I once read a story about some grandparents who were looking for a gift for their granddaughter. There are many different versions of the story told on the internet, but this is one of my favourite versions…
Searching for a gift for their granddaughter, some grandparents walked into a gift shop and spotted on a shelf a beautiful, artistic vase.
‘Look at this lovely piece of work,’ the grandmother said to her husband.
The grandfather picked it up and said ‘You’re right! This is one of the most beautiful vases I have ever seen.’
At that point, to their surprise, the vase started to speak, and it said to the couple ‘Thank you for the compliment. But I wasn’t always beautiful.’
And the grandfather says ‘What do you mean you weren’t always beautiful?’
‘Well,’ said the vase, ‘once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay. But one day a man with dirty, wet hands threw me onto a wheel. Then he started turning me around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. “Stop! Stop!” I cried. But the man with the wet hands said, ‘Not yet.”‘
‘Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. “Stop! Stop!” I cried. But the man said “Not yet.”‘
‘Each time I thought he was finished, he would crumble and roll me up and begin to poke and punch me again.’
‘Finally he did stop. But then he did something much worse: he put me into a furnace. It got hotter and hotter until I couldn’t stand it. “Stop! Stop!” I cried. But the man said “Not yet.”‘
‘Finally when I thought I was going to burn up, the man took me out of the furnace. Then some lady began to paint me and the fumes got so bad they made me feel sick.’
‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried.
‘Not yet,’ said the lady.
‘Finally she did stop.’
‘But then she gave me back to the man, and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before.’
‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man said ‘Not yet.’
‘Finally he took me out of the furnace and let me cool.’
‘When I was completely cool, a lady put me on this shelf next to this mirror, and when I looked at the mirror I could not believe what I saw. I was no longer ugly, soggy and dirty. I was beautiful, firm, and clean.’
‘It was then that I realised that without all of that pain, I would still be the ugly, soggy lump of wet clay.’
When I read this story, I was so moved, and it reminded me very much of the story of the potter which is found in Jeremiah 18. In this chapter, the Lord reminds Jeremiah that the people are in His hands and despite their unfaithfulness, He will not forget them.
There is so much we can learn from the picture of God as a potter, shaping our lives according to His amazing plan. Recently I shared these thoughts with some of our UCB team leaders, and I want to share them with you too.
God has a plan
Firstly, in all circumstances of life, remember that God had the picture of what your life would look like in His mind before you set off. Before the clay was even pulled out of the ground, God had a design in mind for not only your life but also for the people you will be working with in His plan and purpose.
God watches over us
No matter what we go through, our Heavenly Father keeps His eye upon us every step of the way and in each stage of the process. There will be times in all of our lives where we do not feel Him near, and we may even wonder if God has forgotten us, but that is not true. He is always faithful to His plans and promises, and that includes His plans for your life.
There is a process
To become who God wants us to be, there is a process that must take place. Just as with the process of making a beautiful vase, first of all, the clay has to be prepared and has to be pressed down to get the air out, even before it gets on the wheel.
Secondly, when the clay is first placed on the wheel, it is an undefined blob. It looks nothing like the vision the potter has for what it will become. Being ‘on the wheel’ is a painful process as we are spinned through all the busyness and patterns and cycles of life. But each spin is necessary for shaping us, defining us, moulding us into the shape the potter has in mind.
After the clay is spun, it’s placed in the furnace, not to hurt or crack it but to make sure it is fit for purpose! I am sure we can all testify to life being like a furnace sometimes – grief, loss, betrayal, rejection – all part of the furnace of life. But it is a key part of the Potter’s purpose.
And when we are finally taken out of the furnace and left on a shelf to cool, we might think that God had finished with us. But this is not the time to get complacent! In fact, this is a crucial time where it’s important to remain focused and not give in to temptations. This is ‘God’s waiting room’ where we wait to see what He will make of us!
When the pottery is ready – when we have been tested and found to be secure and fit for purpose – this is when God is able to paint a beautiful design with our lives. But as much as we would love to think that testing and trials are over, this is not the case!
In fact, in the next step – the glazing process – the fire might be even hotter! It does not sound like a very good process, does it? And yet, when our lives are in the Potter’s hands, it is the safest place in the world to be. He stamps us with His seal of ownership. He says ‘you are mine’ and ‘though you walk through the fire, I will be with you.’
As believers, we belong to the Potter.
And whatever we go through, whatever part of the process we are in, we can be assured of one thing: He has a plan for us, our lives, our world.
To me, that is the greatest comfort of all.