Before going to India each year I ‘arm’ myself with Scripture truth which God wants me to learn and apply. That helps me know how to pray for the trip and where God will be stretching and growing me. Last year it was Peter’s example that I have to get out of the boat to walk on water. The trip before it I asked others to ‘hold the rope’ in prayer for me as I went to India. In seeking God’s focus for this trip I have been thinking of the word ‘vessel’ over and over. That’s not normally a word I would use, much less think about, but God has been putting it in my thoughts. So I looked up what the Bible had to say about ‘vessel.’
When we hear the word ‘vessel we think of a boat, a blood vessel, perhaps a pot or bowl or even a drinking vessel. While these may seem quite dissimilar, the common denominator is that they are all used to carry something – they are containers. A ship carries cargo or passengers, a blood vessel conveys blood, and dishes are made to hold food or liquid. These are created to be used for something else. The focus is really on the thing contained, not the container. Daily life is filled with containers – bread wrappers, jelly jars, water battles, wallets, medicine bottles, tooth paste tubes, etc. All are just vessels, the container without the contents is nothing.
The Hebrew word translated ‘vessel’ in the Old Testament, kel-ee’, refers to something that has been prepared. A vessel must be prepared for use. The Greek New Testament word for vessel is skyoo’-os and has the root idea of something useful. A vessel must also be useful. If I am to be a vessel God uses to minister to others I must be prepared. That means I must be empty and clean. I also must be useful (whole and available).
Thus this trip to India is not about me – I am just the container for God’s Spirit and message, the channel He chooses to work through. I must be empty and clean, trained and available. That is my challenge in order to serve Him, and it is God’s challenge for all of us as well.
So God has been showing me that my focus this trip to India is to be on being a vessel He can use. I must be a container, a channel that is empty so He can fill me. Elisha directed a poor widow who was about to loose her 2 sons to creditors to gather all the empty containers she could and let God fill them so she could sell them and use the money to pay off her debts. Each and every empty jar was completely filled. When there were no more empty jars to fill the provision stopped (2 Kings 4:6). The lesson is clean: God filled every empty vessel she made available. If a vessel already had something else in it then it couldn’t be filled by God. That’s how He is with us as well.
If I am filled with myself, with pride, ego or self-centeredness then He won’t fill me with Himself. If I allow fear to be present I won’t be filled with His Spirit and presence. Even if I fill myself with things that are good and fine, but keep me from being open to His presence, they must go. Work, career, children, home, exercise, food or possessions all are OK on their own but if they fill places and needs in my life that God should be filling then they are wrong. I must empty myself of them all.
Peter was limited in what he could do for God because he was filled with himself. His pride and ego kept him from being empty so God could fill him and use him. When he humbled himself after he denied Jesus three times then he was filled. We see a different Peter from then on, one who was filled with God’s presence and not himself.
How do I empty myself? I ask God to search me and show me anything that shouldn’t be in my life (Psalm 139:23-24). Reading the Bible and meditating on God’s truth acts like a mirror and shows me sin in my life (James 1:23). Be sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction (John 16:8-11). I must admit my sin to myself and God, and confess it (I John 1:9). Then I need to ask God to fill me with His presence and power (Ephesians 5:18). That is my current goal – to be empty so He can fill me.
My main challenge as I prepare to leave for India is to be a vessel, a container, a channel for God to use so His Spirit and His message can be carried to those in need. It’s not my message I carry, nor do I convey it in my own strength. I am just the container. He does the rest.
But to be a good container I must be clean. In India all I drink is bottled water because any other water is contaminated no matter how clear it may be. I can only drink pure water which is put into a clean bottle. Anything else and I will get sick. For God to use me I must be a clean vessel (2 Timothy 2:21). I must ask God to cleanse me of each and every sin so there is no contamination within me. If there is His Spirit won’t be able to dwell in and minister through me.
David is an example of a man whose sin kept him from being used by God. After his sin with Bathsheba and the attempted cover-up with Uriah, David went through a time of darkness and misery. He had no peace or joy and suffered from emotional and physical misery (Psalms 32 and 51). It wasn’t until he confessed his that his joy returned and God was able to bless and use him (Psalm 32:1-2).
To be used by God in India I must be clean in all I think, say and do. My motives must be clean. If I am to be used by Him to minister to the pastors there I must be a clean vessel. So must all who seek to serve Him.
When I look for a container to use to hold something I look for one that is empty and clean. These are essential for me, and they are what God looks for in a person he uses as well. But I also have to be sure the container is whole and not broken. A ship, blood vessel or pot that is broken, even if it is clean and empty, is useless (Psalm 2:9; 31:12).
We can be broken by pain and sorrow when we feel sorry for ourselves and quit being open and available to God. When problems and trials distract us and we become discouraged then we are broken and unusable. Worse of all, when one rebels and disobeys then one is broken and can’t be used. Samson is an example of a man who had unlimited potential to serve God but instead gave in to sin and self-centeredness to the extent that he didn’t try living victoriously for God. He lived in disobedience and rebellion and was unavailable for God to fill and use.
I personally have to watch I do not become distracted by difficulties and hardships and therefore disqualify myself by discouragement. A broken vessel, or one with cracks, cannot hold that which it was created to contain. If you don’t sense God’s presence and Spirit filling you as He once did, perhaps you are not whole spiritually as you need to be. Ask Him to mend and fix you, and become a useful vessel once again.
My final lesson from studying what God has to say about vessels in the Bible is about the importance of being available. A vessel can be whole (not broken), empty and clean, but if it isn’t open to being used in the way the owner desires then it is not fulfilling its purpose.
One day Elijah went to live with a widow who was to feed him, but had only a small amount of oil and meal. She was going to use it for a final meal for her and her son before they starved to death. Elijah said if she used it for God’s service first, then He would make sure there was always enough for one more meal in the jars. She did and there was (1 Kings 17:15-16). She gave what she had to God until there was nothing left, trusting He would fill it for the next meal. Each time the jars were empty God filled them. That’s how I often feel in India. I will be speaking an average of 6 messages every day I am there. While I love teaching and speaking God’s Word, it does take a lot of physical and emotional energy. Constant travel, strange food, time changes and sleeping in unfamiliar places as night will also drain my energy. But He has proven faithful to fill me when I get empty just like He did for this woman in Elijah’s day.
We are to make ourselves available, He will fill and use us. He created us for the purposes He planned (Isaiah 64:8); Jeremiah 18:4; Romans 9:21; Isaiah 29:16; 45:9). Paul was created, prepared and chosen by God for his unique role in the kingdom (Acts 9:15). He saw himself as God’s container, the one to carry His message. God chose Paul for this work, Paul didn’t ask for it. God chooses different people for various responsibilities. To us some roles seem more ‘important’ than others, but all are necessary for the Body to properly function. There are no ‘unimportant’ parts of our physical body, each has a function that is unique to that portion. God doesn’t ask us what we want to be, nor does He explain to us why He chooses as He does. God just wants us to be available vessels. He is more interested in our availability than our ability.
So as I prepare for, travel to and minister in India I will be keeping this picture of a vessel in my mind. It reminds me to stay empty of self, pride and ego. I must watch for fear, a long-time enemy of mine, as well as business. I must always be clean from sin in all I think and do. I must stay whole – no discouragement or distractions. And I must be available for Him to us. I must give all that is in me trusting He will fill me each time I am empty. That’s my goal, to be a useful vessel. It should be your goal as well.