by Phil Enlow

The words that form the title above, “Be the Clay,” came to me quite distinctly as I thought about a letter I had received from someone who was experiencing many difficult challenges and questions. I thought about him, about others I knew of, and myself as well and the thought arose unbidden as though God wanted to shine a very particular light upon the various issues involved.

The idea of our being the clay should be pretty obvious to anyone who knows much of the Bible. In several places our relationship to God is compared with that of clay to a potter. For example Isaiah 64:8 says, “… O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” In the context there is an appeal to God, based on the clay/potter relationship, for divine mercy and help in a time of great spiritual need.

In Jeremiah 18 we find the Lord telling Jeremiah to “go down to the potter’s house” (verse 2) in order to receive the Lord’s message. Jeremiah observed a potter shaping clay and the clay being “marred” in his hands. Then the potter took the same clay and formed it into another pot, “shaping it as seemed best to him” (verse 4). The imagery again is clear. The only way “clay” can become a “pot” is for a potter to form and shape it. The kind of pot that results is not based on the will or the ability of the clay but rather upon the skill and the choice of the potter.

We know that in the beginning “God created man in his own image….” Genesis 1:27. This is everywhere reflected in scripture. Psalm 100:3 begins, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his….” In one of his darker moments, Job, full of questions, nevertheless recognized his place with respect to God. In Job 10:8-9 he said, “Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?”

Clay that Fights Back
But we also know that our first parents rebelled against that relationship, determined to strike out on a path independent of their Creator. Whereas literal clay is an inanimate object and does not fight back and resist the potter it is not so with human beings. We have wills and those wills have been shaped by the sin and rebellion that entered our race in the beginning. We want our own way and instinctively resist any attempt to “mold” us.

And so as the nation of Israel continually turned to sin and rebellion and prophets were sent to warn them we find expressions such as this in Isaiah 29:16, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” Isaiah 45:9 warns, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?” And yet all too often we do!

The Problem
And that is the problem. There is nothing revolutionary or new about the scriptural truth of the potter/clay relationship. The problem is that in our day-to-day lives we are so little in tune with it. And worse, we often fight against it, failing to understand God’s ways or His divine purpose. Consequently we struggle with things like anxiety and fear, frustration with the circumstances of life, nagging questions and doubts, and the like. God has better for us. His loving counsel: “Be the clay.”

Clearly in our present state we have strayed far from fulfilling God’s purpose in creating us. He did not make us to live in the darkness of sin. That is the result of choices we have made. But beyond the simple fact that we are His creation, why were we created? What was God’s purpose in making us? And given our present condition, how does that purpose get fulfilled?

What is God After?
Reading through the scriptures we gain a sense of what God is seeking. One expression we see in many places is “sons of God.” Of course here on earth we are two different genders, male and female, but the expression “sons of God” goes far beyond earthly gender. He is “Father” and this greatest of all fathers has children. We were originally created in God’s “image” – not a matter of physical appearance but in the various attributes of our being. We have minds, wills, emotions, a capacity for love, creativity, enjoyment of beauty and as well as sharing other similarities with our Creator. But that image was marred by sin. Every part of our being has been perverted from its intended purpose and fallen under the absolute dominion of darkness. Yet when God is through we find that He will have a people capable of living in an unbroken relationship with Him, beyond the reach of sin.

God’s children will live forever – not the lowly existence we know here but something we do not have the power to even imagine. Even as God Himself cannot die, neither will His children for they possess His very life. Death itself will pass away and never be again!

But they will also possess His nature and character. Our Lord Jesus is the model son and God’s declared purpose is that the “many brothers” of Jesus should all be made like him in every way. Romans 8:28-30. See also Hebrews 2:10. 1 John 3:2 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” The Greek word for “children” there refers to very young children and not to grown-up sons. Each of these scriptures refers not only to the process God’s children experience but also to the end result.

Since “God is love” then the relationship God seeks is obviously a relationship based upon love. See 1 John 4:7-5:1. It is characterized by a perfect unbroken love between Father and child as well among all of the citizens of that world. There is nothing more fulfilling to our souls than the giving and receiving of genuine love. It is the way we were made.

Listen to the passion of Paul’s prayer in Eph. 3:14-21 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Notice the central theme of “love” in that passage and in many others. In Rom. 1:7 we find Paul addressing his letter “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” God’s people are indeed loved but their call is a call to be “saints.” There are all kinds of ideas as to what a “saint” is but basically the idea is one who is separated from sin and to God. A “saint” is one called to become like God in His character. A “saint” is one that has chosen God and His Son Jesus Christ over the world. Such scriptures express in slightly different words the same theme that God calls people from this world ultimately to full sonship with a wonderful never-ending relationship with Him.

And we cannot say, “Yes,” to God without saying, “No,” to the world. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” There is a proverbial “line in the sand.” People are on one side or the other. There is no compromise, no middle ground.

Other words like joy and peace and dominion over a beautiful creation are involved but one word is particularly interesting. It is the word “glory.” In Isaiah 43:6-7 we read, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Here we see that God’s “sons” and “daughters” were created for His (God’s) glory. I guarantee that those who inhabit that land will never cease to praise their God just because of Who and What He is but also because of the amazing love and grace bestowed on those He has brought there. Everyone there will fully appreciate what the Divine Potter has made from what appeared to be worthless clay. If earthly artists are praised for their creations how much more the Heavenly Artist!

In 1 Peter 5:1 Peter refers to himself as “one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.” In 1 Peter 5:10-11 he exhorts believers in these words, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

2 Thess. 2:13-15 says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Col. 1:27 Paul summarizes the wonderful mystery he was called to proclaim in these words: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In Col. 3:4 he says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Rom. 8:15-19 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Over and over we find the word “glory” connected with the final state of God’s children.

What is Glory?
But what is “glory”? What does it mean? The Greek word doxa is used in a number of senses. One of them has to do with brightness as in, “It’s a glorious morning.” Sun, moon, and stars all have glory connected with them no doubt because of their beauty but also as sources of light in the midst of darkness. Genesis 1:14-19, 1 Corinthians 15:40-41.

Often here on earth glory is used to convey such things as magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, majesty. The “glory” of a king refers to his exalted position among men and perhaps his achievements. A general may win a “glorious” victory resulting in great praise and honor. Most any human achievement can result in “glory” being given to the achiever.

But the glory that God intends for His children goes far beyond anything known on earth. We glory in men, comparing one with another, but one glimpse of divine glory and everything of earth instantly becomes as nothing. Men, in their blindness, suppose that God, if He exists at all, is merely a larger version of themselves. He is big and powerful to be sure but not really all that different. Not so! The united testimony of those over the centuries who have been privileged to encounter God in any degree shouts to us that the chasm between human and divine is beyond description. He is not like us. Not at all.

Most men, when they encounter someone who is famous or powerful, are very conscious of their inferior position. Their behavior is very different from what it would be around those they consider equals. They may become nervous. They may use flattery in an effort to gain favor. They may even act as if they themselves were important. But when men encounter God – that is something else again.

Encounters With God
Moses was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. In Exodus 33:18-23 we read, “Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’” In Exodus 34:8 we read, “Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.”

When Moses returned from this encounter with God his face was so radiant that he had to cover it with a veil. It was so bright the people could not look at him! When God’s presence descended upon Mount Sinai the effect was terrifying and the people were warned to stay back or they would die. Later on their center of worship became a large precisely constructed tent. The innermost part was called the holy of holies and going in there meant instant death. Only the high priest, and only once a year, and only after following very specific rituals, could go in there and live – and he entered with a blood sacrifice. God’s being is so pure and so powerful that sinful men would be instantly consumed by a full expression of His presence.

Isaiah was already a prophet of God when he had the life-changing experience recorded in Isaiah 6:1-5 – “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’”

Just a glimpse of this awesome scene and a man of God was reduced to nothing in his own eyes. No doubt he was allowed to see but the smallest part of God’s glory yet it was enough to fully convince him that he did not belong to that scene! He was gripped with the sense of his utter uncleanness and unworthiness. The wonderful thing is that God Himself stepped in and cleansed him from the sin of which he had become so desperately conscious.

When Ezekiel was given a vision showing God’s glory his immediate response was to fall face down (Ezekiel 1:28). At the end of this first encounter with God he returned to the exile community in Babylon and it is recorded in Ezekiel 3:15, “I sat among them for seven days — overwhelmed.”

In Daniel 8:17 we find an encounter between the prophet Daniel and an angel. His response: “I was terrified and fell prostrate.” This wasn’t even a direct revelation of God Himself but merely one of God’s servants from the spirit realm. In verse 27 we read what happened after this experience: “I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days.”

In the gospels we find our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, living as a man among men. What an amazing condescension that was considering the great gulf that exists between God and man! We know from the scriptures that it was He who was used of the Father to create all that is (Col. 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:1-3, John 1:1-3). No doubt it was He that men encountered in the Old Testament since the scriptures also tell in Colossians 1:15 that “He is the image of the invisible God….”

For a long time his disciples walked with Jesus and saw his wonderful works. But God had a very special revelation in mind for three of them, Peter, James, and John. They went up into a mountain with Jesus. All of a sudden Jesus was transfigured before them. Matt. 17:2 tells us, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Then Moses and Elijah appeared with him and they had a conversation. Peter didn’t know how to react so he babbled something about putting up tents for the three of them. Then a bright cloud engulfed them and the voice of God Himself spoke and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” What was the response of the disciples? Verse six tells us, “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.” You would be too!

Later, when he was an old man in exile for his faith, John had a vision of the exalted Christ. Though he had known Jesus on earth and even been there when he was transfigured this was different. Rev. 1:12-16 says, “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

What was John’s response? Verse 17 begins, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”

The simple truth is that given man’s condition as a result of sin, God and man don’t mix! The full power of God’s glory and presence would instantly consume the very best of men.

Nothing We Can Do About It
And another simple truth is that in ourselves there isn’t a thing we can do about it. As 1 John 1:5-6 tells us, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” When it comes to the family of Adam, compared to God, men are darkness with no light at all.

In Matthew 19 we find Jesus speaking of the difficulty of rich men entering the kingdom of God. He said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The astonished disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” In Matt. 19:26 we read, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”

That’s pretty plain isn’t it! With man, salvation is impossible. The gulf between man and God is too wide, the power of sin and darkness too great to escape. There is no religion he can practice, no code of ethics he can follow, no good works he can do that will make the slightest difference in his being accepted by a holy God. If there is to be any end other than fire it will come about because of the merciful intervention of God and not by anything man can do for himself. The surest way I know of to be rejected by God is to try and qualify yourself by your own efforts.

Rom. 3:22-23 tells us that “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All men are the same when it comes to this. They all have a record of sin they cannot erase. And no matter what they do they continually fall short of “the glory of God.” And that is the standard. Nothing less. Be as pure and holy as God or you’re out! That sounds pretty hopeless doesn’t it! And even if you are able somehow to measure up to His glory you still haven’t done anything about the sins of the past.

Good News!
That’s where the gospel comes in. That’s why it is such good news. What man cannot do for himself, God has done for him. What is impossible with man is possible with God! Our sins – all of them – were charged to our Lord Jesus Christ and in his death they were done away with as if they had never happened.

When he cried, “It is finished,” there was nothing more that needed to be done with regard to our guilt before God. John 19:30. A way into the holiest had been opened. God bore a dramatic witness to this by supernaturally ripping the curtain concealing the holy of holies in the temple from the top to the bottom. Matt. 27:51. Men didn’t rip that curtain; God did! The sin barrier between God and man was done away with for everyone willing to forsake their sins and put their trust in Jesus and what he accomplished. Sinful men become children of God through a divine miracle.

Of course Jesus himself is eternal. Risen from the dead by God’s power he can never die. Thus his ability to save cannot cease. That is why Heb. 7:25 declares, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

One word that I believe sums up true repentance and faith in Christ is “surrender.” It is a man saying, “I recognize that my need is desperate and my outlook hopeless but I embrace the hope freely offered to me through Christ and unconditionally surrender heart and life to him to save.” In so doing we accept our rightful place as clay in the divine Potter’s hands. It is no longer our life, our will, our way, but His.

Prepared For Glory
But salvation is much more than simply blotting out our sins so we can go to heaven. It is the whole process of changing men of this world into men who will be completely at home in the glory of another world, in perfect harmony with God Himself. Can you engineer something like that? Can you make that happen? Where would you even begin?!

Eph. 2:8-10 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

That sounds like a work of God from beginning to end. It is “by grace” and “through faith” but even the faith doesn’t originate in man but is itself a gift of God! It is most certainly NOT based on “works” – some kind of human effort – and thus there is no basis for boasting. But more than that salvation is described in these words: “… we are God’s workmanship ….” Here we see specific language describing our Heavenly Father as a Master Craftsman making something out of us. The ability comes from Him. The design comes from Him. Our place therefore is to “be the clay.”

Our Uniqueness
Even here on earth a true craftsman does not “mass-produce” works of art. Each work is an original. Each work is unique, not exactly like any other. That is what gives such works of art much of their value. How much more so is that true of the Divine Craftsman. Do you suppose that citizens of heaven are mass-produced? No! Each one is unique. Each one is specially crafted by the Master’s hand.

In 1 Corinthians 4 we find Paul referring to the differences in men. In verse 7 he poses these simple questions to his readers: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? The answers of course are, “God made you different” and, “Everything you have you received.”

In the matter of spiritual gifts we find that they are given to each one just as he (the Spirit) determines. 1 Corinthians 12:11. And so there are many very different gifts that operate in the body of Christ, yet one Spirit. Each member is unique and special yet together they make up the whole. How foolish is it that we so often compare ourselves one with another. God doesn’t do that! He doesn’t say, “Why are you not like so-and-so?” God sees you through the lens of His purpose for YOU.

A Great Promise
Rom. 8:28-29 is a wonderful scripture that has often brought comfort to God’s children: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Typically this passage is used to comfort those who are experiencing trials and difficulties. It offers assurance that though things may seem bad they are working together for good. While that is certainly true we need to note carefully how this wonderful truth fits into what Paul is teaching.

First it is worth asking, “To whom is this promise given?” They are described in two ways: they love him; and they have been called. A two-way relationship has been established. This relationship has come about because God has taken the initiative and called them. And they responded positively. Those who had formerly been God’s enemies (Romans 5:10, 8:7-8, compare Col. 1:21) have by His grace become His beloved children (Rom. 8:15-18). Christ has come in to live and a living connection with God has come to be. Hearts once controlled by sin have become aligned with God’s heart. It is not a relationship based upon fear or duty: they love Him.

These are not mere religious professors who practice their own preferred brand of religion and try to use God to get what they want. We are told in verse 28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” But what is “good”? How do you define it? Who determines what is “good” and “bad” and by what measure?

Is This Promise For You?
All of those NOT referred to in this passage have their hearts centered in this present world. In one way or another they love it and lust after what they believe it offers. Their focus is on such things as health, prosperity, success, achievement, pleasure, whatever they think constitutes “happiness” in their earthly lives.

If this describes you then this wonderful promise is not for you. Paul describes you in Phil. 3:18-19 – “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”

It is not that God is unconcerned about the needs of His children in this world. Not at all. In Matthew 6:24-34 we learn from the lips of Jesus that no one can serve two masters, and that the God who feeds the birds of the air will care for our earthly needs. Verse 33 tells us, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When people center their lives on seeking earthly things then those things become their master and, according to Jesus, they cannot serve God. Those are strong words. Argue with Jesus if you dare but his words are true.

False Gospels
Sadly there are so-called “gospels” being widely preached in our day that grossly pervert the true gospel and effectively declare that Jesus was wrong. The focus in these “gospels” is on earthly prosperity. “God wants to bless you” is widely proclaimed. Satan is the one who sends all the “bad stuff” into your life but God wants to give you nothing but “good stuff.” Are you sick, poor, can’t get ahead in life? Come to God, claim His promises, and your dreams will come true.

People who would never ever take up their cross and follow Jesus flock to such a message. It has an obvious appeal to the worldly-minded. They are deluded into thinking that they can have all this and heaven too. “The cross,” “the blood of Christ,” “death to self,” “self-denial,” “overcoming sin,” “suffering with Christ that we might reign with him”? “Those are old-fashioned ideas that turn people off. You’ll never build a church with that kind of talk.” Well, you can build mega-churches with false gospels but those gravitating to such a message are headed for the fire – and don’t know it.

Other folks are all about “dominion.” They want “dominion” over everything from their dandruff to the United Nations. Again their emphasis is an earthly one. It appeals to pride. It operates in the realm of fantasy. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the first creation – but were expelled from the garden after they sinned. The destiny of God’s sons is one of dominion – over the new creation.

Heb. 2:5-10 says, “It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.’ In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.

“Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Notice where dominion fits in: it was there in the beginning; it also pertains to “the world to come.” But right now what we see is a Savior who suffered, Jesus, who is “bringing many sons to glory.” If he is “bringing” them then they are not there yet. Preaching a “dominion” message is just another way to appeal to worldly people driven by pride and a lust for power and significance. I find all the significance I need in Jesus! I am God’s child. He loves me. He has a purpose for me, one He is committed to carrying out. When He is finished with me I’ll be able to exercise plenty of “dominion” – but it won’t be here. It will be in a perfect new world, and its inhabitants won’t corrupt it like they did the first one.

What is “Good”?
So how do you define “good”? It is defined by the purpose involved. In Romans 8:28 it is not our purpose that God is working to fulfill but His. In Romans 8:28 we see the Master Craftsman of Ephesians 2:10 at work. Those things in which God works for good serve HIS ends and not OURS. We might think, for example, that winning a lottery and becoming rich would be a “good” thing. But it just might be one of the worst things that could happen, greatly hindering God’s loving purpose for us.

When God calls people to Himself and miraculously makes them His children a great plan is in motion. That plan extends to the glory of eternity to come. His children are clay in the divine Potter’s hands to be shaped as He sees fit. As we have said, each one is an original. He has a place in His great kingdom where each one will perfectly fit. Romans 8:28 reminds us that the experiences of life – which often seem to us to be bad – are means God uses in fulfilling His purpose for us. The “good” is defined by that purpose.

Verse 29 reminds us at least in general terms just what that purpose is: “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” If you want to know what God has in mind for His children, look at Jesus. Consider his heart, his character, his deeds of love and sacrifice. And never forget the glory that has resulted. Remember John’s words quoted earlier from 1 John 3:2 – “… we shall be like him ….” And yet the glorious thing is that even in his likeness we retain our uniqueness, our individuality. In the end God will have a great family of “sons” and Jesus will be our elder brother! As Paul puts it, he will “be the firstborn among many brothers.”

The Certainty of the Promise
Paul continues by conveying to us the certainty of all this in Rom. 8:30 – “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” He speaks of all this as though it has already happened! Only God is capable of such things. The rest of the chapter enlarges on this theme of the certainty of what God is doing. It ends with these glorious words (Rom. 8:38-39): “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What a glorious place of rest, of hope! No matter what life brings, those who have surrendered their lives into the hands of the Divine Potter are safe and their destiny is sure. This is the “big picture” Paul labored for his readers to understand. To “be the clay” is to live in the light of this big picture. It is to see the world and our lives in it through the lens of God’s ultimate purpose for us and to maintain an attitude of grateful surrender to Him. It is, as Paul says in Col. 3:2, to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Day-to-Day Living
But as wonderful as this big picture is we live out our lives here in a world full of trouble. Far too often the “big picture” gets a little lost in our day-to-day lives. Rom. 8:28 speaks of a God who works “in all things.” Most of our difficulty in living for God comes from those “all things” we encounter every day. We strive and struggle, failing to fully appreciate what the Lord through Paul was teaching us.

God is not just about the “big picture.” He is intimately involved in the “all things” as well. What a wonderful word “all” is! It is not as though God works in “some” things whereas others are somehow out of His control or else He overlooks them. No! It is in “all things” that God works.

And it does not say that God works “in spite of” all things as though they are out of His control but He somehow manages to work things out anyway. No! Again, it is IN all things that He works.

The Master’s Tools
The “all things” of which Paul speaks are clearly the experiences of life that we encounter. And he doesn’t mean just the “good” things as we see them but “all” things. The picture Paul paints is of a God Who is in control, not just of the big things but of all things – and He has a glorious purpose in it all. But more than God merely being in control we see in the “all things” the very tools the Master Craftsman is using to shape us for eternity.

Why, we wonder, am I poor when so-and-so is rich? Why are they healthy when I am sick? Why do I struggle with so many difficulties when others seem to have it easy? Is God unfair? Is He punishing me? Why this? Why that? But if we begin to understand, it puts life in a whole different light.

In infinite love and wisdom God shapes each of us according to a very personal plan – His plan for US. You are not so-and-so. So-and-so is not you either. And the crazy thing is that “so-and-so” may well be thinking some of the same kinds of thoughts about you! It is the devil’s business to get us to focus on the circumstances of others and to complain about our lot in life. But life is not about US and OUR will and way in this world. It is about Him. It is about forever.

In Rom. 8:36 Paul says, that “we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” That doesn’t sound like a good thing – until you consider what we are without God, and what He has committed to making us! Jesus himself was the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world. John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19. He gave up everything there was to his life in this world. He gladly laid it down for you and for me. He did it in the light of eternity. Are we not called to take up our cross and follow him? Matthew 10:38.

And look how it has turned out for him! He occupies a place of authority and glory second only to the Father Who gave him the authority. 1 Corinthians 15:27. Rev. 5:12 records a song that is sung to our Lord: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” And it will be glorious for all who likewise lay down their lives to serve God and His kingdom.

How do you see your life? The world will tell you that your life is YOURS to live as you please. But Jesus said that he who seeks to save his life will lose it and the one who loses his life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35.

To “be the clay” in our day-to-day lives is to learn to assume a position of submission and trust in each circumstance. I don’t have to tell you that this does NOT come naturally! It is something we learn in the heat of battle, often painfully. Our struggles with being the clay come because of the pull of the world upon us and because of the pull of our old natures we still carry in these bodies. All too often our desires are at odds with God’s will and purpose for us. We strive and struggle, frustrated, sometimes angry, upset, not realizing that our real struggle is actually against God Himself! I’m so thankful that He remains faithful to His purpose even when I kick and scream and complain. He is so loving and patient as He gently works to bring our hearts into alignment with His.

Paul “Being the Clay”
2 Corinthians 4 gives us a textbook example of a man of God “being the clay.” Paul describes the ministry God has given him and gives us insight into what it took for that ministry to be effective. In verses 7-12 we read, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

None of us would choose to be “hard pressed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “struck down.” We would see these as bad things and perhaps wonder why God was allowing them. But Paul had learned to see such things from God’s point of view. He saw them as necessary in order that the very life of Jesus could be seen in him and experienced by those to whom he ministered.

A Choice
It wasn’t his emotions that carried him through such things. No doubt his emotions rose up in protest. Rather it was a choice based on an understanding of what God wanted to accomplish in and through him that sustained him. He chose in the face of it all to believe God and seek the divine will above his own. He saw the fruit of that choice in the lives of the Corinthian believers and the resulting glory given to God.

We see in this scripture as well the hand of a faithful God in that in spite of these things he was “not crushed,” “not in despair,” “not abandoned,” “not destroyed.” How carefully does our heavenly Father use His tools! It is always just enough, never too much, just what is needed to shape us according to His plan.

The Way Out
Consider 1 Cor. 10:13, another oft-quoted scripture – “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Notice the balance between “temptation” and “a way out.” Can you not see the faithful hand of our Father carefully measuring these things out to His children?

But notice especially the end of this verse. The “way out” is not from the trial but rather divine help so that we can “stand up under it.” That doesn’t mean that God never rescues us from situations but rather it highlights the way He works in much that we experience. How clearly does this appear in Paul’s own experiences referred to above! After each thing there is a wonderful word. That word is “but.” It reminds us that God is always there and that nothing can destroy us.

And so it is in the light of all this that Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 4 with these words in verses 16-18 – “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Expressions like, “we fix our eyes,” remind us that Paul’s way of looking at life was indeed a choice and not merely an emotional reaction. It was a daily choice to trust God and live with eternity in view. Our troubles often seem to be anything but “light and momentary” but one glimpse of the other side and they will seem as nothing by comparison. Truly, as the song says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ; One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase, So bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

Notice also the connection Paul makes between his troubles and “eternal glory.” He does not see his troubles as unnecessary and unwelcome obstacles so that glory comes in spite of them. Rather he declares that our troubles “are achieving for us” that eternal glory. In other words, they are necessary in bringing about what is to come.

Literal Clay
Think about literal clay and what it goes through to become a work of art. Imagine if it could think and react! It starts out just lying there minding its own business. Life is good! Then strong hands remove it from its “comfort zone” and carry it to an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place. Those same strong hands begin to work the clay, folding, squeezing, sometimes slamming it against a hard surface to prepare it for shaping. All air bubbles must be removed and moisture must be evenly distributed.

Then comes the time to be put on the potter’s wheel where it is rapidly spun around – out of control from the point of view of the clay. Then the strong hands go to work lifting and shaping as the wheel turns. Pressure is carefully applied to different places as the work progresses. You can almost hear the clay saying things like, “No, not there!” and “What did I do to deserve this?” and “Why are you punishing me?” And yet in this time of lifting and shaping those same strong hands also support since the clay is not yet strong enough to hold the new shape.

Shaping then leads to a period of being set aside to dry out. Have you ever felt like that?! The poor clay surely doesn’t understand. “All that miserable pressure and shaping, whirling around – and now you just abandon me?! What in the world is going on?”

Then at just the right time we come to the best part, the fire! Shaping and drying are one thing but for those changes to become permanent it is necessary to put the clay into a very hot place. Sort of sounds like life, doesn’t it!

Life is pretty tough if we suppose that we are just helpless victims of chance with no meaning or purpose, or that some malevolent deity is playing sick games with us. But what a difference it makes when we understand something of what a loving God has in mind for us – and we choose to trust Him! And then on top of that how wonderful it is to know that IN all of our circumstances He offers whatever help is needed to come out the other side better than we were when we went in. We are never left to our own strength and resources.

My mind goes to people that God has greatly used to further the work of His kingdom. I think about someone like Joni Eareckson Tada. She was a beautiful, healthy, athletic teenager whose life was suddenly altered by a terrible diving accident that left her a helpless quadriplegic. In a million years she would never have chosen such a path for her life. Coming to terms with what had happened was a long and very painful process. Through times of anger, doubt, bitterness, despair and many similar emotions God was never offended. He never left her side but patiently helped her to work through it all. Her honesty in recounting these experiences has itself been a great blessing to many.

From an earthly perspective Joni’s experience was a terrible tragedy, ruining a life brimming with hope and promise. But what about heaven’s perspective? The odds are that apart from this “tragedy” few would have ever known Joni. She might well have lived out an “average” fairly comfortable life as a church-going believer, eventually to die in obscurity.

But think what God has accomplished through her! Only eternity will reveal the full impact of the life she so sweetly offered to God. She is known, loved, and respected around the world. Countless millions have not only heard the gospel because of her but have also seen it played out in her life. Living hope in God has been implanted and nurtured wherever she has gone.

Has it been easy? Not according to Joni. Her life is a daily battle of faith. I don’t doubt that she longs to go and be with her Lord. But in her, God has given the world a living example of the hope of a gospel that can transform seeming tragedy into eternal triumph.

Can you imagine what it will be like for Joni when she arrives on the other shore! Decades of struggle and physical travail will disappear in a moment amidst joyful running and shouting and praising God with every fiber of her being. I have no doubt that her joy will be that much greater than that of others who have not experienced what she has. Does anyone really suppose that she will say, “It wasn’t worth it, God, You cheated me”? Oh no! How different will this present world appear in the light of heaven!

Amy Carmichael
What would Amy Carmichael’s life have been like if she had not willingly become clay in the Potter’s hands? In spite of many serious physical difficulties she sacrificed most of her life in India as a missionary dedicating herself to saving young girls from lives of temple prostitution. During much of her time there she was confined to a bed of pain yet through it all her life touched, and continues to touch, millions of believers. No doubt her confinement gave her opportunity to pen at least some of the books that have blessed so many. Do you suppose she will complain on the judgment day? Or will heaven honor her and give God glory!

John Bunyan
John Bunyan lived in the 1600s and came to know God amidst deep struggles of mind and soul. He describes his experience in, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Throughout his life he gave himself to the ministry of preaching, teaching, and encouraging others in the faith. And yet there were long periods in which he was imprisoned by the authorities for his preaching. What was that about? Surely such a thing was “of the devil.” And yet think of the wonderful books he was able to write, not in spite of these circumstances, but because of them! If John Bunyan had not been imprisoned we might never have had such classics as Pilgrim’s Progress or The Holy War just to name a couple.

Why Did I Suffer?
It is not unusual for someone who comes to Christ from a particularly rough background such as a life of crime or terrible abuse or suffering to wonder why God allowed it to happen. The truth is everything in life, even before we come to God, plays a part in our becoming what He intends. For an example I need look no further than Bro. Thomas, the founder of Midnight Cry Ministries. He was the product of a broken home, living here and there, growing up pretty rough and tough. He experienced some very difficult things like an extended time in a tuberculosis sanitarium. As a youth he nearly died as a result of a terrible auto accident, suffering agonizing pain, spewing bitterness of spirit. As a young man in his 20s he made and sold moonshine (illegal whiskey) and ran with a crowd that was always out looking for a “good time.”

But in his late 20s God got hold of his heart and he was soundly converted. Was everything before that a waste? Not based on his testimony. Even in the hard things he experienced God was shaping the man he was to become. During his long years of ministry he was able to minister with compassion to people from all backgrounds, including those like himself who had had a difficult past.

Even in his own seemingly “lost” years God was watching over him. Angels are assigned to minister to God’s people but their assignment doesn’t begin with conversion. Heb. 1:14 tells us, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Note that this scripture speaks of those who will – future tense – inherit salvation! I can almost imagine the Lord calling an angel over and pointing out a pregnant mother here on earth and telling the angel, “The infant in her womb is one of mine. He will go through many hard times but later on he will come to know me. Watch over him.”

Whether God’s people come from a palace or from the gutter they are all precious to Him. Every circumstance of life plays its part in shaping us to His purposes, here as well as in eternity to come. Paul was a religious zealot and murderer; Peter was a fisherman; Matthew was a dishonest tax collector; Luke a doctor; Mary Magdalene and others were demon-possessed immoral women. From every background that sin can devise God calls His own and with infinite love and patience brings them to glory.

Do You Mean I Should be Passive?
At this point it might occur to someone to wonder if “being the clay” and living a life of surrender to God’s workmanship isn’t just being “passive” about everything. After all if God sends everything that comes into our life shouldn’t we just be accepting and resign ourselves to it?

Of course the answer is a definite No! Even though God uses the illustration of potter and clay it doesn’t mean that we are to be passive and mindless. God is preparing “sons” for glory, not mere decoration. The Potter/clay relationship God seeks is more of the Father/son variety, one in which He teaches and trains and we learn and grow. It is very personal and involves communication and not just sort of following religious “rules.”

Paul’s Thorn
Consider the example of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. In verses 1-6 he describes a man (himself) who experienced some amazing revelations from God. Then in verse 7 he says, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” He doesn’t say exactly what it was but it is evident that he found this turn of events to be distressing. So what did he do?

Well, he didn’t just resign himself, assuming that if God sent it he just had to endure it and “muddle through.” In verse 8 he tells us what he did: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” I don’t believe he meant three little prayers; he meant three different seasons in which he earnestly sought God about this thing. I’m sure he believed this messenger of Satan to be an unwelcome hindrance to his ministry.

What I find interesting is that Paul wasn’t rebuked or criticized by God for praying this way. There was nothing wrong in what Paul did. But Paul wanted God’s will above his own even as he begged God for deliverance from his trial. In time God made his answer known to Paul. In verse 9 we read that answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Armed with that knowledge, Paul had a choice: he could get mad at God and sulk about it; or he could respond in faith, recognizing God’s wisdom and purpose. Of course he chose the way of surrender and trust and found that God was faithful to give him the needed strength to stand. He even saw that what he had thought was a hindrance to effective ministry was actually designed by God to make his ministry even more effective. He came to understand an important spiritual principle: “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Verse 10.

The Prayer of Jesus
We see the same thing played out in our Lord Jesus himself when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. Knowing the horror of what he was facing Jesus prayed that if it were possible, the “cup” would be taken from him. He meant that he wouldn’t have to go to the cross. But his prayer was offered up in a spirit of surrender because he concluded with the words, “yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matt. 26:39.

We need to freely communicate with our God about any and every circumstance He allows us to experience. He is not the least bit offended. He understands how we feel. What He seeks from us is the same thing we see in Jesus: “… not as I will, but as you will.”

No Formulas
One mistake people make is trying to figure out a formula so they can always know what the answer is. “If I am sick God always wants me to be well.” “If I am poor He always wants me to be rich.” It’s not that simple. God will give wisdom to those who are committed to walking in it. That is part of “being the clay.”

God may allow sickness in order to demonstrate His power to heal. Or He may want to demonstrate His grace to endure. He may bring into you a place of battle because He wants you to stand up and fight. He may allow a time of poverty to bring you to a new level of trust in His provision. Or He may allow a time of plenty to teach you to be generous. There is no general rule that applies to everyone all the time. We need to seek God and learn to walk with Him with a “clay-like” attitude of heart, desiring His will in every situation. Being the clay is not being passive but surrendered. If God’s will in a particular situation is that you fight then being surrendered means fighting!

Listen to Paul’s testimony in Phil. 4:12-13 – “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” How do you suppose he came to learn those things? Obviously he had been in God’s “school,” on the great Potter’s wheel. He had experienced God’s strength and provision in each of these situations and knew first-hand that God was faithful.

What About You?
So what is your life about? Do you understand that He made you and that His Son will one day judge you? Do you understand why He made you? Do you have any idea how much He loves you and what He has planned for those who love Him?

If you are one that has been stubbornly clinging to self-will, trying to fight your way through life as though this life is all there is, I pray that God will open your eyes and give you a heart to know Him. Once you get a glimpse of these truths there is no other way to live that makes any sense but to “be the clay.”

If you remain unwilling to submit to the Divine Potter then the “world” will gladly squeeze you into its mold. Romans 12:2. There is no middle ground. Something – or Someone – will mold you one way or the other. Eternity hangs in the balance.

You may be one that knows Him, yet struggles along with frustrations, fears, unmet longings. Life seems beyond your control and full of trouble. You may even harbor a lot of anger and bitterness in your heart, often towards those in your life that you see as the cause of your troubles.

My prayer is that this simple truth will set you free. Your real Adversary is God, a God Who loves you with an everlasting love. If God allows someone to do you wrong and you embrace a bitter spirit towards that person as a result, is not your bitterness really against God? That should be a sobering thought. Consider our Lord: 1 Peter 2:23 reminds us, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus is the ultimate example of “being the clay.”

Consider these things. God is far more interested in changing you than He is in smoothing out your path and changing all the people and circumstances that distress you.

We have an expression that we often hear used: “So-and-so made me mad.” That’s a lie! As I pointed out in a service awhile back, no one can MAKE you mad. Being mad is a choice YOU make! We all need to quit fussing at “life” and spend more time learning God’s ways and becoming like His Son.

Are your values the same as His? Do you want the same things He wants? Is your heart aligned with His? Whatever “life” throws at us God’s answer is the same: “Be the clay.” That is a way that brings peace!

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