Exploring the Metaphor…
We see many references, often singing, of the metaphor in which we are the clay in God’s (potter’s) hands, to be shaped and molded. The Lord has really put this on my heart this last week. You see, I spent four years in ceramics, often giving up lunches just to have more time on the pottery wheel. The Lord has really given me revelation using those memories to explain some of what he is doing in us today.
Starting With The Right Clay
There is an optimum consistency for clay. If the clay is too hard, it will resist shaping, often damaging the vessel. If the clay is too wet, it cannot hold form. Therefore, care is taken in preparing the clay before the process ever begins.
How are we the Clay? What state were you in when you found God? Were you hard from many trials, were you too soft and broken-down, feeling that you had no strength stand? Before God can sculpt you into a vision of his kingdom, a usable vessel for his kingdom, sometimes he needs to get our consistency (our hearts) right. What consistency are you now?
If the clay is too hard, we spritz it with water so that the clay will absorb the moisture and become softer.
How are we the Clay? A hard heart needs moisture to soften. We often desire to feel like we are in control of our lives, situations etc.. as if that will prevent those bad things from happening again. The spirit of control is not from God, after all, He who created all things has the power to control all things, but he chose not to. The spirit of control often seeps in from past scars and makes it very difficult for us to place control into God’s hands and trust that he has it covered. Sometimes we mask this hard heart as “being prepared” or “learning a lesson” in that we have been wrong, been wronged, disappointed or the like and “will not let that happen again”. Sometimes a hard heart comes from pain, in becoming protective of our hearts so as not to be hurt again. No matter what the cause of hardening, clay cannot be sculpted until it is softened. There are many degrees of “hardness”, and the softening is a process that may take several applications to get it to the correct consistency.
Often this moisture comes in the form of tears, spritzed onto us. In some cases these are tears of pain, when we finally get to the breaking point that we have nowhere else to turn, but to God.
Other times, these are tears of joy. Anyone who has ever had a child or married their soul mate can attest to the overflowing of the heart that comes with those tears of joy. And the best part is, those tears are just a drop in the bucket to what Love God has for us. He can soften the hardest of hardest if we let Him.
If the clay is too wet, we add more clay powder so that the clay is firmer.
How are we the Clay? Sometimes, especially with those who have suffered physical or emotional abuse, we become “beat down” so to speak. We’ve cried so many tears of pain that our “clay” has become soft and mushy, unable to hold form. More specifically, those who suffer the lies that they are “not good enough”, “have nothing to give”, “aren’t strong enough”, “aren’t worthy of love” etc.. can find it very difficult to stand up straight. To stand firm in the Lord. Sure, many might have their complete faith in God, having no strength of their own to live by, but at the same time, they struggle to find enough strength to “stand firm in the faith”.
1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV) Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
Remember, it’s not in our weakness that we are made completely codependent like a wet noodle. Nope. He gives us Strength! To thicken soft clay, God sprinkles strength into us through faith, love, grace & victory to name a few.
1 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Priming the Clay
Once the right consistency of clay is attained, the potter’s wheel process can begin. We don’t get to start sculpting right away, no there is some prep work that needs to be done. In this phase, we place the clay onto the center of the wheel. As you can imagine, a spinning wheel can spin at various speeds from slow to really fast. This first phase requires the most strength and a moderate speed from the potter. You see, the clay blob isn’t symmetrical yet, so it wobbles around. This process requires a firm grip to work the clay into a symmetrical shape. The clay often fights against your hands as it wobbles out of balance, as if trying to push you away, but instead, you hold a firm grip, carefully not to push too hard, but not to let go either. In some cases, more water may be dripped or spritzed onto the clay to perfect the consistency. The potter may use a damp sponge to smooth the edges.
How are we the Clay? We are three part beings, Spirit, Soul & Body. Achieving a balance between these is a difficult task and one that this world cannot teach us. Quite the opposite actually, this world stands to push us out of balance. Only God can help guide us to the balance we need to be strong and centered. Notice the potter has a firm grip. God doesn’t let go of us and allow us to fall, but he also has to press against our resistance sometimes. Ever ask yourself why God would allow certain things to happen? If you had it your way, you would have wanted _________. This is you pushing against the potters hands. An example, some people are diagnosed with a physical infirmity that leads them to the revelation that this stems from a spiritual infirmity. Think of poor Job who lost everything. Though he cried out to the Lord in pain, he never pushed back against the potter’s hands. How we sometimes “push back” is through resentment for God, disappointment with God for things that hurt. Often times we don’t even realize right away that we do, but the scar remains until God has to spritz us once more to remove the blemish. Or he may wipe away our tears with his wet sponge to smooth away the defects in our lives.
There are also air bubbles in the clay that must be worked out. To do this, once you have the clay balanced, you build it up and push it back down. Repeating this over and over again until all the air bubbles have been worked out.
How are we the Clay? We all have “air bubbles”. These are internal scars, weeds, resentment etc that still linger long after God has began working on us. Often times, we don’t realize they are there, but they keep popping back up. An example, in contemplating one thing recently, a past hurt popped up as a contributing factor of my recent shortfall. I have thought on that hurt many times over the years, but did not realize that it was still an “air bubble” until now. You see, that memory still held an elevated emotion with it. I was still listing it mentally as a factor in my behavior or justification of current events. That evidence showed me that I had not forgiven that person or that event, and that I certainly had not yet laid it down at the feet of Jesus. Do you ever feel that you have come a long way in Christ, but you just keep finding “air bubbles” that you need healed or released? Fear not brother’s and sister’s, we all have them and our Potter is eagerly working through them as we allow him. Have you ever felt like you’ve been built up taller by God, only to feel like you’ve shrank back down? Or ever felt like you take one step forward and two steps back? Think of the action of the potter, rising the clay high and then pushing it back down and repeating. This process works through those air bubbles, centering the clay to perfection which prepares it for the next stage.
For me as the potter, I always wanted to get through this prep stage as quickly as possible. The creativity doesn’t happen until this stage is over, and the work involved in this phase is tedious. However, skipping this stage or not taking the adequate time will compromise the project, often ending in failure through the rest of the process.
How are we the Clay? I think most of us, as the clay, want this process to move quicker than it does. Remember, the potter must maintain a moderate speed and keep repeating the build-up, mash down process until the air bubbles are gone. The more we resist, the longer this process takes. Most of us would like to skip ahead to where the potter is making us a pretty vessel. But God, our Perfect Potter, knows that building a vessel that is compromised will only harm us (and his Kingdom) in the end. Case in point, look how proud and boastful the Pharisees were in Jesus’s day. Imagine if they had been given the power to perform the same miracles as Jesus! That would have been dangerous! Their vessels had way too many air bubbles, and were entirely out of balance. Likely they would have cracked, or broken, and cut many other people in the process.
Sculpting the Clay
Now the fun part begins. The clay has been prepped. It is now centered, the air bubbles have been removed, and the clay swirls around like butter in the Potter’s hands, giving no resistance. The smooth, silky clay merely glides like a loving caress. The Potter no longer needs a firm hand. This phase requires delicacy from the Potter. The softest touch is received eagerly by the clay, making formational progress that seems disproportionate. Specifically, the potter barely touches the vessel, almost like “pointing” at what he wants, and the clay responds with strength and grace, executing boldly.
How are we the Clay? Once our hearts have been prepared to the right softness, and our strength built up in the Lord, once we have worked through the scars and barriers that hinder us and become balanced, we finally start to trust in the Lord. We finally start to seek Him in all things. At this stage, he doesn’t need a firm hand to direct our growth, instead, that still small whisper is all he needs to guide us. In turn, we respond eagerly and execute on the whisper. Quiet moments with God build us up to a level that is beyond human comprehension and we begin to caress the Potter’s hands as he caresses us. Whole-hearted worship is a perfect example of this phase. The tender love for our Lord and his tender guidance in our lives.
Even in the process, sometimes the vessel will be built up and then need to be worked back down to further strengthen it.
How are we the Clay? Ever feel like even in your mature walk with God you have spiritual setbacks? This is the same concept as pruning. It is not a punishment to the clay, it is simply part of the process that strengthens it. The potter will continue to build the clay back up when the clay (and the Potter) are ready. Do not be disappointed. Do not be discouraged. Expect setbacks and receive them eagerly so that the Potter can work his wonderful vision.
John 15:2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
Part of the beauty in this metaphor is that no two pots will be the same. Even for potters making a set of something (such as a set of coffee cups), sculpting them in this manner without a mold will result in each one being slightly (if not visible to the eye) different. Special time, love and care is given to each cup of the set, individually. The Potter has full control to design what He wishes or needs. Sometimes he’ll make a cup, sometimes a vase.
How are we the Clay? Ever looked enviously at someone else, whom, you felt was stronger, prettier, taller, more mature in their walk with God, more gifted, more blessed etc..? As Christian’s it is sometimes hard not to be jealous of other’s relationship with God. You may feel like they have been called to something greater than you. Or that God just pours out his blessings on them, meanwhile you are struggling to keep your head afloat. But consider this. The cereal bowl could complain to the Potter than it is short and round while the pitcher is tall with beautiful curves. But can you imagine trying to eat your cereal out of a pitcher? The pitcher could complain to the Potter that it is lonely, why can’t it have sets with it like the coffee cups have. Why does it have to be so different than the other vessels in the set? God sculpts each of us as we need. He sculps us to achieve the goals within His kingdom that he needs. We can’t all be pitchers, nor can we all be coffee cups.
1 Corinthians 12: 19-21 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.”…
It is impossible at first to see what the potter is making. As you can imagine, most of these creations look very similar early in the process. You can’t say, “Oh that’s tall, it must be a pitcher” because it might be a vase. And vases come in all shapes and sizes. You can’t say, “oh that’s small and short, that’s a cup,” because bowls also come in all sizes. It is only in the later stages of this phase that the clay can start to see “what” it is being shaped into.
How are we the Clay? Ever wanted to know what your calling is? Ever felt frustrated or maybe just curious because you visibly see God working on you, but you can’t quite make out what your role will be? Be encouraged, the Potter knows, and soon, so will you.
While the creative design is up to the imagination of the potter, there are structural consistencies that He must maintain. For example, the thickness of the bottom and sides must not be too thick. Thick walls are at risk of cracking during the drying process. During the firing process, if the walls of the pot are too thick, they will explode.
How are we the Clay? When we depend on ourselves, or become overly confident within ourselves, we inadvertently push God out of the equation. The potter had to balance us, the clay, in the beginning, but now is where he balances us and Him. This specifically, relates to remaining humble and depending on God. Imagine for a minute if God formed a vessel to be modern day, miracle working prophet. But the walls were too thick and the prophet put their faith in their own ability to do these wonderous things. They would form cracks during the drying process, such as thinking they were greater than other vessels who perform less ‘awe inspiring’ service. Imagine if they started to take credit for the work of the miracles. That would be extremely harmful to the Kingdom, and, as they moved into the test of the firing process, they would not hold up to the pressure. They would explode, which would be dangerous not only to themselves, but others around them as well.
Likewise, the walls cannot be too thin. Thin walls will shrivel during the drying process, compromising the form. They can also become extra brittle during the firing process and risk breaking.
How are we the Clay? Self doubt. There is a fine line between humble and self doubt. “God why me?” “God, surely there is someone better for this task”. This concept is not far from the too-soft clay in the beginning. We may have all our trust in the Lord, but if we don’t have the thickness to “stand firm in the faith”, how can we possibly accomplish the goals that God has set before us? Specifically, if you are called to evangelize, how would you react when met with harsh resistance? Would you feel like fleeing to somewhere more comfortable? Or would you stand your ground and let God do his work through you? As a Christian, are you afraid to talk about the Love of Jesus with non-believers? Or do you find that you often take the risk? Society and political correctness have forged “harsh resistance” in this matter, and a good test of how thick your walls are is to look at what fruit you produce today. Are you willing to have people think you are a “bible thumper” or some other name at the risk of planting a seed? Or do you avoid these situations?
Once the form is complete, the vessel can be removed from the wheel, but it isn’t quite ready for the firing. All the visible sides look great, but there is still work to be done on the bottom. Why is this so important? No one sees the bottom when the vessel is displayed, right? Well for one, the bottom will often have extra thickness that needs to be shaved off. Remember the risk at firing for parts that are too thick? You also need the vessel to be balanced and sturdy when it is sitting. Like anything, balance and strength start from the foundation, (Or the bottom) which is not typically a visual part of any structure. The Potter will have to let the vessel dry slightly before turning it over to trim away the bottom. This is also where the potter often signs or stamps their name.
How are we the Clay? The bottom represents the internal work and relationship that God has with each of us. This isn’t directly visible to anyone, only the fruit of “sturdiness” and “strength”. This is where God continues to work on us internally, romance us emotionally, and strengthen us relationally. He writes his name on our hearts. Most people will never see the extent of the work that God (the Potter) put into this side of our vessel, but it is perhaps the most important part.
The Drying Process
Before the firing process, the clay must be completely dry. Any moisture built up in the clay will cause the vessel to break in the next phase. This process can take days or weeks, depending on the environment. The potter simply stores this vessel on a shelf and waits.
How are we the Clay? I don’t personally think I’ve reached this stage yet with the God, however, I would imagine it would feel like either progress has stopped, “Where did God go?” OR It may be the point where we reach a peak in our roles, perhaps even successfully executing on our roles in the Kingdom. I envision this to be a possible “Training Wheels” phase where God gives us some victories in our gifting’s to build up confidence and prepare us for the trials ahead.
The first firing is what turns the clay hard. This takes a lot of heat for an extended period of time in the kiln. It also takes hours for the vessel to cool off enough to be handled. Ultimately, this process strengthens the clay into something that can endure. Sometimes they potter will fill the kiln with multiple vessels, sometimes, He may just put one in alone, especially if it is particularly large.
How are we the Clay? I suspect these are tests or trials. Once we’ve completed the “Training Wheels” phase, there will be resistance against us. Perhaps God will test us to ensure that we are strong enough to endure. Perhaps this is the natural resistance we face from the enemy that will come against such dangerous weapons of God. Sometimes we will face these trials together with other Christians, and sometimes we may feel all alone in that furnace. One thing is to be sure, in this metaphor there is a LOT of HEAT coming our way. But remember, God the Potter, has designed and sculpted us to withstand the heat, and come out stronger for it.
Glazing & Painting
At this point, we are shapely, strong and dependable vessels. We can serve our purpose, but we are plain to look at. The next phase in pottery is to paint or glaze in order to give the vessel some color. This is what truly makes the vessel beautiful. Glazes and Paints are actually a science of chemistry. These essentially are different elements that, once heated, react a certain way to provide specific colors and effects.
How are we the Clay? God covers us in his love, making us beautiful through him. Different elements of the glaze can be related to our life experiences that help in our new role. For example, in my secular job I was taught to “First seek to understand”. This lesson applies in the kingdom as it helps me be a better listener to others, and provides a reminder to Seek God’s Understanding on an issue before I react. The same could be said of people that God puts into our life that influence our growth and beauty.
To finalize the process, and make the paint/glaze come to life, the vessel has to go through a second, hotter firing. This is perhaps the most taxing part to the clay, but it is what makes it beautiful and timeless.
How are we the Clay? One day, God will give us new bodies, he will be finished with his work on us. One day we will join him in Heaven as beautiful and complete vessels.
As you can see throughout this entire process, the Potter is never finished with us. We go through many phases, some with more effort from the Potter, others with less. However, every phase is important and well planned by our Potter as he thinks of, works on & loves each of us individually.
Where are you in the process?