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The Clay, the Potter and the Wheel
by Brian C. Thompson
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The Clay & the Potter

Jer. 18:1-6

‘Go down to the shop where clay pots and jars are made and I will talk to you there…’ (L.B.)

Some years ago, on holiday in Wales, our family visited a local pottery. Not only could you watch the craft in action, you were invited to volunteer for an attempt at making your own pottery mug, under the expert direction of a real, live potter, in front of a real, live audience. For some reason, I stuck my hand up, went to the front, was duly encased in a large apron and put in front of a small potter’s wheel. Clay was centred on the wheel, the motor started and the lesson began. It was an education!

Anybody who thinks that clay is an inert material has never tried working with it. As a material it is stubborn, wilful, independent and non-co-operative. To the people who – like me – had queued up to watch, it was highly entertaining. To me, it was a battle. The clay would not stay still. It didn’t want to be moulded and had no intention of passively submitting to my intentions for it. Strange really; when the local artist does it, the clay seems to bend, become compliant, to work with the potter in the thrilling process of discovering just what ornamental or useful object it might become. One minute it’s a shapeless lump of brown material, the next it’s a living, growing thing. Taking shape within the skilful hands of an artist and becoming an elegant jug or a sturdy bowl.

Of course they use a completely different kind of clay to what I was given to work with. There’s no other explanation! Theirs worked with them; mine fought back. They had clay with the right motivation, clay that wanted to become something beautiful. I had clay with attitude. It was a battle of wills. I was determined to win but the clay had strategies I had never heard of. As the visitors watched and laughed, it all slipped away from me. The clay became irregular, deformed, bits of it left the wheel. The instructor did her best – but at the end of the demonstration there was no question who had won.

I got a badge, the visitors got a lesson, my family got a lot of fun at my expense and what came home with me was a permanent reminder of how not to make something. It was neither decorative nor useful, just a reminder of my complete lack of skill as a potter.

But that was the point. The secret was never in the clay. It was always in the hands of the potter. The only thing the clay contributes is itself. It has to be there, on the wheel. It has to stay inside the potter’s hands long enough for the potter’s skill to create what the potter’s vision has seen. The clay does nothing. The potter does it all.

And God says… ‘stay on the wheel… let me finish what I have started… you can do nothing… I can do anything…’ What makes the difference between the life that is shabby and ordinary and the life that shines with God’s character and behaviour, is that one lump of clay stayed on the wheel long enough for the potter to finish the job. We bring nothing to the splendid thing God is creating. We are what we are… clay. God brings everything to it. He has the wisdom, he has the knowledge, he has the patience and he has the skill. His hands work the miracle and under them we become what we are not. Does not the bible say ‘He takes the things that are not?’

The finished product on the shelves of the pottery draws admiring glances. Some are truly inspired. But no-one says ‘what wonderful clay that is’. As we stand and marvel at the elegance, the beauty of shape and symmetry, all we say is ‘how did they do that with just a lump of clay?’ And there lies reason for both humility and hope. Humility, because whatever truly good thing comes out of my life, was put there by God. If you see God in my life and character, look closely and you will see The Potter’s fingerprints all over it. And hope because, whatever I am right now, formless, shapeless, useless; without place, or purpose, or value: who knows what I may become if I only stay on the wheel and let the potter keep working? My final value cannot be measured by what I am now; it can only be measured by the limitless skill and expertise, the patience and resourcefulness of the potter.

I may well be spoilt. To others, even beyond salvage. How often have I been written off? I am a failure at what I am. But the Potter sits down patiently, skilfully, persistently, reworking the clay that no one else can see any future in. And another miracle is born between his fingers. I am made into something else. I can no longer be what I might have been. But I do not have to remain what I am. I can be whatever He wants me to be!

There is hope enough in that for every piece of clay. So long as he is the Potter. And so long as we stay on the wheel.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Catrina Bradley  26 Mar 2008
Brilliant. I've worked with clay on a wheel, so I could picture you and your attempt. I also saw myself, and God trying to mold me and my attitude. I'm glad Joanne pointed me to this devotional - I'll try to stay on the wheel!! :)
Joanne Sher  21 Mar 2008
Absolutely exceptional - I am putting this in my favorites. By the way, your story was chosen as a "jewel" for this week. Check out the cheering section at the faithwriters' boards to see the list. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=5
Janice Cartwright 21 Mar 2008
Spiritually meaty, winsome, and with the nicest touch of humor. Extremely well-written.
Patty Wysong 14 Mar 2008
This is wonderful and it really spoke to me. I love this passage of Scripture, but I never knew how clay worked--this helps me understand so much more, and makes it more meaningful. So much here to chew on--thank you!!


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