“But we have this treasure in earthern vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 2 Cor 4:7
I have a couple of clay jars at home, gifts that were given to me after a time of ministry in Papua New Guinea. The tribal people of PNG still use these hand-made jars for storage, in much the same way as they would have been used in the time of Paul. Even though they are decorated, they are not primarily designed for beauty, but for utility. Ultimately, it is not the jar that is important, but what is inside it.
The clay has to go through quite a process in order to become a useful vessel. First, it has to be soaked. The clay as it comes out of the ground is too hard to work, and would crumble and fall apart too easily. So just the right amount of water is added and worked through the clay till it is all evenly moist, soft and pliable.
At the same time any impurities such as pieces of stone or other debris have to be worked out of the clay. If these were to remain, they could cause the whole vessel to crack when it is fired.
Next the clay is shaped – pulled, prodded and stretched until it takes on the form desired by the potter. Sometimes, if it doesn’t take shape according to the plan, it is all bashed back down into a shapeless mass and remolded from scratch. Sometimes excess clay is cut away. Other times, extra pieces such as handles are added on. This has to be done very carefully, making sure that the added parts are so closely fused with the original pot that it is as if they were one piece with it – otherwise, when it comes to the firing, there is a good chance that they will break off.
Once the pot is shaped, the potter carefully imprints it with a design of his choosing. When the pots are hand made, each one is unique – each carrying the design of the potter, but each different from every other pot he has ever made.
Finally, the pot is consigned to the fire. The heat causes the individual grains of the clay to weld together forming a solid mass. Sometimes, if the pot has not been formed evenly, the heat will cause it to crack and fall apart. However, if it has been well made, it will come out stronger and more permanent than it was. It is now ready for use.
We also have to go through a process to become vessels fit to hold the glory of God. We need to be soaked with the Holy Spirit, to have His influence penetrate and work through every part of our lives till we are soft and pliable in the Potter’s hand. In the process, the debris of life has to be removed from us. Then God begins molding us – all that uncomfortable prodding and pulling, till we become the shape He wants us to be. Sometimes He has to take us back to start at the beginning, sometimes He removes things from our lives completely. He also adds to us the character of Christ, and blends it so carefully into our lives that it becomes part of who we are, so much part of us that it will not fall off when we get into the fire. He impresses on us the design of His choosing, each in His likeness yet each unique. He puts us into the fire to strengthen and stabilize us, and finally we emerge, ready for His use.