09 August 2008

What do you mean, "We are all broken teapots?"

...that was the question I received as I was finishing up teaching ladies' Bible study this afternoon.

"After all," the pastor's wife (and my translator) continued, "each one of us is sitting here in one piece. Our arms aren't glued on and each toe is still attached like it should be..."

I had to laugh as I went on to explain what I was trying to say - we had just been discussing with some other missionaries this very morning how literal most Nigeriens are, how linear and straight forward there thinking can be...

But I'll have to come back to the comment/question I quoted above in a minute - it won't make sense unless I first share what I taught about today.

It had been 2 months since we'd been able to get together for Bible study: I was sick in May and had to cancel; then in June, I had this particular lesson all prepared, but a huge rainstorm early that morning kept most of the ladies from attending - it was only myelf, the pastor's wife and one other lady - so we decided to pray and wait for the August meeting. I was quite surprised when I arrived at the church - about 10 minutes late and I'm still usually the first one there by at least 20 minutes or so. There were already 6 ladies (we ended up with 10 by the end of the study) sitting around in the courtyard, chatting away, and I was almost overwhelmed by the barage of greetings that met me as I walked through the gate. I was actually dreading Bible study a little bit today; I was tired, it was hot and humid, the bathrooms (we meet outside the church building, right beside the bathrooms) are always odiferous and I was just not feeling very spiritual or close to the Lord today. Those factors combined with the fact that I'd be teaching in French and working through a translator made the whole Bible study thing a lot less than appealing to me today.

However, I dutifully showed up and was totally surprised by the group of women waiting for me - first time EVER in over a year of teaching this group! We went through all the traditional greetings (in Zarma, of course), I sat down and Amina, the pastor's wife, started right off with prayer, announcements and a few items that this group of ladies needed to discuss before singing a song and diving right into what the Lord had led me to prepare for this Bible study.

We are working our way through the book of John, and while the last time we had met, we'd compared and contrasted how Jesus shared the Gospel with Nicodemus (John 3) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), drawing out some ideas of what we needed to do when talking with others about the Lord and why He came. While preparing for that study, I became intrigued with the account of the Samaritan woman and decided that for our next Bible study, we'd look into her story, but more in depth, so that is what we did today.

John 4.3-30, 39-42

He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. And He must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.

Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water.

Jesus saith unto her, “Give Me to drink.” (For His disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto Him, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

Jesus answered and said unto her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.”

The woman saith unto Him, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?”

Jesus answered and said unto her, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

The woman saith unto him, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”

Jesus saith unto her, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”

The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said unto her, “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

The woman saith unto him, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

The woman saith unto him, “I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things.”

Jesus saith unto her, “I that speak unto thee am He.”

And upon this came His disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, “What seekest Thou?” or, “Why talkest Thou with her?”

The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him… And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on Him for the saying of the woman, which testified, “He told me all that ever I did.”

So when the Samaritans were come unto Him, they besought Him that He would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of His own word; And said unto the woman, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

After I read through the passage in French and then Amina read through in Zarma, I started commenting on some things that had jumped out at me as I studied this passage.

The first thing was the statement that "He must needs pass through Samaria." Why was Samaria such a big deal? I decided to do a bit of research on why there was such an animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. Here is a summary of what I found out:

  1. After the death of Solomon, the nation of Israel divided into Judah and the 10 tribes of Israel.
  2. Those 10 northern tribes instituted their own system of worship and created their own places of worship, something that clearly went against what God had commanded them with the building of His temple in Jerusalem.
  3. The 10 northern tribes were ruled by a succession of evil kings, who did not seek after the Lord and who engaged in and encouraged the people in idolatry.
  4. As a punishment, God sent the nation of Assyria to conquer them and to remove them from their land.
  5. However, there was a small remnant who remained. The Assyrian king was worried about this remnant, so he sent several foreigners in to intermingle and intermarry with the remaining Israelites.
  6. This mixed group of people abandonned all faith in the Eternal, chosing to worship and adore idols.
  7. Troubled by savage lions, the people asked their then king (they were now ruled by Babylon) to send them a Jewish priest to instruct them in the law and the proper worship of God.
  8. The Babylonian king agreed, so they relearned some of what Moses had originally taught God's chosen people, but they also kept many idolatrous traditions and practices which they intermingled with remnants of Jewish faith and practice.
  9. The nation of Judah, which had also been led into captivity by the Babylonians, was allowed to return to their Promised Land.
  10. The mixed remnant of the northern tribes of Israel (or the Samaritans) offered to help in the reconstrution of Jerusalem, but the people of Judah refused, knowing of their idolatrous practices. This was the beginning of much animosity and anger between these two groups.
  11. It was the Samaritans, led by Sanballat and Tobiah, who were responsible for much of the attacks on Nehemiah and those rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
  12. Afterwards, the Samaritans decided to create their own temple on what they deemed the true holy mountain, and their own priesthood, totally separate from Jews.
  13. Their land, Samaria, became a place of refuge where religious and political refugees, as well as Jewish criminals, were welcomed. Thus the Samaritan population of those disgruntled with the Jewish nation grew.
  14. The Samaritans refused to accept anything other than the 5 books of Moses (the Torah) as God's Holy Word.

With such animosity, it is easy to see why most Jewish travelers prefered the long route instead of traversing such a hostile land. And, for the first time ever, I could see that there were long-standing, and often valid, reasons that the Jews chose to keep themselves separate from the Samaritans.

But there is more to that statement, "He must needs pass through Samaria." The phrase "must needs" says to me that Jesus felt He had no other choice. One thing that has always intrigued me about the 33 years that Christ walked this earth is the tension that exists regarding how Jesus could be fully God and fully man - at the SAME time! So I ask myself, "As God, did Jesus already know that this woman would come to Him at the well and that this meeting would lead to the belief of an entire city?" Or, did Jesus, as a man, choose to limit His foreknowledge and He was responding simply to something that the Holy Spirit impressed deep within His heart, that it was His Father's will to pass through Samaria, that the Father had an important job for Him there, but that Jesus allowed Himself to be led step by step, as God by His Spirit, so often leads us?"

I have no way of knowing, but I can think of several "must needs" moments in my life, where I felt a compelling deep within to follow a certain path of behavior, say a specific thing. Sometimes I have; unfortunately, many other times I haven't... and I have regretted that choice to not listen for the Lord clearly showed me later that it was His voice, I missed out on the opportunity to obey.

Jesus was "wearied with His journey." What a wonderful glimpse of His humanity. Yet His weariness did not become an excuse to avoid ministry or intimate and profound interaction with another person. It is easy to claim weariness, to use that excuse to avoid ministry opportunities (and please don't think I'm saying that there is never a time to rest, to say "No..."), but in this world of self first, I think it is a careful balance to walk between being available for God's plans, even when we think we are too tired and it is more than what we want to do.

"There cometh a woman..." Have you ever stopped to consider how many women met their bridegroom beside a well? It cannot be coincidence. Zipporah met Moses at a well. Rebekah met Isaac's representative. Rachel met Jacob. And this Samaritan women met the true Bridegroom. When we allow ourselves to be channels of Christ, the living water, we too can be like a well where lost people can meet the Bridegroom.

"Give me to drink." "...How many of us have the idea that Jesus should satisfy our thirst, meet all of our needs when the truth is that we should be searching to satisfy Him. We should now be pouring our lives out for Him..." This quote of Oswald Chambers (not exact, for I'm translating back from what I had already translated once into French for the study) is quite convicting. I know I often come to Jesus so that He meets my needs, and not with the purpose of presenting myself as a living sacrifice...

"How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for a drink..." In the French, it is phrased a little stronger. It is more like "How dare you..." This gives me a whole new perspective on this conversation - that perhaps this woman was defensive, not really easy to talk to, perhaps preoccupied, prideful, sarcastic and/or bitter - not exactly my ideal candidate for a witnessing venture. Yet Jesus persisted, finding bridges that piqued her interest, drew her in to the conversation, and was not put off by what very well could have been a brusque and intimidating exterior.

"I... am He." This passage contains several beautiful "I am" statements by Christ. He was not hiding who He was and why He had come. In this particular conversation, He says that He is the gift of God, the Messiah, the One who stops our thirsting for things that don't ultimately satisfy...

Jesus confronts this woman with her sin and reveals to her what she already knew, but probably tried to keep hidden from the rest of the world - that she was a broken vessel with many cracks, holes and imperfections. But He did so in a way that must have been gentle and noncondemning, for she did not deny the truth and instead, it revealed to her that He was the One, the One who could pick up the pieces of her life and put them all back together in a way that made sense and gave purpose. Her response is to not worry at all about what people think; to drop all that she was doing and head to town to bring back others to meet her Savior.

In summary, I told the ladies that there were 4 key points that I hoped they'd remember from this story found in God's Word:

1) Jesus, as a man, had to choose to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit to follow the direction of His Father. We, as imitators of Him, are to do likewise.

2) While the Jews had several reasons, some good, to avoid contact with the Samaritans - but Jesus did not. We can all find those with whom we'd rather not mix. Something about them makes us uncomfortable. I see this here among some of the different tribal groups or positional rankings of people, even within the church. When we choose to separate ourselves from someone, we'd best be sure that it is only after clear discernment from the Lord, not due forgiveness we are refusing to offer, grudges we refust to let go, comfort we refuse to forego or convenience we refuse to sacrifice.

3) Jesus was tired, but He did not use that as an excuse not to minister. Regardless of how He felt, He remained open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

4) This Samaritan woman was precious in God's eyes - and He went to amazing lengths to offer her His salvation - and this is where I pulled out a small teapot that had been broken in to several pieces that I had glued back together. A once beautiful teapot, it was now quite ugly, with rubber cement seams, uneven places, several cracks and holes that could not be repaired, and quite leaky when we tried to fill it up with water.

This idea came from another blog entry I read last Spring, and linked to on this blog: "The Past and the Pitcher." Since these women are mostly illiterate, I'm always searching and praying about ways to make these Bible studies memorable in a visual sense, to give them some sort of a hook that will help them recall truths from God's Word, when they don't have the ability to go back and read those truths for themselves. I felt like this illustration was a perfect one. In coming to Jesus, we must realize that we are cracked, broken pots and that we need Him to glue all of the pieces back together.

As I started way back at the beginning of this entry, the ladies balked at this description of themselves. After several minutes of discussion, however, they came to the agreement that we must see our brokenness and unusefulness before we can recognize our need for the Lord, an understanding that was key to the whole point of this illustration. At the same time, the mere fact that He would spend so much time painstakinly piecing all those parts together is a powerful testament to the fact that we are precious in His sight. As something broken and pieced back together, it is humbling and can be discouraging. I know more than once I've wished I was a more beautiful and whole vessel that I could present to Him, and often wondered how in the world He can use me, or would want to use me, as a part of His plan. But the beautiful thing about a broken pot like me is that while I'm busy pouring myself out, consciously ministering His living water in specific ways that He has directed me, the same living water is also spilling forth through cracks and crevasses, touching other lives and other places of which I am completely unaware. And with that also comes the realization that when overflowing, being poured out and spilling out, I must remain "on tap" at the source, or I will soon run completely dry and then I will be not only ugly, but useless.

God was so faithful - He used this little illustration and I was privileged to be the one who saw the eyes of 10 different ladies light up as they were able to grab ahold of some truth from this passage of Scripture that they could apply to their lives, today. And it was such a blessing when, as I had hoped they would, asked to keep that little teapot so they could display it in the church as a visible reminder to them of the things that God had shown them today.

I know of no other way to end this post than to say that I serve an amazing God, and I'm so thankful and glad to be a part of His collection of broken teapots...

1 comment:

  1. Wow. It would take a post-length comment to tell you how this study ministered to me. Thank you. For taking the time to thouroughly study this and then teach it and then post it. It's going to take several days at least for me to completely digest all of the truth contained here.

    Yes, I am still doing the 90 day challenge, thought it will end up being more like the 190 day challenge. I had to slow down because truthfully, I was getting bogged down in all the, well, all the death. There is so much there that I want to understand and going through it so rapidly doesn't allow time for understanding. How are you doing with the challenge?



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