The Potter and the Clay

the Sleeping Dragon

the Sleeping Dragon

Did you ever think about who was the very first Potter?  The Bible says that God formed Adam out of the dust.  Not, it doesn’t specifically say this, but I have a feeling that He added a little water to the dust first so He could make Adam from clay!

God is an artist.  Look around and see the beauty of a sunset, or a tiny flower, or hear the gurgle of a swift running stream, or see the majesty of a snow covered mountain, and you cannot help but see what a wonderful artist He is. There is art in everything God does, and He has planted that same spirit inside each of us.

As an artist and a potter, I know that God speaks to me through my work with clay.  In Isaiah 64, the Bible says that God is the Potter, and we are the clay.  When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in II Cor. 4:7, he says that we have this great message of God’s work of reconciliation that he has given to us, but we carry this message as if we were “jars of clay”, so that the glory of the message doesn’t go to us (the clay pots) but to God.  When I build a sculpture out of clay, I can see many parallels between the creative process I go through, and the way that God works in our lives.

When you start with clay, it is dry dust.  It’s as if it is dead.  You can’t do anything with it in this state.  In the same way, when God finds us, we are spiritually dead.  There is nothing we can do to reach out to God on our own.  However, if you add some water to this dust, it suddenly transforms into something that can be worked and molded.  God adds “water” to our lives in the form of His Holy Spirit.

When I begin to work on a sculpture, I usually have a picture in my mind of where I want to go with this piece, of what it will look like in the end.  I am also figuring out the steps I will need to go through in order to reach that goal.  When God saves us, He has a very clear picture of the path He wishes to bring us down, and the final destination He has for us.  The clay has no idea of the final destination, but the Potter knows…

I also know that clay, even in its best state, doesn’t always cooperate with what I want it to do.  It may crack, or be so soft it collapses.  However, I keep patiently working with it, even when it seems to be fighting  back.  God knows our nature, and how we don’t always go in the direction He wants us to go, but He patiently keeps working on us.

Next, when I have finished molding the sculpture, I need to put it aside for a time to let it dry.  I haven’t forgotten about it, but it looks like I am not doing any work on it.  However, this is a critical step in the process.  If the clay isn’t allowed to completely dry out, then in the next step–the fire–the trapped moisture can turn to steam and literally cause the piece to explode and be destroyed.  If it explodes, it may even ruin other pieces around it.  One danger with this step though is the fact that the clay becomes very brittle and easy to break.  It is very easy to bump it and cause it to shatter.  When God is working on our lives, it feels sometimes like He has forgotten us, or set us in a corner to be ignored. Life seems dry and unfruitful, and no one is paying any attention to us.  In reality, He has not forgotten about us at all. Rather, He is preparing us for the next step in His process.  The Potter knows what He is doing…

Of course, just when we think things can’t get any worse, they do…  Into the fire!  When I fire a piece in the kiln, I know just what temperature I have to reach.  The firing begins slowly, and then step by step over the next several hours, I will push the kiln hotter and hotter, up to around 1000°C (bright yellow heat), usually over a period of eight hours or more.  I have to  carefully control the temperature so that the stress of the heat doesn’t shatter the pieces inside of the kiln.  In this heat, there are many internal changes that take place inside of the clay.  When God, as the Potter, puts us through the fire of circumstances and trials, He knows just exactly how hot to make things in order to accomplish His purposes in us, to strengthen us and prepare us for what is coming next.  The Potter knows what He is doing…

Next, I let the kiln slowly cool down.  It usually takes six to eight hours for the kiln to cool.  If I open it too soon, the thermal shock can shatter the pieces.  God knows when we need to rest, and He knows when to lower the heat in our lives.

When I take a piece out of the first firing, the heat has transformed the clay from “dried mud” into stone.  It is now hard and strong, but it is not yet beautiful!  It has no color or shine.  It is not very useful yet.  So, I have to add glazes to the pot.  Now, I know which glazes are supposed to create which colors, but when you look at the glaze in its raw form, it just looks like mud!  There may be some color, but it is dull and uninteresting.  There are times when God is working on us, and the circumstances just don’t seem to make sense to us.  They may look ugly or hard or useless. However, God has a purpose for everything, even when it looks ugly or useless.  The Potter knows what He is doing…

Then… it’s back into the fire.  If the first fire seemed hot, the second firing is significantly hotter!  In this case, I have to increase the temperature up to more than 1200°C.  For the finest pottery, the temperature is even hotter.  Under this heat, the dull ugly glaze melts, and the chemicals react to form the beautiful, glistening finish that I am looking for.  I have to carefully control the temperature until it has reached exactly the right level before I can shut off the heat to let the kiln once again slowly cool down.  Now, the piece is not only strong, but it is beautiful!

God knows where He is taking us.  He has a purpose in mind —  purpose that may or may not make sense to us.  We may not even have a chance in this life to see the ultimate goal of what He is doing in us.

A true piece of Art reflects and communicates the heart of the artist who created it.  It speaks of the artist’s dreams and goals and concerns, and what really moves them.  In the same way, as God’s artistic creations, we are intended to reflect and communicate His heart to the world around us.  It may be a very long process, full of difficulty, but God wants to make each one of us into a Beautiful and Unique work of His art.  If we are ready to go through the times of molding, and the dry times, the times that don’t make sense, and through the fire, then we will see how God reflects His beautiful love to the world through us, His artwork.

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