In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets—some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage. Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.
Run away from infantile indulgence. Run after mature righteousness—faith, love, peace—joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God. Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.
2 Timothy 2:19-26 | MSG
In 1902, Adelaide A. Pollard, a Bible teacher and hymn writer, was hoping to go to Africa as a missionary but found herself unable to raise the needed funds to make the journey. Greatly discouraged, she attended a prayer service one evening and as she sat there, she overheard an elderly woman say “It really doesn’t matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives.” The elderly woman inspired Pollard and she contemplated the story of the potter from Jeremiah 18:3 and, upon her return home that evening, wrote all four stanzas before retiring for the night.
Five years later George Stebbins wrote a tune titled “Adelaide” to accompany the text.
As we close out this week of reflections on the Potter’s hands, reflect on the lyrics to this classic hymn:
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.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.
Picture yourself as a container/vessel in God’s kingdom kitchen. What do you see?
How do you see yourself? Why?
Divine Potter, have your way in me; hold sway over me; mold me and make me after your will into the vessel that you would choose, whether for honor or dishonor, for high use, low use, no use. Deliver me from my more noble visions of grandeur, and make me the kind of container that You can use. Through Christ.
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!
2 Corinthians 4:7-12 | ESV
It’s a classic scene.
“Choose wisely,” says the guardian of the grail. Unholy seeker asks the opinion of the expert: “Which one is it?” Life and death hang in the balance, literally. She chooses a jewel-encrusted chalice and death ensues. “He choose poorly.” And there it sits before them on the table. The unadorned chalice, rudimentary, simple.
And life flows.
Love that scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
So much time we spend encrusting ourselves with performance, achievement and accomplishment. We try so hard to make it – and perhaps some of us pull it off – at least to all appearances, anyway. But most of us can only shrug in shame at the reflection. No matter how much effort, how much affected finesse, how refined a religious resume we can cobble together, we see it, we know it. We are but unadorned, clay pots.
Cracked pots, actually.
When I first encountered this passage from Paul’s letter I was reminded of the story of Gideon and his three hundred – armed with clay pots and torches, surrounding a great host. And in the middle of the night, Gideon and his three hundred shattered the pots, the broken pots now suddenly revealing the blazing light.
Lesson: God uses not just the unadorned clay pots, but the cracked and shattered ones to reveal his glory. Any effort encrusting ourselves with religious jewels will only end up adorning the floor with them. For crack and smash them (us!) he will, that light concealed within us may shine forth.
How often do you feel pressure to be something more than an “unadorned clay pot”?
Where does that pressure come from? What do you hear the Potter saying to you?
Divine Potter, free me from the presumption that I must somehow be more than I am, more than you have made me to be. Free me from all those self-imposed or others-imposed expectations to do more, achieve more, to be worthy before. Let me rest in your hands that simply delight in forming me, and be content in the increasing number of cracks I witness in me. Shine through each one. Brilliantly. Through Christ.
“Open up, heavens, and rain.
Clouds, pour out buckets of my goodness!
Loosen up, earth, and bloom salvation;
sprout right living.
I, God, generate all this.
But doom to you who fight your Maker—
you’re a pot at odds with the potter!
Does clay talk back to the potter:
‘What are you doing? What clumsy fingers!’
Thus God, The Holy of Israel, Israel’s Maker, says:
“Do you question who or what I’m making?
Are you telling me what I can or cannot do? ” Isaiah 45:8-10 | NLT
So here’s the irony. Humanity is the one hands-on act of creation. Everything else was spoken into existence, but we are formed with his hands. And we have ended up being the one thing in creation that has grieved him the most. Another Zornberg quote to spin on the wheel of your spirit:
Quite different is the imagery of the potter and his clay (or the baker and his dough). For here, the midrash (teaching commentary) dares to make a statement about the Frankensteinian nature of all creation. True, the potter has total control of his material. As in the famous image in Jeremiah 18, “if the vessel he was making with clay in the potter’s hands was spoiled, he would make it into another vessel, such as the potter saw fit to make.” Like God, the potter “sees” and “makes.” But there is another truth in the relationship of potter and clay. Here is the surprise, rather than the inevitability of God’s power. In all creative work, there is a play between the artist and his material. The characters of the novel begin to talk back, to declare their own reality and destiny.
One gets a sense in the creation story that everything moves in the rhythm of its own creation – except for humanity. We reach – or more precisely, we over-reach, over-bite – reaching for what we are not ready for, trying to “be like gods” on our own initiative, in our own time. “Why have you made me thus? What clumsy fingers!” Art at odds with the artist. The artist flummoxed with his artwork. It’s an absurd picture: the pot at odds with the potter, giving him a good talking to about his style and skill.
And we do it nearly every day.
When have you felt at odds with the Potter? What happened? How was the debate resolved in you?
Holy Potter, forgive me when I forget Whom is molding and shaping whom. Thank you for the way you continue to shape me during such times of arrogance and ignorance. Thank you for continuing to spin the wheel and the clay that is me. Through Jesus.
God told Jeremiah, “Up on your feet! Go to the potter’s house. When you get there, I’ll tell you what I have to say.”
So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.
Then God’s message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel? God’s Decree! Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you, people of Israel. At any moment I may decide to pull up a people or a country by the roots and get rid of them. But if they repent of their wicked lives, I will think twice and start over with them. At another time I might decide to plant a people or country, but if they don’t cooperate and won’t listen to me, I will think again and give up on the plans I had for them.” Jeremiah 18:1-10 | MSG
Another excerpt. Another author. Neil T. Anderson from The Common Made Holy. Go to the Potter’s House. Watch his work…
A long time ago the infinite and eternal Creator sat down at his potter’s wheel as he had so many times before. Everything he had made so far was very good, but this time he had something else in mind. He wanted to create something in his own image. Something, or better, someone who could personally relate to him. The potter had already fashioned living beings to inhabit planet earth, but this new creation would be different. Far more significant than all other earthen vessels, this new creation would be fruitful and multiply and rule over all the other created beings who flew in the sky, walked on the earth, or swam in the seas.
So he took a glob of clay and placed it on his wheel. As the wheel began to turn, he placed his thumbs in the center of the clay and formed the inward parts. Miraculously the clay began to take shape. As the wheel turned faster and faster, the clay began to rise from the earth from which it was taken. Fearfully and wonderfully he made this new creation which he had planned from the beginning of time. But he wasn’t done. Something was missing. The clay had no life. So he breathed into this earthen pot the breath of life and it became a living being. This fusion of divine life and earthly clay would make this new creation different from all the other created beings. What appeared to be common was indeed holy, and set part to do his will.
How has God been working on you lately? Where are you in your experience as “clay”: still in the bucket waiting to be used? being worked hard on the wheel? being reshaped? being fired in the kiln? Why?
Divine Potter, I yield my life as clay into your hands on your creative wheel of life – or waiting off to the side out of sight until you deem it’s time to move me onto the wheel. Let me trust more deeply in your handling of me, of my life. Through Jesus.
Yet, O Lord,
You are our Father.
We are the clay,
You are the Potter;
We are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8 | ESV
At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground—God hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs)—God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul! Genesis 2:5-7 | MSG
“Here it is the image of molding man that is arresting. Man alone in creation is described as formed out of a clammy combination of earth and water. ‘A flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth’…For the purpose of creating man, the depths released a vapor that seeded the clouds and moistened the dust, so that man was created – like this baker, who adds water to his dough and then kneads it! So here, first there was a moistening, and then ‘God formed man’…Everything else was created by an act of speech; only man was created with the hands of God, as it is said, ‘You placed Your hands upon me’ (Psalm 139:5).”
These are comments by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in her commentary of sorts on Genesis entitled The Beginning of Desire. All these years reading and repeating the Genesis story, and it never popped out at me until my eyes glanced across Avivah’s words.
Humanity is the one part of creation formed not by Divine fiat, but by the Divine hand. Humanity is a hands-on creation. Even in the womb, he still knits us together. We are not machine processed but handmade. Man with clammy dirt, woman with the even sterner stuff of bone.
What huge implications await us in this!
He didn’t merely think about us or issue the order that resulted in our existence. “You placed your hands upon me.” Personal rather than impersonal. Intentional, distinctive, unique, purposed.
Yes, huge implications.
This week we go to the Potter’s House and as we watch his work we have (hopefully) the life-changing epiphany that we are his work. More than that, his hands are upon us still, forming and shaping us.
Think on that…
What are some of the implications you see in the fact that we are shaped by his hands? Do you find the image of God as potter, us as clay to be intimidating? empowering? comforting? Or what? Why?
Divine Potter, deliver me from any notion that I am self-made – or merely the by-product of an impersonal divine machine. Remind me that your hands on are me. Give me the grace and wisdom to surrender myself to the making and remaking. Through Christ.
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
Luke 10.36-37 | MSG
Andy Andrews in his book How Do You Kill 11 Million People tells this haunting story about a church in Nazi Germany in the midst of an unfolding holocaust:
Each Sunday morning, we would hear the train whistle blowing in the distance, then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!
Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sounds of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.
Years have passed and no one talks about it now, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep.
Could it be that our societal inclination towards earphones, ear-buds, and noise cancelling headphones and our frequently loud worship performances is our own equivalent of singing more loudly so we don’t hear the whistles of our own unfolding holocausts? The Samaritan’s senses were fully engaged. If the victim on the road was half-dead, the Samaritan was clearly a man fully alive.
The question is, are we?
For us to “go and do the same” requires nothing less.
How do you hear God challenging you personally to “go and do likewise”? What is your first step?
Lord, let me be fully alive with my senses fully engaged. Give me the grace to risk the potential pain and sacrifice, the courage to act, the wisdom to know how and when and where, and the faith to trust that you will use even my stumblings and fumblings as I move towards the mess. Through Christ.
“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’” Luke 10.33-35 | MSG
“Do for the one what you wish you could do for all.”
It’s the rule of thumb in our faith community. The temptation is to do little or nothing for one person because we can’t do that for everyone. Back to paralysis.
What strikes me here with the Good Samaritan is the fulness – more than that – the extravagance of the care he quite literally poured into this one wounded man. Like the priest and Levite before him he came. Like them he saw. And while we can only speculate as to what emotional response (if any) the sight of the half-dead man produced in the priest and Levite, with the Good Samaritan there is no guesswork: it was visceral. Literally. His own internal wailing cry.
The word is splagchnizomai – a verb form of the basic Greek word for bowels or guts (splagchna, essentially pronounced splank-nah). He was “moved in his bowels” certainly doesn’t work for us in English, but gutted does. It’s the same word used for Jesus’ response to the man full of leprosy who ran up to him and fell at his feet, defying all social convention and risking revulsion as he begged for healing. Jesus was gutted at the sight of him resulting in an immediate hand extended towards him, then the touch, then the spoken words, “I am willing be cleansed,” then the healing. It’s the word used for Jesus’ response upon seeing the crowds of people clamoring to him who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” He didn’t turn away and leave to check out recreational sailing possibilities on the Sea of Galilee. He told his followers to pray for many harvest hands to work those fields – and then he sent them out to get busy in it themselves. Genuine compassion disturbs you to the core and leaves you no choice but to act.
There is no turning away or changing the channel or angling to the other side of the road. There is only walking towards and into the mess. There is only embracing the wounds, getting smeared with the blood and tears, and risking radical care.
Pursuing a kingdom lifestyle of genuine compassion is pursuing of lifestyle of interruptions. Whatever that Samaritan’s plans and agenda had been, they were shelved, delayed, or cancelled outright. Being gutted does that to you. Perhaps this is why we avoid really seeing. To risk seeing is to risk feeling; to risk feeling is to risk being interrupted and acting; to risk acting is to risk, well, everything.
I believe it was John Wimber that said faith is spelled R-I-S-K. Funny how we tend on a practical level to identify faith with a conservative motion of playing it safe with the known and quantified (aka angling to the other side) rather than such risky, liberal, extravagant care given to the one, as we could only wish we could do for the many.
What is the most recent example of how your faith has led you to risk? What happened?
Lord give me the grace to risk seeing, to risk feeling, to risk acting, to risk everything. Draw me out of what can be the safe bubble of my own existence into that portion of the field where you would have my head, heart, and hands engaged in being and bringing your healing touch. Through Christ.