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-Conversation With A Potter

PictureConversation With A Potter “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message.” Jeremiah 18:2


The room held the dank odor of wet clay, and in the corner large tubs filled to the brim with the pliable substance awaited the potter’s need. Shelves from floor to ceiling lined the walls filled with the handiwork of the master, slowly drying so that they could be placed in the kiln.

In the center of the room, hunched over a spinning wheel, the potter carefully formed the damp clay into an object of value. The work would perhaps become a simple bowl to be used in the kitchen of a humble home, or, if the master chose, a beautiful vase destined for a shelf in the home of a rich collector.

I had been advised to visit the potter. The message was, “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message.” What was to be learned from this humble man? I watched him finish the object he was working on, and carefully set it aside. Deliberately, he went from tub to tub selecting a new lump of clay of just the right consistency for the object which he had in mind.

As I watched, I could not help but be reminded of what David wrote: “He brought me … out of the miry clay” (Ps. 40:2). This lump, which the potter would turn into an object of value, had once been simply miry clay.

What was the process, I wondered, that was necessary to turn the clay into an object of value? Perhaps this was the message I was to receive. I was reluctant to interrupt the master at his work, but I had to know.

I had been silently watching from the open door, and as I stepped into the room he looked around and smiled. “I’m sorry to disturb you at your work,” I said, “but I was directed here to receive a message.”

“A message,” He replied. “I don’t believe I have any message for you.”

“Let me explain,” I replied hesitantly. “I was reading the Bible this morning, the Old Testament, and I’ve not been able to get these words out of my mind: ‘Go down to the potter’s house and there I will give you My message.’”

The old man’s face broke into a smile. “Jeremiah, of course!” he said as he wiped the wet clay from his strong hands. “Come,” he beckoned. “We can talk more comfortably in here.”

He led me to a small room next to his workshop. It was furnished sparsely with two chairs and a small table, upon which rested a worn Bible. He offered me a chair, and taking the Bible, settled into the other one.

“You were reading Jeremiah 18:2,” he said, “I know it well, as you might imagine.” He opened his Bible and began reading: “‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

“Yes, that’s where I was reading,” I replied. “What was Jeremiah’s message? I don’t understand.”

“I think,” the old man said with a smile, “that Jeremiah was speaking of the Creator and the person He had created.”

“I guess that pretty well describes me,” I admitted. “I realize that my life is not what it should be. It seems marred, and I don’t know what to do. I am a Christian. I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was in high school.”

“Let me tell you about making pots,” he said, “because that’s what I know best. I get my clay from the ground, from a pit not too far from here. I dig it up myself. It often has sticks and stones in it, which must be removed before I can work with it. The only real way to remove the foreign material is to mix water into the clay, and when it is like soup I can strain out the bad stuff. Washing with water is the secret.

“It’s a little like that when we first accept Jesus as our Savior. There may be bad habits that need to be dealt with. In the Bible, water is a type of the Spirit of God in His life-giving activities through God. If we are going to get rid of our bad habits we’ve got to read the Bible every day; that’s the water that will free you from things that are displeasing to the Lord.

“In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he wrote that we, the Church, ‘are cleansed by the washing with water through the Word’ (Eph. 5:26).

“I know,” I said, “but I’m afraid that my problems are caused by some personality traits, like stubbornness.”

“And what is the solution for that?” he asked. “Often when I select a new piece of clay I find that the clay is not the same consistency all the way through. There will be some harder clay mixed with the soft. The clay becomes a bit ‘stubborn.’ It needs the water treatment! But come into my workshop and I will show you how I make a pot.”

He led me back into the shop, and picked up the piece of clay which I had seen him so carefully select. “Here’s the piece of clay that I was about to use. It seems to be just the right consistency, but before I can put it on the wheel I must be sure it doesn’t have any small pockets of air inside.”

Walking to a table covered with canvas and taking a piece of wire between his hands, he showed me how he cut the ball of clay in half. “You see those small holes,” he said. “They are pockets of air. If I were to use this clay without getting rid of the air I could not throw a perfect pot.

“The clay would respond to the pressure of my hands,” he continued, “but the air-pockets would not. In order to eliminate the air, it is necessary for me to knead the clay. Potters call this wedging the clay. I do that here on this table.”

He lifted the clay above his head and slammed it down hard on the table. I felt small pieces of clay hitting me. He then began to knead the clay, the way a baker kneads bread dough. “This is the way I remove the air pockets from the clay. As you can see, it takes some rough handling to get them all out. I like to think of the air pockets as pride in a Christian’s life.

“Proverbs 16:5 says, ‘The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.’ And both James and Peter warn us that ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). But that is certainly not what you hear today. The message one hears today is be proud of yourself, but that is not God’s message.

“Now the clay is ready for the wheel,” he said, as he seated himself at the potter’s wheel. He started the wheel spinning and placed the ball of clay on its center. Dipping his hands into a container of water he placed them around the clay and applied pressure.

“It is important that the clay be perfectly centered on the wheel or the vessel I’m going to make will be lopsided. If the clay is off center the result will be useless. So it is with the Christian’s life. The Lord must be the center of our lives if we truly wish to be used by Him. The less He is at the center of our lives, the less use we are to Him.”

“I have often heard preachers talking about a Christ-centered life,” I replied, “but I don’t understand how that’s possible today. I work in a very competitive business – a ‘dog-eat-dog’ one. It’s difficult to survive unless I play the game.”

“Ah, young man,” he said softly, “but if you are where God wants you to be, the ‘dogs’ will not get the better of you. God will prosper you, or at least keep the ‘dogs’ from devouring you – if He’s at the center of your life.”

“But keeping Him at the center of one’s life is not easy,” I complained.

“No,” he answered, “just as centering this lump of clay on the wheel is not easy. But, you see, the clay does not center itself, nor does it keep itself centered. I do that. And only when the Christian submits himself to the teachings of God’s Word, and allows the Holy Spirit to take control of his life, will he become Christ centered.

“You noticed,” he continued, “that I had to keep water on my hands while centering the clay. If I didn’t, the clay would become dry and stick to my hands. Then I couldn’t shape it as I wanted. In the same way, God’s Word must be continually applied to our lives for us to be Christ-centered and useful to Him.”

As the old man talked, the wheel spun and his skilled hands deftly worked the clay. With seeming ease the spinning lump was transformed into a slim cylinder, its sides uniform in their thickness. I noted that throughout the process he periodically dipped his hands into a basin of water to keep them moist.

“Before I create the final shape, I form a cylinder,” he continued, “making certain that the sides are consistent in thickness. Inconsistency does not allow one to produce a vessel of acceptable quality. Whether the vessel I have in mind is to be used in the kitchen of a humble home or on the buffet in an elegant dining room, I must begin the final shape with the clay in a proper condition.

“In the same manner,” he concluded, “God prepares us, in many ways through many circumstances, so that we will be fit for His use, wherever it pleases Him to use us.”

“I see,” I said, slowly realizing that the message I had come for was one that I desperately needed to hear. And I was aware by his tone that not only was the pot which he was forming not complete, but neither was the message.

“When I am satisfied that everything is right, I can begin the final shape which I have in mind. I have already decided what this pot will be used for,” he continued. “Again that’s my decision, just as it should be God’s to decide how best He can use us. I’m sure that you’ve seen an arrangement of flowers placed in a handsome pitcher. While the water pitcher serves the purpose of a vase, it’s not the function which the potter had in mind for it. Someone other than the potter decided on its use.

“How often,” he said sadly, “we, or others, make decisions that are rightfully God’s to make. And while we may fulfill a certain function, it would be best left to someone else. God has a plan for each of us. But too often we try to fit ourselves into another plan instead of allowing Him to put us where He wants us.”

As he was speaking, the old man transformed the simple cylinder into a beautiful bowl. He leaned back and viewed it with a look of satisfaction. He lifted the clay bowl from the wheel and set it carefully on a shelf.

“Someday, perhaps, that bowl will hold a variety of fruit,” he observed, “and hungry children will help themselves and probably be completely oblivious to the bowl and all of my hard work. But hopefully they might notice.”

I think that I understood what he meant by his last statement. How often we take God’s blessings without acknowledging their source.

“Of course there is much that still must be done before that bowl is finally ready to be used,” the old potter continued. “But I have kept you long enough. I would be glad to have you visit again, to continue our conversation. There just might still be more to the message.”

“I would enjoy that,” I replied. “In the meantime, I have much to think about. Your message was timely, and I’ll consider it carefully.”

As I departed, I thought again of the verse from Jeremiah: “Go down to the potter’s house and there I will give you My message.” Little did I realize the full magnitude of the message, nor its importance. But it had certainly given me much to consider, and I knew that it was not this humble man’s message – but God’s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Harold D. Smart, since retiring from teaching art in Michigan, and directing summer camps, now lives with his wife Jean in Idaho, where he is active in his church.


Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Search me and try me, Master, today!

Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,

As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!

Power, all power, surely is Thine!

Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Hold o’er my being absolute sway!

Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see

Christ only, always, living in me.

By Adelaide A. Pollard

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org

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