Charli and I were making grape jelly. She helped me wash jars, measure sugar, collect utensils and stir, stir, stir. I felt a generational bonding as I remembered fondly making jelly with my mother, my daughter and my granddaughter. Now here was my great granddaughter working along with me.
As we worked I not only explained the process, but also threw in bits of my jelly devotional believing that, even at nine years old, she may remember some of it.
Making jelly has always been fun for me. I’m fascinated by the amazing changes that occur as crude juice is turned into sweet jiggly clear jelly. One time as I stirred the juice heating to a boil, God planted the idea for this devotional in my head. Maybe some of you would like to use this simple visual devotional as well. It is symbolic but not allegorical, meaning each point has a spiritual significance, but the whole process cannot be compared to our Lord or to our relationship to Him.
First, I introduce the jelly pot, aka roast pot, soup pot, etc. It is about forty-five years old, a stainless steel six-quart pot by Saladmaster. I point out that it is marred, one handle completely missing. There are scratches and stains on the shiny pot. It’s solid and good. But it’s marred. In spite of its faults, though, it is a very useful pot. We, too, are marred sinful vessels but God can use us in His purposes even with broken handles, multiple scratches and stains.
Next, I set out all the utensils I will need to make jelly–tongs for handling hot jars and lids, a long handled stirring spoon, a ladle for pouring jelly in jars, a funnel, cotton gloves I use for handling the filled hot jars, and a fresh clean dish cloth for making sure the rim of each jar is perfectly clean. I even drape a nice clean dish towel over my shoulder in case I need it during the process. All these are very minor characters in the jelly making but any one of them becomes major when I need them. I have to stir the jelly, ladle it into jars, tighten rings. And I’d make a scalding mess if I didn’t use that nifty little yellow funnel. Each is part of a team and, though seemingly insignificant, is of great importance for making a sweet delightful product. Just as each of us in God’s church, no matter how small our role, is very important.
It’s time to wash the jars. When doing this devotional, I hold up one clean sparkling pint jar for my audience to see. Cleanliness is totally necessary to insure safe and secure canning. God needs clean jars (us!) for the assignments He fills us with. But we can’t scrub ourselves clean in soapy water. He has to clean us with His blood and His power.
After washing the jars I place them right side up on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven to heat at 220. Heat is to sterilize the jars even more than washing can do and to promote the process of sealing. All jars have to be heated either this way or in a pan of simmering water as my mother used to do, or in a canner. Jellies are safe to can “from the stovetop” as opposed to most other products. Heating jars in the oven, lids and rings in hot water, make them pure for the job they’re to do. At this point I ask what the heat represents and someone will say it is our trials which God uses to prepare us for future assignments.
I measure the sugar into a bowl, each cup leveled exactly evenly. I usually just take some sugar in a ziplock bag for this part of the demonstration. Being so precise with measurements reminds me that God has given us commandments to obey and they are extremely important.
We talk about the process of obtaining the juice from fruits, varying according to the fruit. Mayhaws and grapes, for instance, have to be boiled slowly in a generous amount of water, then strained through cheesecloth. (The juice can be canned or frozen for future use.) One thing is obvious. Whatever the fruit, it has to be mangled, squished, changed in form to become juice. We as Christians must be submissive to the Lord’s “molding and making,” or squishing, in order to do His work.
We take a deep breath. After all this preparation, we are finally ready to start making jelly. Preparation is necessary and often takes more time than the job itself. Sometimes the Lord takes years preparing us for one single assignment.
I like to have a quart jar of what I call crude juice ready to pour into that nice waiting pot, though in the interest of cleanup, I don’t actually pour it in. The Sure Jell will be at hand also but not opened. We talk about adding the Sure Jell and stirring it in. The juice isn’t pretty to start with, not clear and bright. After the Sure Jell goes in it becomes positively ugly. Experiences, situations, enter our lives, for good or for bad. Without Jesus we have no help in facing grim problems.
At last, after constant stirring, the juice and Sure Jell are thoroughly mixed and boiling. Time to pour in the sugar! This is really a fun stage. As we mix the sugar in, the juice suddenly turns a beautiful color and is so clear we can see the bottom of the shiny pot. I say this is like when Jesus comes into our lives. The ugliness disappears (well, at least part of the time!) and others can actually see Jesus in us.
When the jelly has boiled one minute at high heat, white foam forms on top. As I told Charli, the foam isn’t very good so we skim it off. Sometimes we call it sludge. My audience quickly recognizes that this is like the daily sins that Jesus “skims” off our lives.
We ladle hot jelly into hot jars and seal with hot lids and rings. This, too, is a really good part. Once we commit to following Jesus and become His child, nothing can separate us from Him, not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword (Romans 8:35) Just as the jars are sealed for safe keeping, so are we. The recommended shelf life for most canning is one to three years. For the Christian it is for eternity!
As the jelly cools it will become jiggly and spreadable. Christians become firm in their faith as they mature through studying God’s word, praying, and interacting with other believers.
One more thing. Now that we’ve made jelly, let’s taste it! I always have with me a jar of jelly, some crackers, and some napkins. One time I presented this devotional at an assisted living residence. Several little girls helped me serve the jelly on crackers. Everyone gets a taste of the jelly as I remind us all that when He puts sweetness in our lives, He expects us to share His goodness with others.
Whether you’re making marmalade, jelly, jam, or preserves from oranges, grapes, strawberries, or figs, I hope you enjoy the process. It’s always fun to hear that celebratory pop in the kitchen as each jar cools and seals. And there is a sense of completeness in stowing them away in the pantry. It’s so much fun to share gifts of jelly at Christmas and anytime.
I didn’t give Charli much of this devotional, too much for her at nine, but I hope she remembers that Jesus sweetens our lives.