Theme: No Throwaways….The Lesson of the Potter’s House
Let me begin with a very condensed history lesson. Try to imagine a world completely without containers; from the lowly paper bag to massive and complex oil storage tanks and everything in between: no pots, pans, bowls, dishes, buckets, jugs, cans, barrels, cardboard boxes and grain silos. Imagine a world in which the only measure of materials that could be transported was what could be held in the hand. Believe it or not there was a time when the world was exactly like that.
In such a world (in which goods cannot be transported and stored), people would be extremely transient – living just for the day and making no plans beyond immediate need and survival. They would not be able to put down roots, as they would need to be ready to move in keeping with whatever changes affected their food supply.
Again, believe it or not, the whole shift from this transient, rootless and nomadic society to a more permanent and fixed society began with the advent of the clay pot. With the ability to store and transport goods man was able to more and more establish an increasing measure of permanence. Given this fact, it is historically accurate to conclude that with the invention of pottery a revolution was set in motion and that revolution is what we now call civilization – the Neolithic Age.
If we could go back through history and find that first person who made that first clay pot (and understand there had to be a first potter and a first clay pot), and were we to ask that person –Did you plan on your invention changing the entire direction and face of human history?; what do you think that potter’s response would be? But perhaps we are the ones who should ask and respond to the question: Given what we now know from thousands of years of history since that first clay pot – what exactly was the importance of that first clay pot?
However important that first clay pot was, I want to turn your attention to some other “clay pots” whose importance is so far beyond that of the invention of pottery that there is absolutely no comparison.
2Cor. 4:7… But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Turn to your neighbour and proudly make this confession: “I am a clay pot, but just guess what I am transporting.”
Let me tell you two fundamental facts about pottery. Historically pottery was never made just for decoration and to add beauty to a setting. No piece of pottery was made to sit on a shelf. Every creation of pottery served a practical purpose.
The second fact regarding pottery is that no matter how practical its purpose it was at the same time an expression of the unique creative genius of the potter who created it. Pottery has always carried a quality of artistic beauty. The real glory of pottery lies in the fact that it brings two fundamental realities together: the practical and useful merges with artistic beauty, and artistic beauty flows through the practical.
This means that we are not here just to sit on the shelf and look beautiful. But neither are we here just to be practical; nose to the grindstone, never look up, never have a friendship – just coldly and robotically go through life with no vision beyond the next practical detail. God’s idea is to integrate the practical and the beautiful – integrate the useful and the artistic. Only God would come up with such an incredible idea as this – presenting His very image in clay jars; manifesting His indescribable glory in dust.
Every time we reject someone because we can’t see past the clay jar we are also rejecting and cutting ourselves off from the treasure of the image of God within that clay jar. I need to come to a place of maturity where I can celebrate the glory of the treasure within even when I can just tolerate the clay jar. Do not judge the treasure by the clay it is presented in.
That day in the potter’s house, Jeremiah watched something wonderful taking place. A shapeless lump of clay without definition and identity is about to take on both definition and identity. The definition and identity are fixed – not in the clay – but in the mind of the potter. It is the potter who determines and governs the process by which that clay takes on the definition and identity fixed in the mind of the potter. The process of the clay’s shaping consist fundamentally of two dynamics – spinning and pressure. Can you identify?
And then something happened; Jeremiah wrote, ‘the pot the potter was working on turned out badly.’ Regarding clay there are several factors that explain such a situation. Regarding the human experience the factors are ignorance, sin, rebellion, self-will and stubbornness.
But the focus of the lesson that day was not the clay; it was the potter’s action when the clay manifested flaws that made it unsuitable for a particular design and purpose. Notice that the potter did not kick over the wheel and say – “That stupid wheel, you never can depend on it to work right.’ In other words he did not curse the instrument essential to the work. (A powerful lesson right there.) Notice that he did not hurl the clay off the wheel and curse it while pitching it into the trash or throwing it at the dag and cat. In fact, he did not resort to blame at all.
What he did was to crush it back to its original state of a shapeless lump of clay sitting on his wheel. The spinning would start all over again. The applied pressure would be felt once more upon the clay. And frankly here are the most hopeful words in the entire Bible regarding flawed clay: ‘… the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.’
“Start over” – “make another pot” – do you have any idea of how healing and hopeful those words are to a piece of clay that is aware of its own flaws? Of course, if you are presently perfect then these words mean nothing to you. But I am highly aware of my flawed clay. However, I am far more aware of the potter’s ability to redeem and restore flawed clay. God does not run out of ideas because of imperfections in the clay.
The lesson awaiting Jeremiah at the potter’s house is a lesson we are going to have to cling to during these last days. With this potter-God of ours there is no throwaways; there is only fresh starts, new beginnings and being redesigned to bear an image suitable to the clay.
I will finish this message by going to the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah. A few weeks ago God spoke a powerful word to me from this chapter. Leading up to this chapter you have a record of the warnings God speaks to His people. They were prophetic in nature and profoundly severe in content. To be honest, it is not easy or pleasant reading.
Paul wrote concerning both the severity and goodness of God. And what we need to understand is that you cannot separate the two; they are like two sides of a single coin. The severity of God is all about His disciplines, but His disciplines are always about His goodness. In other words He disciplines everything in my clay that prevents me from experiencing His intended goodness so that beyond those disciplines I can come into the fullness of His goodness.
In chapter 31 we have the prophetic record of what life will be after God’s discipline has accomplished its intended work. The nation has been reduced to a mere remnant. This means that during those seasons of discipline many things are cut off – many things die. But the focus here is not on what died, but rather on what lived – what passed through the disciplines of God and came out on the other side.
Concerning those things the word of the Lord is this: ‘And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again…’ And further over in the chapter these words: “I’ve heard the contrition of Ephraim. Yes, I’ve heard it clearly, saying, ‘You trained me well. You broke me, a wild yearling horse, to the saddle. Now put me, trained and obedient, to use. You are my God. After those years of running loose, I repented.’”
When God lifted these two passages from the page and spoke them into my spirit it all seemed to crystallize in a couple of phrases – ‘New beginnings, fresh starts, and restoration with interest.’ The enemy wants you to focus on the flaws in the clay so he can fill your mind with all the reasons why you can never be useful or beautiful. But God’s message is that He will engage redemptively the flaws in our clay and that the issue of that redemption is the restoration of purpose and beauty.
The next time the enemy tells you you’re ugly and draws your attention to all those things that seem to disqualify you from usefulness I want you to sing him this song: God Loves Ugly.