Reading Time: 10 minutes

Broken and spilled out

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Genesis 30:22

Today is Mother’s Day. Every one of us has had a mother, obviously; however, we don’t all see her in the same way. For instance, there was a little girl who, when shown the wedding pictures of her parents, asked her father, “Daddy, is that the day you got Mom to come and work for us?”

Then there was the teacher who had just given her second-grade class a lesson on magnets. She asked a little boy, “Now, my name starts with an ‘M’ and I pick up things. What am I?” The boy replied instantly, “A mother?”

But my favorite story has to do with a poor mother who was concerned about her eldest son’s use of profanity. She asked her pastor for advice, and he told her that each time her son cussed, she should slap him. Bad advice, to be sure.

The next morning as her sons came to the breakfast table she asked them what they wanted to eat. The eldest said, “I want some ‘blankety, blank Post Toasties.’” His mother slapped him as hard as she could. As he sat dazed on the floor, she turned to the younger son and asked what he wanted to eat. He said, “Well, I sure don’t want any Post Toasties!”

This is a good day, for mothers need all the encouragement they can find. That’s what Anna Jarvis thought when she decided upon her mother’s death in 1905 to make a day in her memory. She copyrighted “Mother’s Day” with the U.S. Patent Office, then wrote governors, state legislators, congressmen, and even the president. Finally, in 1914 President Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national observance.

Upon her death in 1948, a wreath of 43 carnations was placed on Anna Jarvis’s grave, because in that year 43 countries celebrated Mother’s Day. Why carnations? Because they were her mother’s favorite flower.

Anna Jarvis had the right idea for our culture, but also for our souls. For mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That is the simple point I want to make today.

The contents are what matters

Our text finds Rachel in dire straits. Her husband loves her, but she has borne him no children. Her sister and even their maids have given him ten sons together; she has none. So she prays, and prays more fervently, and prays still more intently. And finally her prayer is answered.

Fourteen years after she and Jacob were married, she gives him a child, a son. She knows immediately the source of her blessing, for she names him “Joseph,” which means “The Lord adds.” God gave her this child. And she would love him until the day she died giving birth to his brother, Benjamin. The Jewish people venerate the place of her birth to this day.

Rachel’s story illustrates well the relationship of motherhood to pottery. The first fact: the contents of the clay vessel are its value.

A clay vessel is a means to an end. The contents of the pot are what matters, not its form or appearance. Pots are as valuable as they are useful.

We are to judge them by their function, not their appearance. They may be beautiful, but cracked or dirty on the inside, and thus of no value. Or they may be common on the outside but clean and holy on the inside, so that their contents are valuable and pure.

So with mothers. Your eternal value lies in the souls of your children. Not in your status in the eyes of your society, your possessions or appearance or achievements. Your greatest value as a mother is the soul of the child given to you.

The second fact: the vessel seldom knows the ultimate result of its work.

Water poured from the clay pot grows flowers the pot never sees. It helps thirsty people the pot never knows. Its use extends far beyond the pot which held it.

Rachel never knew that her oldest son would one day save his brothers and his nation. She died never knowing that he would be second in all of Egypt, and the most famous son of her family and people. She never knew the eternal significance of the life she gave to the world.

You will likely never know the eternal significance of the souls entrusted to your care, either. But God does.

And the third fact: the vessel is the first influence upon its contents. Its purity or contamination is directly transmitted to that which it holds. So with mothers and their children.

Rachel was faithful to God, and God was faithful to her. She was Joseph’s first spiritual influence. She prayed to have Joseph, a fact we never find about Jacob or the rest of his family. She loved him when his brothers were jealous of him. She was his first model of spirituality. Mothers usually are, for better or for worse.

Mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That’s my point. Let’s see if it holds up across biblical history and life today.

A pattern across time

First, some biblical stories.

Consider this text: “On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’” (Matthew 14:6-7). Her mother implicated her daughter in one of the worst crimes in Scripture.

Consider Ahaziah, the ancient king of Israel, and this statement: “He too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done” (2 Chronicles 22:3-4). This mother’s son suffered a violent, ignominious death for the sins she taught him.

But there are good examples of our point as well. Moses, for instance, was raised in the pagan culture, traditions, and religion of Egypt. And yet because of his spiritual mother, he never forgot his God or his people, and one day led them to their Promised Land.

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was fervent in prayer, trusting God for a son. She gave that son back to the Lord. And he became Israel’s last judge, first prophet, and great spiritual leader.

Mary was but a teenage girl, probably in the seventh grade today, when the angel Gabriel asked her to risk her family, her future, her marriage, and her life in becoming the mother of the Messiah. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). And it was.

Paul said to young Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).

Is it not true that what their mothers were, their children became?

Does the pattern continue across history?

The mother of Nero was a murderer, as was he.

Of the 69 kings in France’s history there have been only three who were truly loved and respected by their subjects—the only ones reared by loving mothers.

Sir Walter Scott’s mother was a woman of education and a great lover of the arts. So was he.

The mother of George Washington was known for her integrity of character, as was her son.

The mother of John Wesley was remarkable for her intelligence, piety, and abilities, so that she has been called the “mother of Methodism.” Through her son, she was.

Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Dwight Moody testified, “All that I have ever accomplished in life, I owe to my mother.” Charles Spurgeon agreed: “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.”

W. R. Wallace said, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” Was he right spiritually?

Lincoln said, “I remember my mother’s prayers, and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all of my life.” Later he observed, “No man is poor who has a godly mother.”

G. Campbell Morgan was one of the greatest preachers of the last generation. He had four sons, all of whom were preachers. The youngest son, Howard, was considered a great preacher as well. Someone once asked him, “Howard, who is the greatest preacher in your family?” Howard had a great admiration for his father and looked right at him; then, without a moment’s hesitation, he answered, “My mother.”

John Newton’s mother prayed for her wayward, sinful son every day. Finally he came to Christ, and later wrote Amazing Grace, the most beloved hymn of all time. We have it because of his mother.

Do you believe that mothers have the greatest spiritual influence in their children’s lives? Lincoln, and Morgan, and Newton did.

The poet made our point well:

Because she understood me better farThan I myself could understand;Because her faith in me, like a guiding star,Steadied my feet, and strengthened heart and hand;Because her cheer and tender sympathyWere strewn along the stony path she trod;Because of her underlying love for me,I better comprehend the love of God.

Conclusion

Does your mother today deserve your gratitude for her spiritual influence upon your life? Not all do across Scripture and history, of course. Does yours? Have you thanked God for her? Have you thanked her?

Have you been given the privilege of being a mother? On this Mother’s Day, would you renew your commitment to the spiritual life and eternal soul of the one entrusted to you? Would you pray for him or her right now? Would you ask God’s help and wisdom in shaping the eternal clay put into your hands? Would you make that eternal soul your highest priority as a mother?

There’s a metaphor from our potter series which seems especially appropriate for us today. It is taken from the wonderful story of Jesus’ last days, when Mary “took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12:3). This was actually twelve ounces of one of the most expensive perfumes of their day. To do this with our perfumes today would cost in excess of $450.

She broke the clay vessel and poured its contents out unto her Lord. In the very same way, God has given every mother the privilege of pouring out the child given to her, unto God. Listen to this song about that event—may this be your commitment to God this day. Would you give your most precious treasure, that which God has given to you, back to him, right now?

One day a plain village woman,Driven by love for her Lord,Recklessly poured out a valuable essence,Disregarding the scorn.And once it was broken and spilled out,A fragrance filled all the roomLike a pris’ner released from his shackles,Like a spirit set free from the tomb.Broken and spilled out just for love of You, Jesus;My most precious treasure lavished on Thee.Broken and spilled out and poured atYour feet in sweet abandon;Let me be spilled out and used up for Three.Lord, You were God’s precious treasure,His loved and His own perfect Son,Sent here to show me the love of the Father;Yes, just for love it was done.And though You were perfect and holy,You gave up yourself willingly.You spared no expense for my pardon;You were used up and wasted for me.Broken and spilled out just for love of me, Jesus;God’s most precious treasure lavished on me.Broken and spilled out and poured atmy feet in sweet abandon;Lord, You were spilled out and used up for me.In sweet abandon, let me be spilled outand used up for Thee.