Many people of faith are familiar with the story of the potter and the clay found in the Bible (Jeremiah chapter 18). We’ve heard the account of how the potter was working to create something, but the clay became marred. Instead of thinking the clay was ruined or worthless, or instead of getting frustrated and giving up, the potter simply started over remaking the clay into a useful vessel. Often this story is used as an example of how God never gives up on us, and that is a good and proper picture, but I was thinking about a more specific aspect of the work of the potter that stands out for me. Pressure.
If you’ve ever worked with pottery (and I have), you understand that it takes complete and total focus. You also understand that one of the most frustrating things is when the clay gets off-center and becomes out of balance. You are going along, trying to create something beautiful, but the moment it is out of balance, everything starts falling apart. Sometimes it happens so quickly, and you find yourself with nothing but a lump that is unrecognizable. Or maybe as the wheel spins, you find a rock or some other hard substance that can’t just be worked around, and you have to stop everything to remove it and then start over from the beginning. Either of these things can be disappointing or downright maddening because you only have two choices: 1) Get mad, give up and throw the clay away, or 2) form the clay back into a lump, put it back on the wheel and start over.
It is interesting to consider the change in the amount of pressure a potter must use in order to make the clay into something recognizable, useful and beautiful. In the beginning, even if the clay has been placed in the very center of the wheel, it starts to become out of balance when the spinning begins. The potter uses water to make the clay easier to mold, then wraps his hands around it and puts strong pressure in a confined manner to guide it into balance. A vessel cannot be created until the clay is balanced and centered, but once that happens, the true artwork begins. Throughout the process, pressure is continually applied in one way or another or to one degree or another. It is pressure that creates the beautiful intricacies or restores the balance. But this one thing is for certain: the potter must keep working until the vessel is complete. There is no stopping in the middle and coming back to it later. It must either be completed or abandoned. And the pressure, whether great or barely noticeable, is continually necessary because even with the most masterful artist, the clay can become out of balance at the slightest touch. When that happens, he must stop creating and spend a little time applying just the right pressure in just the right way to bring everything back into balance. The same is so true in our lives.
We all endure pressure in life. It may come in the form of circumstances beyond our control or as a result of poor decisions we make, but it WILL come. When we feel the pressure, our human nature causes us to become out of balance. We worry and fret over what we should do. We get angry over how we have been mistreated. We get depressed over our lack of ability to change or fix something. We spin and spin and eventually realize how out of balance we really are. If only we would realize that God is the master potter and we really are the clay. He isn’t some mean ogre who is trying to make things difficult for us or punish us. He actually said He came so that we could have life abundantly! This world is full of situations and circumstances that will wear us down if we focus on them, but God has promised over and over that if we will simply seek Him first, He will take care of everything else. That doesn’t mean our lives will be free of trouble, but it means we have a loving Father who is masterfully, patiently and continually creating something amazing, no matter how many times He has to start over.
Pressure in our lives never feels good. We try to avoid it any time we can but maybe we just need to change the way we think about it. When we start feeling pressure in our lives, it isn’t time for us to stiffen up and fight against it. It’s time for us to relax into the potter’s hands and let Him use that pressure for our good. The most difficult and challenging times for us may be exactly the pressure we need to restore our balance. The bad decisions we may have made in our lives don’t render us useless or of no value. Our circumstances don’t destroy us because the Potter has promised to never abandon us. (“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5) He has also promised to finish what He starts! (“He who began a good work in you is faithful and just to complete it.” Philippians 1:6).
It is important for us to remember God doesn’t cause problems or imbalance in our lives; He simply applies loving pressure when necessary to RESTORE balance. He continually has us in His loving hands, purposely working all things out for our ultimate good. Whatever any of us are going through right now may not feel good. The pressure may feel unbearable and no matter how we try, we can’t seem to find a way to make things work out. We spend our energy focusing on all that’s wrong or what we don’t have and then wonder why we are fatigued and depressed. If only we could realize the only job of the clay is to be moldable. If only we were more willing to relax, the pressure wouldn’t seem so unbearable. If only we would spend more of our time being grateful for the fact we are in our Father’s hands, and realize He is working to make our lives amazing and abundant, we would find it so much easier to breathe. After all, being in the center of His will really means being in the center of His “wheel.”
And the sooner we soften under the Potter’s touch, the sooner our lives shift from becoming a work of restoration to becoming a work of art.