Last night my pastor spoke about the potter and the clay. Looking back on my first experience as a potter, his message became very alive to me.
Jeremiah 18:1-6 says:
“The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”
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On Christmas Day my boyfriend Daniel and I received a crash course in pottery making from his Uncle Jim. It was an old hobby he had picked up again and by hobby I don’t mean he’s playing with cans of Play-Doh. This man has two kilns in his garage–one is even big enough to fit people inside! His work room had several blocks of unused clay and multiple cans of glaze to color the pottery. Pieces he had made decorated his home.
As Uncle Jim showed us how to make these vessels I took in the spiritual application behind it. God compared us to clay; the Bible even says He made us from the dust of the earth. We were nothing until He made us into an object–an object of His choosing, of His fashion. An object He finds beautiful; one He desires to use, something He is proud of.
“Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about…Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay…” (Job 10:8a,9a KJV)
Watching his uncle make a vase made it seem quite easy; this man who had mastered the art of turning softened clay into masterpieces sat there and within minutes had a beautiful creation sitting on the wheel before him. Watching Daniel do it, well, not so much. He struggled to get it to do what he wanted and at one point the entire bowl he was attempting to make crumpled up on the wheel. Daniel re-rolled the clay into a ball and started again, eventually making a pretty good looking bowl. He, on the other hand, showed the mess of his work all over him–clay covered his arms and clothes. What was so easy in the master’s hands became a mess in his.
I sat down at the wheel after him, wondering how one man could do this so effortlessly and yet another struggled to make even a simple creation. I figured I, too, would make a huge mess but his uncle helped me along the way (instead of watching and laughing like he did when Daniel was working it).
When you first put the ball of clay onto the wheel you have to get it wet to soften it, and then use the force of your hands against the ball until it is perfectly round. Sounds easy enough, but the clay is spinning fairly fast and the pressure from the clay shoving up against your hands trying to do its own thing actually takes a lot of force!
After you get the clay into a round ball you press your thumbs down until the clay starts to come up on the sides but leaves a hole in the middle almost to the bottom. The more you press the more it turns into a bowl shape. At this point you keep your thumbs in the middle and use the rest of your hands to shape the clay as it moves upward, becoming the object of your choosing.
This is the hard part because you have to use much force to get the sides to even out as the bowl spins, and if you don’t press hard enough–or, if you press too hard–the bowl will flop around until it destroys itself. It takes the right amount of pressure to get it to be the beautiful creation you want it to be.
As the sides of my bowl started working their way up they became uneven and started going their own way. Uncle Jim put his hands over mine to show me just the right amount of pressure it would take to make this vessel go the way it should. Not too much pressure that it would break–just enough that it wouldn’t go its own way but become what it was intended to be.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;” (II Corinthians 4:8 NIV)
After we had made the bowl we had to leave it on the shelf for a few days to dry out. As a Christian sometimes it feels like God is doing this to us. We feel alone, like we’re just withering away. We’re not, though. Our pottery creations were never abandoned or tossed aside; they were merely going through a waiting period, becoming a usable creation in the process.
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:” (Ezekiel 37:1-5 KJV)
After the pottery has dried out enough to be moved without getting ruined it goes to the kiln. In the kiln it is subject to extreme heat so it can become a usable object. Once it has been through the kiln it can be decorated and used.
“And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” (Zechariah 13:9 KJV)
After all this–the pressure of being molded, the period of waiting and feeling alone, going through the fire–we become the vessel we need to be in order to be used by Him.
A wonderful, beautiful creation.