Have you ever had an occasion where you have heard or read something that, although you may have heard it a thousand times previously, suddenly strikes you as new and different with meaning that you had never before noticed? A few weeks ago, as I was listening to the sermon, the pastor mentioned the verse about the potter and the clay. I found it very familiar and I am sure that it is familiar to all of you as well. The verse from Isaiah reads as follows:
But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8
While I had heard and read that verse hundreds of times, something new struck me that day. I had always formed a picture in my mind of God as a potter merely shaping the clay and forming it into what he wanted it to be so that it would be desirable and useful. That in itself is an awesome thing and an important aspect of being a potter, but as I thought back to my days in high school and college art classes, I came to the realization that there is much more to the analogy. In those days, when I was in school, one of my favorite activities was working with clay. I loved throwing on the wheel and the first thing I was taught, before even attempting to make a ceramic vessel, was how to prepare the clay for use.
Before the clay can be shaped, or even placed on the wheel, it must be prepared. The act of preparing clay is a fairly violent process and involves kneading it, smashing it, folding it, pulling it apart, and throwing it against a hard surface. I know that if I was a piece of clay, I wouldn’t be too happy about being treated in such an apparently brutal manner. The reason for being so rough on the clay is that it contains many small air bubbles and imperfections that must be forced out. Every forceful and intense action, to which the potter subjects the clay, is designed to prepare the clay for the fire that will harden it into a useful object. If the potter did not beat, smash, and throw the clay, its imperfections would cause it to explode and break in the kiln when it was fired. The time and effort spent lovingly crafting and shaping the clay into a beautiful vase or even a simply, utilitarian bowl would be completely wasted if that clay wasn’t properly prepared before being tested in the fire of the kiln.
I find it comforting to know that God is our potter and He is a master. It may not be pleasant and we may not always understand it, although we can be sure that not only will He shape us beautifully, but that He will prepare us properly for our time in the kiln.