Have you ever visited a pottery? I was in the trade for thirty years and they are interesting, educational places — something the prophet Jeremiah learned. He was told by the Lord to ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words’ (Jeremiah 18:2).
What words did the Lord want Jeremiah to hear? According to chapter 18, the potter didn’t stand and preach a sermon but sat down and worked at the wheel. Jeremiah tells us, ‘I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel’ (v.3).
Watching a potter work is a sermon in itself. The prophet watched, and as he watched he learnt that ‘the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make’ (v.4).
The Lord was teaching Jeremiah about the house of Israel which was not the God-honouring ‘vessel’ it should have been. Just like the potter, the Lord was going to ‘remould’ his people again. ‘“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!”’ (v.6).
This is true of our lives. Though we have many faults, God is able to remake us and reshape us into something good and glorious for his use.
But the lessons from the potter’s house do not end at the wheel. What happens on the wheel is just the beginning, because when a pot comes off the wheel it is anything but useful and far from beautiful. It’s just clay! If you put water into it, it would dissolve; as for colour, it retains the hue of mud. To become a useful ‘vessel for honour’ (Romans 9:21), it must be ‘fired’ first.
To ‘fire’ a pot is to put it into a kiln, heated to extreme temperatures, which then turns the pot from clay to pottery: strong, durable, and useful. This has to be done wisely. If a dry clay pot is put into a red-hot kiln it would blow up as the shock would be too great. To fire his pots, the potter places them into a cold kiln and then gradually raises the temperature so that the water and any rubbish, such as leaves, grass, or wood, are burnt away. Jeremiah would have seen this too at the potter’s house.
Paul refers to this firing process in 1 Corinthians 3, where he tells us that the purpose of God’s refining, sanctifying fire is to remove the ‘wood, hay, and straw’ and leave only what is precious and glorifying to him. Perhaps he, too, had been to the potter’s house.
And isn’t that the Christian’s experience! When we are saved, the trials at first seem ‘cool’ in comparison to what we face later on. But the Lord knows what he is doing and what it takes to change us. But change we must, because there are things in our life which should not be there and which the Lord must remove. And so, with grace and care, he turns the temperature up slowly to burn away the dross.
As the days and years go by and the temperature goes up, we may ask, ‘How long, O Lord? Why am I going through this?’ We may say, ‘I’m a Christian, get me out of here!’ Worse still, we might cry, ‘Is it because you hate me, Lord?’ No, he doesn’t hate you, he is just ‘heating you’; there is a subtle but key difference.
I wonder if you have ever prayed, ‘Lord, get me out of this trial, out of this mess’ and then wonder why he hasn’t. Well, go to the potter’s house and look at his kiln. The pot is inside, not because the potter hates it but because he loves it and wants the best for it. He knows how beautiful this pot can be. The kiln is the only means to change the pot from weakness to strength, usefulness, and beauty. Is there any other way to make a pot? Is there any other way to sanctify a Christian?
Later on, the Lord told Jeremiah why he was going through his own fiery trial: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ (Jeremiah 29:11).
If you are away on holiday this year, why not visit a local pottery where you could learn a lot. As you look at the beautiful, shiny new pots in the shop, ask the potter if you can look in his workshop where you will see a very different picture. Rough, wet clay being shaped on a wheel or being cast in a mould. Then look at his kiln. If he is firing it, it will be red hot, but remember everything is under control — the potter knows what he is doing; he has a plan and an end product in mind.
So, if you are going through a ‘fiery trial’ or period of testing, then remember that it’s because the Lord loves you and that he has a plan and a purpose for your life. He promises you that ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you’ (Isaiah 43:2). At the end, only what is precious to him and which will glorify his name will remain.
By Jonathan Gravil is Pastor at Lincoln Evangelical Church.