As a young believer, I had the habit of writing in the front of my Bible any sayings I came across which I felt would be of help to my spiritual growth. One of the many was “God only uses Broken Vessels, but He must have all the pieces”. At first glance it seems a contradictory statement, and certainly not true to our natural way of thinking, but we have learnt from experience that it’s true. We came home the other day to find the rope on our macramé basket had rotted, letting the lovely clay pot it was holding fall to the ground, leaving it smashed into many pieces. How we longed to put it back together, but realized it was impossible, so we had no option but to throw out the pot. Not so with our God — He delights in putting each piece back in place, to make a vessel perfectly fitted for the use He has for it.
Now over 40 years later, with 23 of those years on the mission field, this saying has a lot of meaning in our lives. We have seen God at work, breaking and mending us, so we can be fit to do the work He has given us to do. No doubt Satan is out to destroy us, but our loving God allows this process as He knows it will strengthen and establish our faith in Him, and thus mould us more into the image of His Son, and fit us better for His service.
I think maybe the first piece that God takes up is a big piece of patience. We like to see quick results, even in missionary work. Waiting for us is so hard, but the One who inhabits eternity says, “Wait on Me, I will do my work in my time, just be faithful in doing your small part, living and preaching Christ.” When we started the work in El Vigia in 2005, we had expectations of seeing an assembly established in a few years — but it wasn’t until January 2015 that we saw this desire fulfilled. The words of James became a reality to us: “the trying of your faith works patience (perseverance). But let patience have her perfect work” (1:3,4) and “Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it. Be ye also patient” (5:7,8). Although we may not see the full fruit of our labours, we must labour on with continual perseverance, steadfast in the work of the Lord, knowing that He also is waiting for the day when the full harvest will be taken in. We have had to learn patience in everyday living in this country as well, as you stand in line to pay a bill, to be served at the checkout, and to spend hours waiting to fill the car with fuel, or refill your gas cylinder.
After the piece of patience has been put in place, a piece of joy and hope is added, as we see the results of years of teaching children the Word of God, and preaching the good news of salvation. What a joy to see young souls trusting Christ, followed by transformed lives, and then publicly obeying their Lord in baptism and being joined to the company of believers to enjoy fellowship together. This piece of the jar we like so much, especially when after ten years of labour a local testimony to the grace of God is established in a community. What a joy to also see the gift being developed, as these new converts begin to testify to others, and are able to preach and teach others the truths they have learned.
Next we see God take up a piece of disappointment as He prepares this jar for His use. We would rather throw this piece away, but due to our expectations and failures, this is a piece that must be added to complete the jar. One of the biggest disappointments for a missionary is to see people professing faith in Christ, then to see them fall away after a few months. When that child, whom you saw saved as a result of years of children’s work, and who is pressing on for God, has to move to another city to further studies. When that brother, whom you had helped so much and was such a help in the assembly, stumbles and falls into a moral sin. When that young couple, whom you baptised and were helping in the work, move to another country to seek a better financial future. These are just a few of the things that happen that cause disappointment, because we want the work to grow, and it goes against our desires and expectations, but it is an inevitable part of the completion of this vessel.
Another essential piece that God himself adds to this jar is a piece of love and compassion. What was
it that moved our Saviour to come to this world and give His life as a ransom for us? Love divine all loves excelling — this same love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, to motivate us to give our lives to Him, for the benefit of others. The entire sin-stricken world abounds with need, but here are some of the ones that confront us daily in this country. First and foremost, the greatest need is that minds, blinded by sin and religion, might be enlightened to their need of God’s salvation. Primarily we are moved to bring these glad tidings to them. Over recent years we have witnessed significant economic decline, causing many families to be able to only eat once a day. For some it may be potatoes, for others yucca or bananas, or maybe just a plate of rice or pasta with nothing to go with it. It is impossible for us to meet the needs of all, but we have been moved to provide a food parcel on a regular basis, to all the families in fellowship, in the states of Merida and Trullijo. God is faithful, and his people, moved by compassion, have wonderfully helped to meet the needs of many families. Only our God knows how many people have died, simply because the medicine they needed was not available, or the price was way out of their reach. Praise God for the believers from neighbouring countries, and from those overseas, who have sent these medicines and money to purchase them, to meet the needs of Christians, enabling them to live a better life.
Could a piece of anger be added to this jar? I guess if ‘God is angry with the wicked everyday’, then a controlled burning displeasure that arises in our hearts, as we witness so much injustice and corruption, could very well be a part of completing this vessel. We see an expectant mum or a mum with her child, standing in the scorching sun for hours, waiting to buy some formula or nappies for her child. We witness the authorities receiving bribes from the illegal trader, or confiscating goods or money from innocent people at the check points, and expropriating prosperous farms and businesses and leaving them totally ruined and unproductive. We hear of those who lost their employment for not attending a political march, and miss out on essential food items for not joining a certain party. There are thousands of family members who are sadly separated, as some members leave for another country to seek work in order to support those that stay at home. These are just a few of the many things that cause a righteous anger to well up within, but what can we do? ‘Pray for them that despitefully use you, commend the case into the hands of the Judge of all the earth, shall He not do that which is right?’
Why do there seem to be so many pieces, like the piece of frustration that we wish could be discarded? One of the reasons is because we have an enemy who wants to frustrate us to the point where will give up, pack up and head home. For example, when you are travelling to a conference six hours away, and halfway through the trip you come across a road block. The women of the town are angry because there has been little or no gas delivery or no water service for over a week, or there’s high cost of food for their families. To get attention from the authorities, they put branches, rocks or tyres on the road to hold the traffic to ransom, until after an hour or two in the midday sun everyone is so frustrated they are prepared to pay the 20,000 Bolivares being asked to be allowed to pass. When the biggest note is 100B, this amounts to quite a haul, so a hessian corn sack is quickly produced to collect the ransom money. (Perhaps this could rightly be called ‘daylight robbery without a revolver’!) And then there’s the daily frustration of picking up the phone to make a call, and the only response you get is that well known recorded message “The number you have called cannot be located”. Or when you are in the supermarket, and they happen to have some products available that you haven’t seen for a long time, like toilet paper, butter or corn flakes. You excitedly put them in your basket and line up to be served — when suddenly the electricity stops (a daily occurrence), throwing out the computer system, including the Internet and Eftpos. As no cash is available, you have to walk out in frustration yet again, hoping you come across those needed items again soon. The most important advertisement for any store is ‘Yes, we have EFTPOS!’
In recent years, a piece of loneliness has been added to this jar, as family members have grown up and returned to Australia. The family get-togethers, birthday celebrations, and Grandparents Day at school are just a few of the events that we would love to be at, but we are thankful for what we have been able to enjoy when home on furlough.
This fragile earthen jar would not be complete without a big piece of trust and faith in the Master Potter who is carefully putting all the different pieces together. We trust in Him, as the Protector from so many unknown dangers, daily armed robberies, and nightly house break-ins. I don’t think there is a family that has not been affected by one of these. We have faith in Him as the Provider of our every need, in a country where products are continually disappearing from the shelves, and with an inflation rate that is predicted to reach 1,000,000% by the end of this year. Over the years we have witnessed the perfect timing of our God to meet a need just as it arises, even to the purchase and building of two halls in which the believers can meet together. We have witnessed this faith in Him bring spiritual blessing into the lives of many with whom we have made contact over the years. It is wonderful how this faith and trust in the Living God binds all these pieces together, as we allow Him to perform His good and perfect will in our frail lives, so that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us. May God help us all to continue ‘Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, and persevering in prayer’.
By David Ward