Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jars of Clay

Lessons from the Potter

"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

These are some thoughts that have been brewing in my head ever since I took my first ceramics class 8 years ago. This past week, I was once again reminded of the amazing picture of Christ's work in our lives as I went back to the pottery village on a field trip with my students.

In order to get clay from the ground and get it to the point that it can be used to make a pot, it must go through a refining process. In its natural state, the clay is nothing more than dirt. It is full of impurities; stones, rocks, roots and other things. First the dirt is mixed with water to make a slushy mud. The slush is then put through a strainer to get rid of the pollutants.

 In the Bible, we are compared to the clay, from the very beginning and throughout. "By the sweat of your brow will you have to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return."
-Genesis 3:19

During this refining process, the old, former state of the dirt is changed into something new, something that can be worked with and used. In our own lives, Christ put to death the impurities once and for all on the cross.

"We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would not longer be enslaved to sin"
-Romans 6:6

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come"
-II Corinthians 5:17

The incredible thing about our lives is that Christ looks at that dirty mud, full of sticks and stones, and doesn't see the mess, but the beautiful vessel we will someday become, and that is exactly what he died for.

Once the clay has been cleaned from its impurities, it has to be wedged, before it can be used on the wheel. This is to mix the hard clay with the softer sections, but also to take out any air bubbles that may have formed. Even if you can't see the air bubbles, the final pottery can be cracked and ruined by the smallest air bubble.

Back in college when I took a ceramics class, I had to learn how to throw pots on a wheel. The instructor kept reminding us to keep an even pressure at all times on the clay in order to get it centered and to keep it from flying away. In the same way, God has his hands on us, constantly keeping an even pressure, so that our lives do not get off centered.

Centering the clay is just one step, but the potter cannot stop there. A centered lump of clay is not good for anything, it is absolutely useless. The potter then must begin to pull the clay by stretching it upwards, all the while keeping a hand on the clay, guiding it continually to keep it centered.

"So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good for the potter to do."
-Jeremiah 18:3

When the clay gets off centered, or messed up(which happened often when I did ceramics) the pot is ruined, and had to be remade into something better. I used to try to salvage the pots that I knew were slightly off centered, but if I continued to pull the walls of the pot up, the mistake was even more visible. There was no other choice, but to crush the clay back into a ball and start over. The same thing has happened to me in my own life. At times, maybe from the outside my life has the semblance of being OK, but continuing on the course I was headed became detrimental. God has taken me to places where I have felt utterly broken and pressed on all sides. However, in the crushing, pressure of the world around me, my life was made more whole and God's presence even more evident.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsake; struck down, but not destroyed."
-II Corinthians 4:7-9

Our lives are a constant refining. The stretching hurts in our lives. No one wants to be pulled and pressed, but the final vessel is worth it. The amazing part is, even when the clay feels stretched thin and being pulled, the potter's hands are constantly guiding and keeping the clay centered. He never lets go!

"Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?"
-Romans 9:20-21

No one looks at a beautiful vase and praises the vase itself for being pretty.  Instead you will praise the one who made it. The Creator who lovingly crafted it into something beautiful.

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
-Ephesians 2:10

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