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A Pottery Lesson

January 4th, 2010 · No Comments

“Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand …” Jeremiah 18:6

I’ve been reading in Jeremiah for the last few weeks – boy is it a tough book. A lot of folks avoid Jeremiah; they think it’s too difficult to understand, too depressing and too long. They’re right … but only in the wrong kind of way.

If you’re thumbing through the Bible for a quick ‘pick-me-up’ verse, Jeremiah is not your best bet; unless context isn’t an issue and you’re just looking for a good one-liner.

Jeremiah 1:5 has always been one of my favorites. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” That was God talking to Jeremiah. Steve translation: “Before you were born I knew you and had a plan for your life and a very special role in the world in fulfilling my great purpose.” That’s positive! By itself, that’s a verse that can give me the spiritual warm fuzzies.

But dig a little deeper into the story. Jeremiah didn’t want to be “a prophet to the nations” and God’s assurance wasn’t all that assuring. “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (1:7-8)

Rescue me from what!?

The task God set Jeremiah ‘apart’ for wasn’t a pleasant one. His life’s mission was to, “uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:10) All this uprooting, tearing down, destroying and overthrowing, of course, really upset the course of normal society. Everybody hated Jeremiah. The king, the priests, the other prophets, esteemed citizens – nobody was interested in what he was selling.

Jeremiah’s job, the one God had set aside for him before he was born, was to tell the people of Israel (what was left of them) to either turn or burn … and he wasn’t speaking metaphorically.

Speaking of metaphors, God told Jeremiah to visit the house of a potter. As he watched the potter work to form a jar from a lump of clay, the clay was marred and refused to form in the potter’s hand. So the potter shaped the clay into something else; not the vessel he had intended, but something less, something the clay had allowed him to make of it.

God told Jeremiah that Israel was like the clay; they refused to be molded and shaped as God had intended so He was going to shape them into something else – change their destiny because they refused to ‘run in his hand’.

Jeremiah 18:6 says, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” A lot of folks take this passage to mean that God chooses us and shapes as he desires – we really don’t have much of a say in it at all. But that’s not what God was saying to Israel. He was saying, “I chose you, to mold you into something I desire, but you refuse to submit to my hand and now I’ll mold you into something else, something you will allow.” The decision of what would become of Israel, was ultimately up to them. But they refused to listen, refused to submit to God’s hand and made plans to do away with Jeremiah.

Then God told Jeremiah to buy a clay jar from the potter and bring some of the elders and priests of Judah out to the Valley of Ben Himmon, a nasty place known for sacrificing children to the pagan gods Baal and Molech. There Jeremiah prophesied that this place would be renamed ‘The Valley of Slaughter’ because the people of Jerusalem would be slaughtered here, and then he smashed the clay jar to the ground. God spoke through Jeremiah, “I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.”

Like I said, Jeremiah is a tough book.

The lesson I take away from this story about the potter and the clay is this: The potter chooses a lump of clay and throws it on his wheel with the intention of shaping it into the vessel he has planned. But if the clay refuses to be shaped into the vessel the potter has intended, he will crush the work he has begun and will re-form the lump into another, less desirable vessel. Eventually, whatever the clay has allowed the potter to make of it will be fired in the kiln. Firing will make the clay no longer formable, but rigid, forever in the shape it has become, and brittle, easily broken if dashed to the ground.

Applied to my own life:

  1. I am the clay.
  2. God is the potter.
  3. God has chosen me, and he has a shape in mind for me to become.
  4. In order to shape me into a vessel fit for his use, he throws me on a wheel and starts it turning. My experiences are the turning of that wheel and his hand on my life as he shapes me into what I am to become
  5. If I refuse to take the shape he has intended, he will unmake what he has begun and reform me into something less than his original intention, allowing for my willingness (or unwillingness) to be shaped by his hand.
  6. There may come a day when any more shaping is either unnecessary or fruitless and whatever shape I have allowed myself to be molded into will go into the kiln. When I come out I will be what I have allowed him to make of me – good or bad. After the firing, there’s no reshaping; my form is rigid and that’s the way I’ll stay.
  7. If what I have become is useful and to his intention, I’ll serve him as he has intended and nothing on earth will be able to shape me into something else. If what I have become is not useful or unworthy of his effort I may very well be dashed on the rocks and broken to pieces. Then the only usefulness I would serve is as an example to others of what not to become.

Jeremiah is a tough book but it holds some big lessons – allow the potter to shape you – don’t refuse to run in his hand – submit to his touch. He’s got something in mind for you that’s beautiful and unique. There’s not a lump of clay in the world as well suited as you to fulfill that particular purpose. But there comes a day when you’ll go into the kiln and become forever what you’ve allowed him to make you.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,’ made his light to shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

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