Life Lessons from the Potter’s Wheel #4:
Do you ever struggle with understanding God’s part and our part in living out the Christian life? Well I think the process of raising the walls of a clay vessel on the potter’s wheel has something to teach us.
In Life Lesson #3, “Opening — How to Build a Good Foundation”, we saw the importance of: honesty with God; the word of God; the love of God; and assurance of salvation, in establishing a good foundation to our Christian lives. Now we are ready for the step that transforms what is still basically a lump of clay into a vessel; the step that potters call “pulling”.
Having created and compressed the base of your vessel, you are now left with a short fat outer wall of clay. With the wheel turning at a medium speed, and working with your hands at the three o’clock position, you now put the forefinger of your left-hand at the junction of the base and inner surface of the wall. At the same time, you place the forefinger of your right-hand at the junction of the wheel head and outer surface of the clay. Due to the thickness of the base this means that your left-hand (inner) is a little higher than your right-hand (outer).
The tips of your two forefingers now need to work very closely together, and support each other. So you stretch out your left thumb and rest it on the top of your right-hand, as shown in the picture below, to form a strong connection between the two.
Next you squeeze your two finger tips together slightly so that the clay between them is compressed and its thickness reduced. Then, keeping your two fingers in a fixed relationship with each other, you slowly lift them upwards away from the wheel. In so doing you lift the clay above your fingers away from the wheel and pull up the thinner wall, increasing its height. When your fingers run out of clay, you pause and slowly remove them. Keeping your fingers in a fixed relationship like this takes considerable concentration and effort.
Now you have a thinner and taller outer wall, but you want the wall even taller and thinner, so you repeat the process of squeezing and lifting the clay two or three more times. Each time the wall gets a little thinner and a little taller. Finally, you have created a cylinder with the wall height and thickness that you want. Almost any clay vessel can be formed from a cylinder like this.
It’s important to note that you have to perform this pulling process in small steps, because there is a limit to the amount of moving and stretching that the clay can do in one go. If you squeeze too much at once, you may weaken the clay wall so that it tears or buckles under the stress of the pull.
God’s Part and Our Part?
Jesus said to his disciples, just before he ascended back into heaven:
‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8 NIV)
The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the power and ability to live a life that pleases God, and fulfils his purpose for us. So does that mean I can just sit back and let the Holy Spirit do his thing? What about all those instructions in the Bible, don’t I need to take responsibility to put them into practice?
For example, when Jesus told us to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44 NIV), how do we create love in our hearts for someone who has harmed us in some way, when our souls cry out for justice? Do I need to just wait for the Holy Spirit to create this love in my heart, or is there something that I should do?
Keeping in Step
The answer to this dilemma is summarized for us in Galatians 5:25 (NIV):
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
So we need to “keep in step with the Spirit”, but what does that mean in practice? This is where the process of pulling can help us.
Just as lifting the wall of a clay vessel requires my left-hand and right-hand to work closely together, supporting each other, so I need to work closely with the Holy Spirit in order to live out my Christian life. The Holy Spirit is like the left-hand, he works on the inside to make me into the person God wants me to be. My choices are like the right-hand; I work on the outside in seeking to obey God’s commands. But I must walk in step with the Spirit, and I do that by keeping in contact with him, and I keep in contact with him through prayer. I ask him to fill me; I ask him what he wants to do; I ask him to do what I know I can’t.
How does this work in practice? Let’s take the loving your enemies example. I know I don’t have it in me to love the person who has belittled me, slandered me, stolen from me, attacked me, persecuted me, hurt me… yet Jesus commands me to love them and pray for them. I can’t love them, but I guess I can pray for them, so I do. I make the decision to pray that God would be good to them. Now the right hand has moved a little, and straight away, the left hand moves too, because the Holy Spirt moves to create a little love in my heart. I don’t sense it at first, but as I continue to pray for my enemy, little by little both hands move together, and little by little, love forms in my heart. What I could not do, the Holy Spirt does as I walk in step with him.
The Power of Small Steps
Just as small movements of the left hand and right hand working together raise up the clay wall, so small movements of obedience by us and the power of the Holy Spirit work together to build the nature of Jesus in our lives. The Bible calls the result of this process the fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23 NIV)
God “remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). He knows that like the clay we have to be raised up in small steps. This is why the process of raising us up to be children of God, who reflect his image, is a life long process. So let’s keep in step with the Spirit and constantly look for ways to obey God. Let’s keep asking for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill us. It is in this way that we will see Philippians 2:12 fulfilled in our lives. So:
… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose. (NIV)
Guest Author | David Knott
Originally published on: Medium