Several months ago, I preached a sermon about the imagery of the Potter and Clay in the Bible. Lately, I have been talking with Amy Gilmore, a friend who actually makes pottery (I offer that in sharp contrast to my complete inability to do anything artistic). Amy has been explaining to me how the Biblical imagery has come alive for her because of her experience. What follows is the well-rounded perspective from one who both both potter (as an artist) and clay (as a follower of Christ).
When searching for clay, the Potter has to reach into the ground (unless he or she is fortunate enough to have a ready-made bucket) and pull the clay loose. In the same way, Christ reaches down into the dirt of our life and pulls us out. This as our salvation. David wrote in Psalm 40:2, "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."
God forms what was once a lump of earth into an object of design and purpose.
It isn't about God making us into something we think is great; it is about letting God make us into something He loves and uses. When God offered encouragement to Jeremiah, he noted, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5) Most of us want to know what God is going to make us into before we allow him to begin his crafting. This is not submission, or faith.
At this point in our life we are helpless, in need of a Savior, someone who can pull us out of all the dirt that traps us. And when we surrender to His salvation, we also surrender our purposes, plans, hopes and dreams. As the Apostle Paul noted, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21)
Next, the clay is "wedged" in preparation for throwing. Air bubbles are removed: pride, greed, lust, envy, gossip, meanness, unforgiveness. It’s pockets of our life we want to keep to ourselves - our checkbook; or our sex life; or our entertainment; our resentments that we nourish; our self-justification; friends that we know are bringing us down. Air bubbles are the secret sins from which we need to be delivered.
After the wedging, the potter "throws" the clay onto the wheel head with a force that makes it stick. Ever had a time in life when you just crashed into something? Job loss? Marriage failure? Sickness? Depression? Sometimes, that’s just life; sometimes, it's Satan trying to tear us down. In those cases, the crash we feel is us “hitting the wall.” When that happens, God can redirect our momentum so the crash happens on his wheel instead of Satan’s wall.
When God is involved, the moments in our lives when we feel like we’ve hit a wall are times we are actually hitting the wheel. The wheel is the foundation of the faith, the core truths at the center of God’s will is the place to be. The Potter will make sure you are centered, because an unsteady center brings about a lack of symmetry.
Now the Potter begins to work on the clay - our heart, our attitude, our emotions, our willingness to be molded for His purpose. Water is applied to reduce friction between the hands of the potter and the clay. Now, our purpose, our design, our beauty begin to emerge as we allow the Potter to achieve His purpose. Think of how Ephesians describes Christ's work in our lives: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…” (Ephesians 5: 25ff)
We were pulled out, we were de-air bubbled (?) and centered – and none of this has been easy. But now the Potter is ready to begin work – His Word is watering us, refreshing us, baptizing us into new life and truth, making us a workable element in the Potter’s hand.
As the clay spins in the hands of the potter, the particles come into alignment as well. This alignment - think "submission" - happens through repentance and belief. It takes both. We cannot only repent, nor can we only believe. Only the two together will produce fruit in our life.