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The Potter's Story

Lisa Barry: Do you ever wonder if God is making any progress with you? Do you sometimes feel like you've been basically the same person for 20 years? Well, the other day I was reading over an old journal of mine from 1985. I was inspired and excited to remember the ways in which God was working through my circumstances then. At the same time, I was shocked as I recalled how impatient I was, how I would rush ahead of God so many times.

Today on Gateway To Joy Elisabeth Elliot is going to do a little reminiscing of her own. She's someone who God has molded and shaped much like a potter working with clay. Today we'll find out what sort of molding techniques God has used in her life. Stay with us.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot, telling you this week the story of the potter. I love this story. It's in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 18. It says:

"This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 'Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.' So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: '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."

When I was growing up we often sang a lovely little hymn about the potter. "Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still." And that's still the desire of my heart. That the Lord would continue to mold and make me even in my old age, that I might be a vessel for His use.

The master workman, the potter, takes a lump of clay and he cuts it into small pieces. And he crushes it together on the bench, and cuts it, and crushes it together again and again until all the bubbles or lumps have been removed. Then he takes a lump of the thus-prepared clay and throws it in the center of the wheel so that it sticks fast, revolving with the wheel. As the wheel spins his deft fingers caress and mold it, first without and then within, until Jeremiah sees a vessel of beauty emerging from the unpromising clay.

What is the interpretation of the sign? Who is the potter? Well you know that the potter, of course, is God Himself. What are the wheels and what is the clay? Who but God Himself could be the counterpart of this potter? In Isaiah 64:8 we read, "But now, O LORD, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand."

I've been to watch potters do their thing. It's amazing. And the Lord had told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house. And He said, "I will cause thee to hear My words." What did Jeremiah see when he got to the potter's house? Very much the same as I saw in the pottery, which I visited. For in spite of rapid changes in other branches of science and art, the art of pottery remains almost unchanged.

I saw the potter with his master mind, well versed in his art, surrounded by vessels of beauty and utility--the work of his own hands. Then, his eye lights on the wheel. A round piece of board set horizontally on top of a revolving spindle, moving faster, now slower according to the pressure of his foot on the treadle. Then in the potter's hand, he sees the clay. A thing of no particular beauty, just an ugly lump of clay--helpless to improve its condition but capable of receiving and retaining the design wrought by the potter.

And as the prophet--obedient to the heavenly command--stands by the potter's side, he watches the vessel being made as the potter works on the wheel. So he takes this lump of clay, throws it in the center of the wheel so that it sticks fast. And as the wheel spins his fingers caress and mold it. That just blew my mind when I watched the potter, just the deftness with which he used his fingers. Delicately, sometimes rather forcefully, molding it on the inside and out.

Jeremiah saw the same, a vessel of beauty emerging from that unpromising clay. Now what is the interpretation? Who is the potter? What are these wheels, and what about the clay? Who but God Himself could be the counterpart of the potter? God is a supremely skillful potter, a master workman indeed.

The molding of human lives is no experiment with Him. He doesn't play with His creatures the way a cat plays with a mouse. There's no caprice in God. He does things perfectly. Everything to which He puts His hand He does perfectly. The disastrous tendency in human nature is to assume the role of the potter, which belongs to God alone. We take our lives into our own hands, arrogantly calling ourselves the molders of our destiny. Well, it's a fatal delusion.

We're the clay, He's the potter; the wheels--what about them? Robert Browning wrote, "This dance of plastic circumstance, machinery just meant to give thy soul its bent." The revolving wheel represents the daily round of life, whether it is joyous or sad. It's on the wheel that the design of the potter's mind is transferred to the plastic clay. Here, is the explanation of the mysteries of God's providential dealings.

If there weren't any designs in them how could we explain the tangles of life's circumstances? The potter's making them all--temperament, environment, bereavement, poverty, disappointment, misfortune, sickness. They all contribute to the perfecting of the vessel that He is fashioning on the wheel. Amazing, isn't it? All of these things--bereavement, poverty, disappointment, misfortune, sickness--we say to the Lord, "Why are You doing this, Lord?" He says, "I'm making a vessel, a beautiful vessel."

Do you realize that complaints against your circumstances are really directed against the Potter who ordered them? No other circumstances than those in which you find yourself at this moment could achieve His highest beneficent purpose. What we need is not so much a change of circumstances as a changed attitude towards them.

I have to confess that I have had a very great struggle with my changed attitude toward a Microsoft as opposed to an Apple computer. People persuaded my husband and me that what we needed was Microsoft Word. Well, my attitude was pretty rotten. I didn't like that machine, I still don't. I'm still having an agonizing time trying to make the thing work, but I have no doubt that the Potter is somehow through this difficulty shaping me closer to the image that He wants in His pot that He is making.

Life is no blind whirring of wheels, but it's a combination of circumstances ordered with meticulous care by a loving Father. If we rebel against them, all we achieve is our own unhappiness and the marring of the vessel of our life. Here's a bit of poetry:

"Tis I who mar His working that ere is faultless, I am so blind.
I do not see that many a painful process, is love most kind.
How oft I struggle, chaff at sitting still.
Marring the working of His blessed will."

And what about the clay? Job said, "Thou hast made me as the clay." A statement, which is true both materially and spiritually. Because it was made of the earth that God first formed man. "Man is but a handful of dust along the road of life," someone has said. The clay is the frail human nature. You are the raw material for the kingdom of God.

Clay is so common that it's practically valueless. When I lived with the Auca Indians I knew that the woman made exactly the same kind of pots out of the same clay in the same river. It was very common stuff. It wasn't worth much of anything until they made it into a pot. And someone has said, "It is the art, which gives the value--and not the material." Left to itself clay would remain clay, but yielded to the shaping hand there are no limits to its possibilities.

Like clay, a human life is a thing of almost infinite possibilities. Geologists tell us that there are endless varieties of clay, each locality having its own peculiar varieties. No two of which can be treated the same. The heavenly Potter recognizing the fact that no two human beings are the same, doesn't deal with us on mass but bestows on each His individual and undivided attention. His dealings with each of us are unique and exclusive.

Are you willing to be molded and made by the Master Potter? Are you going to complain and say, "Lord, why are you doing this to me?" Or will you remember that He's shaping a vessel for His own use. God bless you.

Lisa Barry: Could it be that God wants you to see that the trial you're facing today is a part of the bigger plan of shaping you into a vessel He can use? The New English Bible says, "We are only pots--common ones of clay--so that the splendid power may belong to God and not to us."

I found that quote in Elisabeth's book A Lamp for My Feet. And to be honest, I don't think I could recommend another devotional book more highly than this one. It challenges, motivates and inspires all in one. I'd love to read more of it to you but there's not time, so purchase a copy for yourself. The cost is 13.50, and you can send that amount along with your request to:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE, 68501. That's Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE, 68501. Or, call toll-free 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. You can also find us on the Internet at gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy is a listener-supported production of Back to the Bible.

Tomorrow, Elisabeth talks about the redeeming value of a damaged pot. That's coming up next time on Gateway To Joy.

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