The Potter’s Shed III…
…the push and pull of God…
August 20, 2017
2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 6- 7
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
This is the third and final sharing in a series of three stories involving clay, clay pots, a potter’s shed, and the notion of our Lord being a Master Potter. When we first began our story of the Potter’s shed two weeks back, we talked at length about the condition of the clay and how important it was that the clay of our hearts and souls be soft and pliable, ready to be given over into the care of the Potter. We also said that it is important to remember that you alone can yield your own clay into the hands of the Potter, it is not something someone else can do for you. And finally that first week we shared how important it is to remember that your clay is not an end in itself…no matter how much you work it or try to form it into something of purpose on your own, the goal of life is not to be the best lump of clay you can be, rather the goal of life is found in yielding ourselves to God and in letting Him have His way with our lives…letting him fashion us upon the wheel of the potter into a vessel of holy purpose and divine usefulness.
Then last week’s story of the Potter’s shed focused on how critically important it is that we allow ourselves to come into and remain in a place of being centered in the presence of God, both in word as well as in deed. We spoke of how this was a critical step in order to allow the clay to be molded into the desired shape by the Potter. We also said that this process of becoming and remaining centered in the Lord’s hands was not something we have to do all alone but rather that as we heard in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, God is all the while working within each one of us both to make us able…and willing to be fashioned into pots that God can use.
Being centered in the Lord gives balance to our lives…emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Centered on the wheel of the master Potter…pressed and secured there into a place of balance and symmetry we are ready to be drawn up by the Potter into a vessel of true holiness and usefulness…and that is today’s story.
Today’s message I chose to call, “The push and the pull of God”…however I could just as easily have called it ‘Internal and External Forces’, or ‘Purposeful Formation’. Actually, I probably should have just quoted James when he wrote in Chapter 4, “Draw near to God…and He will draw near to you…”
For you see it takes both inward and outward pressure upon a lump of clay on the wheel in order to give a pot a desired shape. One hand works from the inside out, creating the internal space…and the other hand guides and controls from the outside…keeping the design and lines of the vessel in proportion and balance. In order to produce a clay pot it is necessary to have both forces at work. If only internal pressure was applied the clay would go astray and quickly lose shape and structural integrity. On the other hand if there were only external pressures at work then the lump of clay would remain just a lump of clay…perhaps taller or shorter, thicker or thinner…but without any internal space created to hold anything…
You know, interestingly, when talking about one’s life and personal formation upon the wheel of life it is possible to ‘go it alone’, without considering or inviting God to be a part…pushing outward from within ourselves against the force of our particular life experiences…ending up with a pot that looks a lot…like us, but in its un-yielded state it is probably not a pot that is able to be filled with God’s grace and purpose…for if we are self-made people then most of what fills up our ‘inside’ is just that…‘self’ and things concerning ourselves…our purpose, our dreams, our hopes, our accomplishments, and of course…all of our stuff.
It is also possible, as we have been learning, to give God the control over the shape our lives will take…to enter into a relationship with the Lord whereby our lives reflect holy desires and holy purposes. In such a relationship we find our self-understanding is formed and guided by God. If we put ourselves into the hands of the Master Potter, if we allow the internal and external circumstances of our lives to be guided and nurtured by the Lord and if we give ourselves over to the push and the pull of God’s hands upon the Potter’s wheel then wonderful things begin to happen.
But how do we go about doing that? By allowing ourselves to be disciples of the Lord, by learning and applying the disciplines of prayer, fasting, simplicity, and service. Through the faithful practice of these disciplines we are in fact placing our lives in openness before God. By offering up our lives to God we are in effect submitting to his work upon the potter’s wheel, where forming and shaping into usefulness can begin.
Surrendered and yielded…or not surrendered and not yielded…either way the forces of God’s love are always present…always available to work upon our inner self identity and understanding. For those who willingly place themselves upon the Potter’s wheel, life is graced with the awareness of God’s presence and love even when life’s circumstances may be difficult or a real struggle. Yes, even in these times God is close at hand…in the darkest of times we are never alone in our struggles.
However, for those who choose to go it alone…for those who turn away or turn inward, relying on self alone…that deep peace that goes far beyond understanding is far away…and the promised joy that bubbles up like a never ending stream almost never appears. And yet wonder of wonders, a loving God such as ours never gives up, always reserving the right to encounter just such a self-made person at the least sign of weakness or yielded-ness…willingly accepting all of that person’s past experiences as well as their present condition and patiently reworking and refashioning out of all of it a new earthen vessel. God never forces such individuals to change; rather God is just willing, whenever we are ready to use whatever we are willing to give. In fact it is often people such as this, who have had a difficult road through life, who have had diverse experiences…it is these who God remakes and re-forms into vessels by which grace can be extended to others who may still be walking those same lonely or lost pathways, people who are still alone, still outside of a relationship with the Lord.
So we need both inward and outward pressure in order to be formed into what our true gifted potential is. And the choice can either be ours up front…in which case we can enjoy the blessing of the awareness of God’s love and presence now, or we can bumble along on our own and wait until life itself causes us to cry out in search of God. Either way we will find ourselves at some point opening the door to the Potter’s shed…
But what about clay pots that may have never known of new hope or new possibilities? What of those pots that have been through difficult times or seem to have experienced way more than their share of hardship and heartbreak? What happens when one of those pots finally falls and breaks into a thousand pieces? What happens then? What does the master potter do with such as these? How is it possible that a life as broken as this could be of any use to anyone, let alone to God?
To be sure, it is easier to fashion a vessel out of new clay, it is easier to make a vessel out of clay that is workable and supple in the Potter’s hands…but remember, no matter what the circumstances, no matter the state of our lives when we come to the Lord…no matter if what we bring before the Lord is a lump of yielded and pliable clay…or a bag full of broken clay shards…our God is able. For you see, our Lord is also a master at repairing broken pots, pots for whom life has been rocky…pots that may have stumbled, fallen, or even been dropped. Pots that may have fallen hard due to a loss of hope, or to depression or grief, or perhaps even due to unfulfilled expectations. Sometimes our life may seem all out of kilter and we feel overwhelmed and of little use, in fact sometimes we even feel that if God is there at all, then he has moved far away from us. There are times indeed when we may feel as if God can’t hear us, times when we are convinced that God’s belief in us far exceeds our own estimation of what we ourselves can bear…times when we can still fall down and find our hopes, our dreams, and what we thought was our purpose lying in pieces on the ground…a shattered clay pot…of no use or purpose for anyone.
A number of years ago I wrote a poem titled “Broken Vessels” which speaks to God’s faithful and persistent shepherding over our lives, even in those times of being broken and down:
Broken and shattered small pieces of clay, gathered and fashioned, a vessel again.
To the unknowing, a flawless repair, but to the one within, forever reformed.
A chip here and there, a small tiny crack, makes one to wonder, how strong, for how long?
As strong as the Potter, it is of his hand; He will keep it and use it as one of his own.
With his hand he has gathered and fitted each shard, set them in place with infinite care.
Then filled far too full with goodness so sweet, though broken…still useful…this vessel of clay.
Truly it is a mark of God’s grace that at any point in our lives we can find ourselves in the Potter’s shed…upon the Potter’s bench or upon the wheel…being fashioned wholly anew, or repaired and reformed into Godly vessels …good and precious vessels designed solely for the purpose of carrying and pouring out unto others the life-giving and life-saving grace of our Lord. For indeed we are messengers of the Good News that our God is alive and that we belong to Him.
And finally, it not only gives me great hope, but it also never ceases to amaze me that God is not only able, but willing to use all of the internal pushing as well as external experiences that make up our life stories as raw material from which to form a new clay pot. All that we are, everywhere we have been, the sum total of who we are right now is clay…clay that can be offered up to the Potter, clay from which a life can be given new value, new purpose, new meaning and new hope.
…draw near to God…and He will surely draw near to you.