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Clay in the Hand of the Potter

Lisa Brenninkmeyer

Since childhood, I’ve been inspired by an incredible woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth was widowed with a ten-month-old daughter when her husband was savagely speared by members of a violent Amazonian tribe. Jim had gone to Ecuador to share the gospel, but the mission ended tragically. One might have excused Elisabeth if she wallowed in self-pity or raged against God for taking her husband when he was only trying to do good. But instead of doing any of these things, Elisabeth gathered her daughter, her Bible, a snakebite kit, and tremendous courage, and moved to the very place where her husband had died. She was determined to offer a hand of forgiveness and friendship to the very people who had killed the one she loved most, and many of them came to faith in Christ as a result. 

So when Elisabeth Elliot talks about suffering, I listen.

In her book, A Path Through Suffering, she writes:

Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender…

He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.[1]

But difficult circumstances don’t automatically make us saints. It isn’t the circumstances themselves that do the shaping. It’s our cooperation. When life throws us a curveball, we have a choice about how we’re going to receive it. We can choose to become bitter, to be filled with self-pity, and to dwell on our doubts. We might begin to ask questions like, “Where was God in this situation?” “Why didn’t He intervene by giving me the answer I wanted?” “Doesn’t He love me?” “Isn’t He powerful enough to do anything about it?” The choice is set before us. We can water the seeds of doubt by focusing on our circumstances. Or we can focus on the fact that somewhere in the midst of the current state of affairs is an opportunity to be transformed. 

When we are going through trials—little ones or big ones—deaths of a sort, and experiences of brokenness, it’s important to remember that Jesus understands suffering from experience. Jesus entered into what appeared to be meaningless suffering. This means He is never indifferent to what you are enduring. He sees all the little and big deaths that you experience. And He stands ready to bring new life in those places that feel desolate.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that process of transformation: “This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased…Can I not do to you as this potter has done? Indeed, like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:1–6).

These are the verses that get me through hardship. In difficult times, I don’t want to experience what I am going through. I want to escape. But these verses stop me before I give in to bitterness or numb out. They remind me that I have a choice. I can offer myself to God as clay to a potter. I can say to Him, “In this particular set of undesired circumstances, I give you permission to shape me—to mold me—to transform me, because I want to experience a better eternity. I want to become the woman you created me to be. And if a death of sorts is required for new life to be born in me, I accept it. I say yes. I say, Jesus, I trust in You.” 

When the potter sees a bubble or a defect in the pot, he has to press the clay back onto the wheel and reshape the pot. But all the while, he is making it into something of great beauty. So here is the question: can we trust God that when He asks us to experience something that is hard, He promises to use it to mold us into vessels that are filled with His Spirit? May we never forget—He can turn brokenness into blessing and beauty. 

After enduring twenty years of imprisonment, confinement, and hard labor in the Gulag of the Soviet Union, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. wrote a phenomenal book called He Leadeth Me. In it, he wrote, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me. What He wanted was for me to accept these situations as from His hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at His disposal.”[2]

Perhaps you feel hemmed in by your circumstances. You feel stuck. You wonder if things will ever change. The enemy wants you to keep your focus on all those thoughts. But the Lord invites you to raise your eyes and gain a higher perspective. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

What if the peace we so long for is on the other side of surrender?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishing, 1990), 87.
[2] Walter J. Ciszek SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Random House, 1973), 81.

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