The Potter and the Clay

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, May 12, 2017 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

Most people who have any remote Christian background have heard the potter and the clay analogy. It’s easy to talk about and is part of the bridge of the very popular song “Change My Heart, O God.” This analogy is used in Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 29:16, Romans 9:21, and other passages. God is the potter and we are the clay. God takes us and molds us and makes us into what he wants us to be. It is a very common image where we like to talk about it, but we do not want to go through it.

I would say the majority of us do not want God to make us into what he wants to make us into. I would say the majority of us are asking God to make us into what we want to be made into. How often do we pray, “Lord, make me and use me however you want and I will cooperate and agree no matter what happens to me or what reputation I have”? I would suggest not often. I cannot really think of when I have said this kind of prayer except perhaps the last several weeks. Most of us rather pray, “Lord, enable me to do this, this, or that, and while you are at it, please give me a good reputation.” We have that dream job or dream position or dream family and we ask God to make us so we can have that dream. But which of us are willing to lay those dreams down so God can mold and make us into the vessels he needs for his purposes?

What kind of vessels does God make? Some are made to be put on display. These are the talented artists in music, art, dance, or sports. Some are made to carry water or food or even tools. These are those who are involved in helps ministries. There are some that are used for sanitation and removing waste. These could be prophets. There are some for holding candles and shining light. These are the teachers. There are many others too. Many people want to tell God what kind of vessel we want to be, and it is usually a glamorous one. What if God wants you to be a hidden vessel? Are you willing to allow God to mold you into what he wants you to be, or are you going to be stiff and difficult for God to work you into what he wants? Are you willing to carry out the job he wants you to do, or are you going to complain that you did not get the job you wanted? Sometimes we need to be moldable, and other times God needs to break us so he can reform us.

For the bulk of my Christian life, I have sought to be moldable. I know the tales and the descriptions of being broken. That never sounds like a fun process to go through. So I have had in my mind this whole time to be moldable and flexible. I often would not think of this picture of potter and clay directly, but it’s the same idea. I would rather be flexible so God can mold me rather than have God break me.

Proverbs 29:1 warns us that a stiff-necked person will be broken suddenly and without remedy. When I studied civil engineering, I took a class on different types of materials. In that class I learned of the elastic (Young’s) modulus and the sheer modulus. The elastic modulus is a measurement of how much force a material can handle compared to the amount of deformation (stretching, bending, etc) it endures. Sometimes the material can revert back to its original form (like most rubber bands), or sometimes the deformation is permanent (like with metal). The shear modulus is the measurement of the force applied to a material compared to whether it breaks or not. In some materials, these two modulus are quite close to each other. Steel and rocks are examples. If you increase the pressure upon these materials, when they start to bend, it only takes a little bit more to break them. According to Proverbs, a stiff-necked person will be able to handle a lot of stress without bending, however there will not be any sign of shattering until it is too late. I did not want to be this kind of person. I still have a lot of impurities to work out, but I wanted to be where God can gently work them out, rather than having to shatter me and pull them out.

There is another image of clay vessels that caught my attention. It is when the sinful woman (often believed to be Mary Magdalene) anointed Jesus’ feet. She took her jar of spikenard, an extremely expensive perfume, and broke it, pouring the perfume upon Jesus’ feet. The scent was so strong it filled the entire room. Another passage of Scripture describes us as the fragrance of Christ. The spikenard filled the room because the jar holding it was broken. When we are broken, often through the means of persecution, we should release the fragrance of Christ. My pastor uses a lemon to illustrate. He asks, “What do you get when you squeeze a lemon? Whatever is inside it.” God will squeeze us to get whatever is in us to come out. Is it Christ? Or is it the flesh? Good fruit juice? Or something rancid?

There is value in being flexible and there is value in being stiff and strong. God needs both types of people. The flexible type readily listens to God’s Word and moves to obey it. The stiff and strong very often need to be shattered first, then God can start to work with them. When that happens, however, that person cannot be moved by anything the world throws at them. Jacob was one such person. He was extremely strong-willed and he would do whatever it took to get what he wanted. Then one night, he got into a wrestling match with God and he refused to let go. Up until that point, Jacob had done everything by the flesh and that night God broke him and he walked with a limp from that point forward. In the process, Jacob lived by the Spirit instead of the flesh. It took a breaking to do that.

Asking God to break you is perhaps the most dangerous prayer one can make, because God will. Sometimes God will be gentle with us, but other times God needs to give tough love. In being flexible, I am wondering if I need God to break me. I have areas that I have not wanted to give up as I thought I would. I have areas where my flesh still has solid control over my life. And I sense God is asking me if I would like him to break me so he could finish forming me into what he wants me to be. I have to admit, I am scared of that prayer.

One of the greatest fears of God breaking us is if God would expose that deep dark sin that you have told no one about. A reason for that fear is because in such breaking, that which we tend to cherish in the flesh or in the world is going to be lost. However, if we recognize what God sees in our sin, brokenness is precisely how we should respond. Brokenness is the penitent and contrite heart that David displayed appropriately to his sin with Bathsheba. Psalm 51 is his great confession. Brokenness drives us to true repentance where we no longer take sin casually and we truly want nothing to do with what caused it to begin with. It is a painful process. While no one who has been through the breaking process wants to go through it again, they know that because of it they are so much better off than they would be without it.

There is another angle of brokenness that deserves another post. This is what God has been teaching me this past couple months and what these past four weeks have been building up to. I am calling this the secret to living the Christian life in its power. I can say it is one of the least popular aspects in the Christian faith and one of the topics least spoken of in many pulpits. I have known this secret for years, but in theory only. Next week’s post is ultimately a culmination of what I have been writing about since July of last year. This is what is needed in order to pray like I wrote about how we should pray, and how to live not just in theory but in practice. Stay tuned.

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