July 2011: Providence and The Master Potter

 Provi-dence n. the care or benevolent guidance of God over the universe, earth, humanity, and individual humans. 

No, this issue of The Traveler will not be a travelogue about a city in Rhode Island named Providence. But it will be a travelogue…of sorts. A travelogue about your journey through this mortal life. A notable theologian named John Calvin (or was it Calvin Klein? Hmmm) once wrote these words: “…that winding road of God’s providence.”

He was writing about how sometimes it was nearly impossible to figure out all the innumerable ways God was leading and guiding his life. He was commenting on how foolish it is for a limited, finite human to attempt to figure out what an unlimited, infinite God is doing in one’ life. This issue of The Traveler will be about the winding road of God’s providence in our lives as we continue our journey through this life enroute to the next.

You know, if you look around you anywhere on this planet, it certainly doesn’t seem to our five senses that God is benevolently guiding earth and humanity, does it? Look at hurricanes, wars, deadly accidents, starvation, tsunamis, earthquakes, drought…and all such things. To our five senses that sure doesn’t look like God is even in charge of what’s going on, much less guiding what’s occurring on planet earth and in the lives of individual humans…in your life…in my life.

But do you remember what I taught about faith in the February and March 2011 issues of The Traveler?  If not, I suggest you go back and study them before reading any further in this issue.  Or, you can request back copies if you didn’t happen to save them.  Incidentally, many people save their issues of The Traveler and use them to teach the Bible,   to preach,  and to otherwise share God’s Good News about Jesus with other people in their world around them.  That’s okay, I consider it an honor when people use my teaching materials, including those on our ministry website; you never have to obtain my permission to do so.

The Pottery Shop

Part of the winding road of God’s providence in our individual lives will always take us past a pottery shop.  What do I mean by that?  I’m glad you asked.  Let me tell you a story . . .  Many years ago in a faraway land lived a man named Jeremy.  It seems like Jeremy  was depressed much of the time because he simply couldn’t figure out what God was doing in his own life and the lives of the people to whom God had assigned him as sort of their spokesperson.  

One day—right out of the blue—God told Jeremy to go visit a nearby pottery shop.  You know, the kind of shop where a potter fashions all sorts of both practical and beautiful items from clay.  If you’ve never watched a potter at work, find a potter’s shop and spend a little time watching the potter.  I guarantee you’ll be fascinated watching the potter at work.  When Jeremy walked into the pottery shop, he saw the potter’s wheel spinning with the clay on it and the potter’s deft and skillful hands fashioning something from special clay used to make pottery.

Something Beautiful!

 Jeremy asked the potter what he was doing.  The potter responded, “I’m making a beautiful piece of pottery out of this shapeless lump of clay.”  Jeremy asked:  “With that little lump of shapeless clay there in front of you?  How do you know it’s going to become a beautiful piece of pottery?”  “Because I have a purpose and dream for this little lump of clay; I have a design for it already imagined in my mind,” responded the potter.  

Jeremy “got it.”  He knew instantly why God had sent him to visit the pottery shop.  All of a sudden he realized what the potter was doing with the shapeless lump of clay.  But then while the wheel was spinning and the lump was beginning to take shape, the potter abruptly stopped what he was doing.  Jeremy asked:  “Why have you stopped?”  The potter replied, “I’ve just discovered a defect, a flaw, in the clay.  There’s something wrong.”  

Jeremy now realized why God had asked him to go to the potter’s shop.  He realized the potter represented God and that lump of clay represented humanity—that something was wrong with people:  they have defects and flaws, they’re marred.  As Jeremy watched, the potter began to reshape the clay.  He realized the potter hadn’t given up, nor was he going to dispose of the clay.  Jeremy’s mind was racing:  “Aha!  God hasn’t given up on me, as flawed as I am, nor has He given up on other people who are flawed and defective.”

Reshaping the Clay

What the potter did next shocked Jeremy.   The potter pulled the clay off the wheel and broke it into smaller pieces.  Then he began to lump all the pieces back together into a misshapen mass.  He mashed it down and began to knead it.  “What in the world are you doing now?” Jeremy asked the potter.  “I’m breaking the clay in order to remake it . . . to reshape it . . . to refashion it.” 

So he kneaded it, added some fresh water to the lump, worked the lump and the water together to make the lump more pliable, and placed the pliable lump back on the wheel.  In the process, the potter had gotten rid of the flaws and defects  in the clay.  Once again the wheel began to spin, and the potter’s skillful hands began to reshape the lump of clay according to his original design and plan.  

Jeremy left the potter’s shop with a smile on his face and a “knowing in his knower” that he now had a message of hope for his people.  That message is:  “Although we are just lumps of ordinary clay, God’s skillful hands are upon us, shaping us into something beautiful according to his designs and purposes for our lives!”  Jeremy learned that no matter how badly our lives are marred and flawed, God is reshaping them into something beautiful—useful “containers” for Him to use to convey his good purposes to others in our world.  You may be saying to yourself right now, “This story about Jeremy and the potter isn’t about me; I’m not like other people.  You have no clue how deeply flawed and how seriously marred my life is!”

What’s Going On In Your Life?

You’re right, I don’t have a clue about what’s going on inside you right now . . . but the Master Potter does.  And no matter how flawed and marred your life is, He can reshape your life and make something beautiful of it.

Something beautiful,
something good;
All my confusion He understood.
All I have to offer Him
is brokenness and strife, 
But He can make something
beautiful of my life!

–Adapted from a song written by Gloria Gaither in 1971

This story about God asking Jeremy to take a detour to the pottery shop during his life-journey is from one of the books in the Old Testament portion of your Bible.  I’ll let you find the story for yourself.  Hint:  “Jeremy” is the traveler’s shortened nickname.  What’s the Master Potter doing in your life today?  What’s He re-shaping, re-newing, re-storing, and transforming in your life?  What flaws and defects is He removing from your life so He can re-form and re-mold you?  When the Potter mixes some water in with the clay of your life, that water symbolizes the Spirit of God inseparably blending and fusing with your human spirit, transforming you and re-shaping you from the inside out as you cooperate with Him in the lifelong transformation process.  

Are you resisting what the Master Potter is doing in your life?  Or, are you humbly complying and cooperating with his efforts to renew your thoughts and attitudes, thus forming in your more and more the mind of Jesus?  It’s a lifelong transformation process that  began when you invited Jesus to come into your life and take up permanent residence inside you in his “unbodied” form of Holy Spirit.

The Glazing Process

One thing I haven’t written about yet is how after the beautiful piece of pottery has been shaped and painted with vivid colors, then it has to go through the glazing process.  You know what the glazing process is, don’t you?  The new piece of pottery has to be placed in a very hot glazing oven to harden the clay and “set” the beautiful design painted on it by the potter.  Yep, the clay has to go through fire before it becomes a finished product.  

I’m now going to make a very simple statement about the purposes of fire:   The basic purpose of fire is always to cleanse and purify something . . . always!  It is to rid it’s fuel of impurities, of foreign matter, of undesirable elements.  The fires of God are not necessarily to punish and destroy some of his creation.  A clear understanding of the nature of fire, both in physics and the Bible, clearly shows fire’s basic purposes to cleanse and purify.  God always puts his people into the glazing oven to purify and cleanse their lives of impurities, flaws, and defects.  Over 100 years ago, a songwriter wrote these words; I think he was on to something:

“In shady green pastures so rich and so sweet
God leads his dear children along.
Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary ones’ feet,
God leads his dear children along.
Some through the water, some through the flood;
Some through the fire, but all through the blood.
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song
In the night seasons and all the day long.”

If you’re interested in knowing much more about fire as related to God’s plans and purposes for you and for humankind in general, I invite you to read one of my teachings on this website entitled Fire.   Back to the subject of providence . . . God is God.  You aren’t.  God—being God—can do whatever He chooses to do with any lump of clay He has created.  He is not answerable to you or to me in any way, shape or form.  He can do whatever He chooses to do.  But . . . remember this one thing:  God is altogether good and absolutely everything He does is good.  (That principle about God’s basic character and nature of good-ness is expressed in Psalm 119: 68 and other related biblical references.)  

Everything God does for all humanity . . . including you . . . and me is always—always!—providentially filtered through his absolute goodness and love for everything He has created.  He is always—at all times!—working out everything for the good of his entire creation.  That’s providence.  That’s the “winding road of God’s providence” always at work in your life of clay—constantly re-shaping, re-molding, and transforming for good absolutely everything in your life.

“Don’t even think for one minute you know enough to call God into question! Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, asking ‘Why did you shape me like this?’ The Potter has every right to do whatever He chooses with any lump of clay with which He works.” –adapted from Romans 9     

To Think About This Month

          “God allows (not causes) me to be broken at my weakest points so that afterwards I am strong at the broken places.  The Master Potter is continually putting the broken pieces of my life back together.”

Bill Boylan 
Life Enrichment Services, Inc
Revised and Updated December 2020 

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