steps of repentance. Then, even if you are still not perfect in all things you can still be perfectly clean, washed by the atonement of His son.
John 5:19, 1 John 4:19
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
We love him, because he first loved us.
The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do
Each one of us has seen others doing good, and even been the recipients of that good. And having experienced this, naturally we desire to do good things to others, and we try to follow the pattern of those that showed us the example.
But those that did the good things to us were themselves only following the example of others who previously did good to them, and so on and so on. Each of these paths of goodness ultimately leads to the same singular source. As Jesus taught, even he only followed the example of his father. His proclamation is total: the son can do nothing of himself. He does not say that the Father taught one virtue and that then he, Jesus, riffed his own new ones off of it, he claims that any good act done on earth first had its template written in heaven.
We love him, because he first loved us
I have seen the truth of that in my own life. For many years I was fully capable of fearing God, but I couldn’t sincerely love Him until I felt His own love bursting into my soul. I had wanted to love Him, but I had to have Him teach me how. As Graham Cooke so eloquently put it: God loves us first, and then He allows us to love Him back with that love.
Isaiah 45:9 (NIV), Jacob 4:9-10
Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?
For behold, by the power of his word man came upon the face of the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word. Wherefore, if God being able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created, O then, why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure?
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.
Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?
It is against our nature to be commanded by another. We seek to be independent, to do all things according to our own choosing. This is inherently a good thing, as God expects us to take the initiative for many things in our lives.
Yet at times this attitude can be taken into our relationship with Him, which is never appropriate. It is well for us to have and act upon our own ideas, but when God says He has another path in mind, we must remember who is still the master here.
If God being able speak and man was created, then why not able to command the workmanship of his hands?
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.
Because in the end, we already are His vessels, and no matter of gaining power and capability will ever change that fact. The greatest men and women that ever lived are still raw clay that He breathed life into. Thus we do not need to become His creations, we only need to become His obedient creations. God has given us our independence, but if we are living right, we are using it to submit back to Him.
Exodus 4:10-12, Ether 12:27
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.
And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Who hath made man’s mouth? have not I the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth.
We have considered how being the Lord’s vessel requires us to not be proud, and to not take our own counsel over His. But we can also take things too far the other way. We must not let our doubt of self prevent us from doing His work either.
God was the one that made Moses’s mouth weak in the first place, so surely he could also make it strong when the time called for it. It is a hard thing for clay to change its own shape, but effortless for the potter to mold it into what it needs to be.
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble
If they humble themselves, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong
And Moses having been fashioned first with a slow mouth was probably not a coincidence. God wants us to learn that He makes the man, not that the man makes himself. And to teach us this lesson He often holds something back, something which He is willing to give if we come to Him in humility and ask for it.
So never mind the fact that you have a weakness, go to the source of strength and boldly commit to be His vessel, even in the things you feel inadequate to do. That means taking a leap of faith, and it is unquestionably a scary thing to do!…But only then, while still mid-flight, do you get to feel the touch of the Master’s hand. It is remaking you.
I have often worried about not being “good enough” to be useful to God. I have also heard that exact fear from others, even as I saw them doing wonderful things in His name. These experiences have convinced me that we often have a deep misunderstanding of what it actually means to serve God.
I believe that there are many who are perfectly ready to be an instrument in God’s hands, but are simply uncertain of how to behave as such. It is not only our sins that we must overcome in the path of discipleship, it is also our ignorance.
I wanted to conduct this study to see how one is meant to be of use to their Maker and their fellowman. What is required of us? What is not? How does one overcome feelings of inadequacy? Over the last several days I have found some governing principles which can help gauge what sort of vessel one is preparing themselves to be.
The Vessel of God Must be Clean
There are no prerequisites to coming to God. No matter where you are at in life, the next step to approaching Him is already before you. There are, however, prerequisites to becoming his servant. The path of discipleship exists in two halves. The first is one of seeking forgiveness, being washed clean, and made ready to receive the Spirit of God. The second is being worked upon by that Spirit to do God’s work and help our fellow man.
Now yes, these two halves of discipleship are mingled with one another. One does not seek forgiveness only once. One repeats that first process many times, even after getting started on the second walk of discipleship. Even so, there is a first time of coming to God, where one lets go of all their worldly ways, and commits to a life of forever “trying again.” Often this initial purifying is symbolized by the ordinance of baptism. Every repentance afterwards is then to simply return to that first commitment.
Once one has entered into that pact with God sincerely, then they are cleansed by the Spirit, and made ready to do His work. It is true that all people can strive to do good things to their fellowman, regardless of whether they are trying to do it with God or not. They can work to be a sincerely good person in their own right. But they cannot be His agent to do His good until they have let Him clean them and have taken upon them His Spirit.
John 13:4-8- He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
The Vessel of God Must Be Willing
There are those that would confess their sins, partake of the emblems of Christ, enjoy the blessings of being cleansed, and then stop there. Many of us come to the gospel out of a desperation for forgiveness, not out of a burning desire to do service.
And perhaps that is sufficient reason to begin, but we misunderstand the whole point of Christ’s doctrine if we try to limit ourselves to these initial steps only. We are not just meant to be cleansed, we are to be cleansed for a purpose. If our faith is geared towards returning our soul to God that is good, but it is supposed to be geared towards bringing back many others to Him as well.
Of course the desire to do this work is not something that we have to try and muster up within us. It doesn’t work to “make” yourself want to serve others. Rather this is the result of God’s purifying us with His Spirit. That Spirit does not only expunge our sins, it puts desires into our hearts that were never there before. It lights a fire that makes us want to be useful to God and our fellow-man.
Ezekiel 36:26- A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
2 Timothy 2:21- If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
The Vessel of God Does not Have to be Powerful
But as we feel that desire to be useful to God, we might naturally question whether we even can be. We might desperately wish to serve Him, but hesitate because of our own flaws. We might think that after we have made ourselves smarter, wiser, or more convincing we will finally be ready to do His work. We think to ourselves ‘how can I accomplish His purposes when I still don’t even have my own life figured out yet?’
There is a half-truth to all of this, because yes, to be perfectly honest, we are flawed and we are inadequate. We, ourselves, are genuinely not sufficient to do the work of God. That much is true.
But there are two things to remember. One is that the growth of character we desire does not come first and then the service of God second. It is actually the other way around. By trying to do the service that we are inadequate for, we grow to become the sort of person who can do it. Though that growth which we will experience is not enough to qualify us to ever do this work alone.
And that is the second thing to remember: that no one is sufficient to do God’s work. Not your far more successful neighbor, not the future you that has figured everything out. It is called “God’s work” because it is His work to do. He does not ask you to do His tasks, He asks you to let Him do them through you. And no matter how personally powerful you might ever be, it will always remain His miracle that you can bless the lives of yourself, your loved ones, the circle of all those about you, and return glory to His name.
3 Nephi 18:24- Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
Exodus 4:11-12- And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.