There are many things I am cosmically useless at! One of them is pottery. When we had pottery classes at school I could NOT get the clay to do what I wanted at all! As the culmination of a whole year’s pottery classes we were given the task of using a potters wheel to make a bowl and then add a handle to make it into a simple mug or tea cup. But mine didnt work like that! It was as if the clay had a life of its own. It wouldnt keep the shape I gave it. It kept jumping off the wheel.
In the end I gave in and let the clay have its own way. I looked at the lump of clay, saw something it actually resembled, fired it, painted it, glazed it in that shape the clay had chosen. So there in the exhibition of fine teacups, and slightly less fine mugs, and the bowls which didn’t quite make it as mugs, hidden away at the back was the result of my efforts. A clay mouse. And a very fine clay mouse it was too! The best clay mouse anybody made that year! I painted a little smile on its little rodent face and it was just as if the clay was grinning up at everybody saying, “I never wanted to be a teacup! I always wanted to be a mouse!”
Jeremiah 18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my
hand, O house of Israel.
“Like clay in the hand of the potter”
We find the same imagery in the prophet Isaiah:-
Isa 29:16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?
Isa 45:9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a pot among the pots on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, `What are you making?’ Does your work say, `He has no hands’?
Isa 64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
You are the potter – we are the clay!
Of course being transformed from a crude ugly lump of clay to a beautiful teacup is a long hard process for the clay. Imagine the story a teacup could tell if it could speak. Imagine the conversation it would have with the potter!
“You don’t understand,” it would say. “I haven’t always been a teacup. There was a time when I was red and I was clay. The potter took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘leave me alone,’ but he only smiled, ‘Not yet’.
“Then I was placed on a spinning wheel, and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy!’ I screamed. But the potter only nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’ Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me, and I yelled, and I knocked at the door. I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head, ‘Not yet.’
Finally the door opened, he put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. ‘There, that’s better,’ I said. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would choke. ‘Stop it, stop it!’ I cried. He only nodded, ‘Not yet.’
Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. All the time I could see him through the opening nodding his head, saying, ‘Not yet.’ Then I knew there wasn’t any hope. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf. An hour later he handed me a mirror and said, “Look at yourself.” And I did. I said, “That’s not me; that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful. I’m a teacup!”
“I want you to remember, then,” said the potter, “I know it hurt to be rolled and patted, but if I just left you, you’d have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and it was hot and unpleasant in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any colour in your life, and if I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t survive for very long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”
“Can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”
The people of Israel were God’s chosen people. Rescued out of slavery in Egypt. Given the Law of Moses to show them how to be the people of God. Brought safely through the wilderness into the Promised Land. Given victory over all their enemies. All parts of God’s master plan, shaping Israel into a holy nation, God’s special people. So Almighty God their Creator AND their Redeemer was perfectly entitled to continue the refining process of exile and restoration to purify the Israelites from their idol-worship. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”
At times Jeremiah himself, God’s chosen prophet must have felt like a lump of clay being rolled and spun and beaten. Being God’s messenger is a risky business.
20: 1 ¶ When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, 2 he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’s temple.
38:4 Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the
soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This
man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.” 6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Not pleasant at all! But God knew what He was doing. God knew what he was doing in purifying and refining the nation of Israel. God knew what He was doing in Jeremiah’s life. And God knows what He is doing in OUR lives too. He IS the Potter, and we are His clay. He will mould us and make us, so that we may be made into a flawless piece of work to fulfil His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
The trouble is that so often we fight against God’s plans and purposes for us. At the start of our Christian lives, when everything is new and we are excited and enthusiastic and grateful, we give our whole lives to Christ. But then over the years piece by piece we take our lives back again, like the clay fighting back because it doesnt want to be a tea-pot – it only wants to be a mouse.
People sometimes ask why isn’t OUR church very much like the Early Church when they moved out in the power of the Spirit in love and boldness and witnessing. Why isn’t OUR church like some other churches in the world today with the Spirit poured out in dramatic ways? Why don’t each of US as Christians experience as much as we would like to of the power and love of the Holy Spirit in our own lives? Why aren’t WE Holy as our Heavenly Father is Holy?
And the answer is all tied up with the potter and the clay. God can only make us into what He wants if we are prepared to be taken, transformed, used, WHATEVER IT COSTS. Too often we are like clay that is fighting back! You can only have as much of the Spirit’s love and power as you are prepared to have of His HOLINESS.
In our Home Group studies in 2 Timothy you will soon come to chapter 2.
2:20 In a large house there are dishes and bowls of all kinds: some are made of silver and gold, others of wood and clay; some are for special occasions, others for ordinary use.
21 If anyone makes himself clean from all those evil things, he will be used for special purposes, because he is dedicated and useful to his Master, ready to be used for every good deed.
God wants to use all of us for His work, for His glory. But we have to be prepared to be used, prepared to be MADE useful, to be purified and refined so that God CAN use us.
Whenever God asks us to do some act of service or witness for Him, if we are too busy with other things, that is the clay fighting the potter.
When God commands us to love somebody else, if instead we hate them or just ignore them, that is the clay fighting the potter.
When God invites us to spend time every day with him in Bible Study and prayer, if we can’t be bothered, that is the clay fighting the potter.
Everybody loses the battle against temptation sometimes. But if we have given up fighting against a particular temptation to a besetting sin and don’t even TRY to live a holy life, that is the clay fighting the potter.
When God brings us to a time of testing, a time of uncertainty, or change, or sickness, or opposition or persecution perhaps, His purpose is to refine us and purify us, to strengthen our faith as we turn to Him for help and strength. If we refuse his discipline and turn away from God instead blaming him, that is the clay fighting the potter. That is what the nation of Israel was doing. That is what Christians can so easily do as well.
People sometimes ask me what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Does it mean that you receive more of the Holy Spirit. No it doesn’t. You receive ALL that you will ever receive of the Holy Spirit the moment you first trust in Christ and are born again. What being filled with the Spirit means is not that you get more of the Holy Spirit, but that the Holy Spirit gets more of you!!
Some people have compared our lives to a house. If you have a guest to stay in your home there might be certain places you wouldn’t expect the guest to go – your bedroom maybe, or your study. When we become a Christian we invite Christ into our lives, and God gives us His Holy Spirit to live inside us. And we welcome God into our lives as a guest into a house, but maybe there are some rooms we don’t expect him to go into. The dark rooms where we don’t want the light of Christ to shine. The rooms that have been locked up for so long we can’t quite remember why we don’t let anybody in there. The closets with a whole graveyard of skeletons inside. Different rooms of our lives we don’t allow God into.
But Jesus is not satisfied to be merely a guest in our lives. Jesus is Lord – and if Jesus isn’t Lord of all then He isn’t really Lord at all. We have to allow him into EVERY area of our lives – submit to Him in ALL things – surrender EVERYTHING to Him, if we really want to know the power and love of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Being filled with the Spirit is all about unlocking those dark dingy rooms of your House and allowing the breeze of the Spirit to blow them clean so the WHOLE house belongs to Christ.
The great Baptist preacher CH Spurgeon once said
“If you desire Christ for a perpetual guest, give him all the keys of your heart; let not one cabinet be locked up from him; give him the range of every room and the key of every chamber.”
The American equivalent of CH Spurgeon was DL Moody.
D. L. Moody said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”
Moody was to have one of his campaigns in England. One elderly pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated, inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?”
A younger, wiser pastor responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr Moody.”
We have to allow God into EVERY area of our lives – submit to Him in ALL things – surrender EVERYTHING to Him, if we really want to know the power and love of the Holy Spirit in our lives, if we really want to become the people God calls us to be, if we really want to be useful to God.
Here is a prayer written years ago by an 18-year-old called Betty Scott:
“Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Your will for my life. I give my self, my life, my all, utterly to You to be Yours forever. Fill me and seal me with Your Holy Spirit. Use me as You will. Send me where You will. And work out Your whole will in my life–at any cost, now and forever.”
Words like those are not only beautiful but risky: if you mean them, they can lead your life in directions you never expected. In Betty’s case, they led her and her husband John Stam to serve as missionaries in China, over seventy years ago. While they were there, Betty and John were captured by Chinese Communists, stripped, chained together, and marched through the streets of the little village they were working in. Then they were both beheaded.
Full surrender – total submission – that’s the only way to let the potter have His way with the clay of our lives, to take us and make us into what HE wants us to be. That’s the only way to release the power and love of the Holy Spirit into our lives. But too often we are just like the clay fighting against the potter.
“I don’t want to be a teacup, or a mug, or a bowl, or anything useful! I’d much rather just be a clay mouse!”
JESUS, YOU ARE CHANGING ME,
By Your Spirit You’re making me like You.
Jesus, You’re transforming me,
That Your loveliness may be seen in all I do.
You are the potter and I am the clay,
Help me to be willing to let You have Your way.
Jesus, You are changing me,
As I let You reign supreme within my heart.