“Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8
When I was in college I decided to take a pottery class. I thought pottery would be easy and who wouldn’t want to get college credit for playing in the mud? Well, pottery ended up being one of the hardest, most time-consuming classes I ever took–and one of the most enjoyable too. In molding pottery with my own hands, I came to better understand the heart of God when he refers to himself as the potter and we as the clay.
Molding pottery is an intimate, messy labor of love. The part I love the most about pottery is the way the artist’s fingerprints end up on every part of their creation. As the soft clay spins between my hands on the wheel, my every movement changes the shape of what I create. My fingerprints weave in and out along the surface of the clay and what I am creating becomes as unique as the pattern of my fingerprints.
God is the potter molding our lives in his hands. His fingerprints write a unique story on our hearts as we are molded and shaped by his creative plan. He is as intimately involved in the shaping of our lives as the potter is in the shaping of the messy clay.
Clay is delicate and fragile. All it takes to destroy a work of art is one wrong move when the clay is spinning on the wheel or an accidental drop and the whole thing is shattered. After all the time and labor that goes into making a piece of pottery, the artist is quite protective of his work and is extremely proud of the beauty that has been formed from a simple lump of mud. God labors in his creation–and he carefully protects that which he has created. Why would he so labor only to shatter what he has made? He doesn’t–he protects and takes pride in his creation–in what he has formed from the dust of the earth.
When you are making pottery, you start with a lumpy ball of clay full of flaws and imperfections. To even begin forming anything of value, you first have to work the clay into a balanced circle on the wheel that is free of bumps and air bubbles. To do this, you knead the clay with both hands by pressing it hard against the wheel and slowly working the outside walls in until the whole thing is balanced and centered. Like the clay, we too start out as lumpy mounds of imperfection. But God gathers us up in his hands and begins his creative work. To work the flaws out of us, he must push, pressure, and pull us into usable pieces of clay–this is a messy, exhausting labor of love but it is essential if we are to ever become useful in the potter’s hands.
Once the clay is balanced you open it up in the middle and begin pulling it up from the sides into the shape you want. Once it is pushed and pulled into shape, you carefully remove it from the wheel and let it dry to the “leather-hard” stage. At this stage you put the clay back on the wheel upside-down and trim away excess, rough edges, and give the piece more shape and character. Like the clay, after working on us for a time, God often gives us times of rest and refreshment so we don’t grow overwhelmed–but his work is not done. There is still much trimming to do and this sometimes means putting us on our heads and turning our world upside-down to trim away the excess and rough spots so that he may ultimately add more beauty and character to our muddy lives.
Once the piece is trimmed you are ready for the first firing which hardens the clay and prepares the surface for glazing. Again, like clay in the potter’s hands, God puts us through “fires” of testing to make us stronger. Even though it seems like the fire is destructive, it is actually the only way a piece of pottery can reach its full potential and be prepared for what makes it really beautiful–the glaze. Out of the fire comes a beautiful piece of pottery well worth all the mess and labor.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” Psalm 40:1-3 (italics mine)
Note: None of these pictures portray me making pottery or anything that I have made. All credit for both the pictures and the pottery go to the individual artists.
Other Scripture regarding the potter and the clay: Isaiah 45:9, Jon 10:8-9 and 33:6 and Romans 9:20-21.