The Privileged Life: In the Hands of a Master Potter

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

Alongside the lazy Nolichucky River in our county is an unremarkable field of tomato plants…until you start looking at the dirt. Scattered throughout the fertile loam are small broken pieces of clay pottery, evidence of human civilization from centuries ago.

Some of the pottery fragments I picked up at the Cherokee archeological site

The field was once home to a Cherokee village, perhaps dating to the early 1600s. Over the years, plows crushed much of the left-behind pottery into unnoticeable bits smaller than a square inch. The site wasn’t identified until about a decade ago when a kayaker noticed large clay pots emerging from a river bank, deep below the field surface. 

When I researched information for our local paper about this find, I learned a lot from university archeologists. First, pots were essential to life. The Cherokee boiled much of their meat and grain, which required vessels baked in “smudge pits”—charcoal-lined holes in the ground. But, the fragile pots only lasted two or three uses before shattering. The clay didn’t reach high-enough temperatures to be durable.

I knew that already. My grandmother had a ceramics shop in her basement with a large kiln, and I spent many happy hours in my youth helping her with projects. Slipware (which starts as a liquid mud poured into molds) can be fired at a lower temperature, but porcelain takes a much hotter, longer process. While porcelain is often thin and delicate, it can be more resilient than similar earthenware from slip mud. Too much moisture in either kind, though, will make everything fall apart. 

Creating hand-thrown pottery is even more variable, requiring experience and finesse to get the consistency and shape just right on a spinning wheel. I’ve never done it…it looks pretty hard, and I imagine it’s even harder than it looks.

A hand-thrown oil lamp with wick, purchased from among the potter’s wares at Nazareth Village

In Bible days, pottery-making was commonplace in village life. As with the Cherokee pottery, the dried clay was fired at low temperatures and easily damaged. Much of it would be thrown away before reaching market. The observant prophet Isaiah saw a connection between the workmanship of the potters and God as our Master Craftsman/Creator.

Isaiah regarded the pride and rebellion of the Israelites in his day from God’s perspective as their Maker: “Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, ‘He did not make me’? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16)

Then Isaiah relayed this grim message to God’s wayward people: “Because you despise this word, and trust in oppression and perversity, and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach ready to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant. And He shall break it like the breaking of the potter’s vessel, which is broken in pieces; He shall not spare. So there shall not be found among its fragments a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to take water from the cistern.” (Isaiah 30:12-14)

Hmm. These are harsh words when we fail to see God’s handiwork in our lives…that He is sovereign over everything as our Creator…that He has plans for His kingdom that will not fail.

As I study these verses, I see myself as a blob of clay, undergoing the craftsmanship of an expert. Spiritual development (sanctification) begins with getting poked, smashed, prodded, squished, smoothed, scraped, dried out, and readied. Difficult. Painful. Even discouraging. I can’t say I’ve been very pleased about any of this!

The real torture begins in the firing. When we’re put through the flames, He refines the impurities that mar the beauty of our souls. It’s so very hard to see His good purposes in troublesome days. But we could crack or even explode if we’re not ready for them. 

The only good news is this: our Master Potter is in charge, and He is an expert. For the entirety of our lives, He prepares us for the trials that will assault us. Hardships will arrive—in James 1:2, we’re advised to count it all joy when we fall into various trials…not if. The hotter the fire when He readies us, the more resilient we will be  and maybe…just maybe…more joyful.

Do you believe God had nothing to do with creating you? Or, do you think He made a mistake when He made you? Not a chance of truth in either thought. You can be assured He used just the right amount of clay, water, and fire to create you as you are. You have been made for His glory…to love Him…to enjoy Him…to be someone for Him to love.

In Nazareth Village in Israel, a re-enactor displays his handiwork at the potter’s wheel.

And, He continues to shape and define you as one of His beloved vessels—one He can fill with His Holy Spirit, to be poured out as living water to others. 

Are you serving as His vessel? Are you willing to be clay in His hands? Take heart, friend. Even in His anger against our sin, God does not abandon His handiwork. He continues to seek us, forgive us, and mold us into His image. In the next trial that faces you, listen for the hum of His pottery wheel. He is refining you for His purposes—shaping you as His treasure.

Lord God, I’m sorry for the times I’ve felt self-sufficient…the times I haven’t acknowledged You as my Creator. Forgive me for my stubborn rebellion against Your will in my life. Help me release my own agenda to submit to Yours. Mold me and purify me to be a suitable vessel for Your glory. Then fill me with Your Holy Spirit so that I overflow with Your love for others. Make me fit to serve Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

#pottery #handthrownpottery #potterswheel #cherokeenation #sherd #shard #ceramics #nazarethpotter #masterpotter #porcelain

© Copyright 2023 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography). Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Cherokee decorative pottery in our area…from centuries ago!
The scenic Nolichucky River, a serene backdrop for the 1600s Cherokee village

3 responses to “The Privileged Life: In the Hands of a Master Potter”

  1. So interesting-didn’t know about the tomato fields. The last week I’ve been on “the wheel” and praise Him for His faithfulness.

    Liked by 1 person

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