A potter is one who fashions clay into vessels of purposeful use. Some may be fashioned into great works of beauty, such as for display and placed in positions of honor perhaps a little more than others. Others may be fashioned into vessels of great service, such as those which allow water to be carried from a well back to the home. Still others may be fashioned into the vessels which will withstand great heat in the scorching ovens. Each has a purpose - each fulfills the purpose for which it was created. Each has been created by the hand of the potter - with his intention fully revealed in how he creates each vessel. In the "fashioning", he takes great care to create what he envisions for each vessel - knowing the purpose for which he is creating it. If he knows the purpose of each vessel, then what he "puts into" each vessel in his creative power is also what he expects to "get out" of each each of these vessels.
You, Lord, are our Father. We are nothing but clay, but you are the potter who molded us. (Isaiah 64:8)
The potter in our passage is none other than God himself. The clay - us. We all start in just about the same fashion - not as fully formed vessels, but as a vision of what he desires to create! In his creative process, he brings forth each of us as vessels of specific purpose. The vessel doesn't define for the potter what it will be - he does the defining! If we are to truly understand the analogy of the potter and the clay, perhaps we should explore just a little about the process of creating such a vessel. The most important part of making each vessel is to choose the right "clay" with which to create the vessel. To be "thrown" on the wheel, the potter must choose clay with the right characteristics to withstand the "throwing" process - with enough plasticity, not too demanding of the water as he fashions it, and strong enough to hold shape as he works it into form. Why do these things matter?
- Flexibility is probably the greatest "demand" the potter has in choosing the clay for his work on the wheel. If the clay is not flexible, it will not hold up to the demands of the wheel. In others words, it won't be "workable", even in the most skilled potter's hands. Stop to consider for a moment a dryer, stiffer clay. Even if the potter were to get it formed into shape, what has he had to go through to do it? If you ask someone who "throws clay" on a wheel, they will tell you it takes an extreme amount of pressure on their part to get the clay to take form. The pressure takes a huge demand on their physical strength. So, choosing a more flexible clay makes the formative process easier. It doesn't mean he cannot use a less flexible clay, but it may be more suited for the "less finite" vessels. Even "flexible" clay has a "balance" which must be maintained. The potter knows a little of the "less flexible" clay mixed with the more "flexible" actually produces a stronger vessel in the end. So, lest we lose hope that we are the kind of clay he might find a purposeful use for, take heart. Even the more stubborn clay has the potential of being created into a vessel of purpose in his hands. He just has a little "stronger hand" he must exert into the fashioning process.
- Strength is what gives the clay the ability to be fashioned into what some refer to as a "walled" vessel. In other words, it isn't just a plate - it is an upright vessel, capable of holding much because of the upright walls. Something interesting I learned about the strength of the clay a potter chooses is the make-up of the clay itself. The clay usually contains a couple of different "clay" ingredients: the clay itself, some very finely ground sand, and perhaps some "grog". Grog is actually fired clay which has been ground up. Added to the throwing clay, it adds strength by reducing the "shrinkage" of the clay. It kind of warms my heart to know that God doesn't look for "pure" clay to do the fashioning of his vessels! In fact, he uses the things in this life which add strength to our "clay"! Those times of being put through the fire - they add strength and help us to avoid "shrinking away" in times of greater stress. Even the "coarse" stuff in life adds strength to the final product. This simple fact should cause each of us to take heart!
- Absorption is also key to the potter producing the vessel he envisions. A clay which takes on too much water will eventually become less likely to hold the form - it will be subject to a lot of shrinkage and perhaps crack in the drying process. There is a fine balance between being too dry and being too soaked - the potter must maintain this balance in order for the vessel to be worked on the wheel and endure the process of "curing" without further damage.
Talk to someone who works with clay and they will tell you that "aged" clay is actually easier to work with. To age the clay, they add what needs to be added and then leave it open to the air for a couple of days. Wouldn't you think this would dry it out and make it harder to work with? In truth, the potter does this to allow small microorganisms to take growth within the clay! Why? They add flexibility to the clay. Even that which we might at first see as harmful and kind of difficult to deal with is something the potter actually puts into service in fashioning the vessel he envisions!
The potter knows what he envisions in each of us. He has the right clay chosen, with just the right amount of finely ground sand, ground fired "grog", and the right mix of that which will give us the greatest flexibility in his hand. Whether we be a vessel of service to bring refreshing to those we touch, or the vessel which will serve up the tasty "meals" which will minister to their souls, we each serve a purpose because we have been fashioned by his hands. Just sayin!