I realised that I have always misunderstood the clay and the potter imagery from Jeremiah. There is a song that I have often sung around the verse, and I interpreted it as saying that God was the potter, and he can mold me any way that he sees fit. I can’t say that I particularly liked what I thought it was saying, but he is a good God, and I can trust him with my life. So, I would sing the song as a way of yielding myself afresh to him.
When I read chapter 18 of Jeremiah, I wonder if that is really what is being said. Jeremiah is told to go down to the potter’s house, and there was the potter working at his wheel. The clay was not working well for the potter, though, and what he was trying to make just was not happening. Consequently, the potter had to make the clay into something else.
After Jeremiah has watched the potter, the Lord speaks to him. He informs Jeremiah that if he announces judgement on a nation, and then that nation repents, then God will relent and not bring the disaster on that nation that he had planned. And the same is true the other way around, when if God says he is going to bless a nation, and then they do evil and fail to obey the Lord, he will reconsider the good that he planned to do for it.
It seems to me that what Jeremiah had to learn from watching the potter was that it didn’t matter what the potter was trying to make, if the clay wasn’t co-operating then the potter would not be able to make it.
I believe that God has wonderful plans for each one of us, but they will only come to pass if we fully co-operate with the Lord. And by co-operate, I mean not just obey what we feel him saying to us personally, but by also living lives that are pleasing to him.
God is flexible. I find that exciting. What we do affects him. He likes it when we make good choices. The beginning of Job talks about God showing off to Satan about his servant.
“Have you seen this guy Job? There’s no one on earth like him. He makes really good choices, and he is not interested in doing evil.” (Job 1:8 )
The prophet Zephaniah talks about a God who takes delight in his children (Zeph.3:17). A parent gets excited watching their child doing well. I don’t just mean watching a child excel in a sport, or playing an instrument, but seeing a child reaching out to another child in need brings great delight to most parents. When a child makes kind choices, honest choices, when she sacrifices for the sake of others, that makes a parent’s heart swell. And the same is true for our heavenly Father – when I pick up garbage someone else has dropped, when I speak a kind word to another person, when I write a check for someone in need, when I take time to pray and worship the Lord, all these things bring a smile to the Father.
And when I make good choices, the Lord can mold me into a precious vase, for his use, for his glory. And if I don’t speak the truth, if I don’t make time to help someone else, if I don’t have time to be alone with the Lord, then he is not able to make me into the vessel that he wanted me to be. God is flexible.
The message of the potter and the clay is that God doesn’t always get his way. There is much that depends on us.