In the book of Jeremiah, there are two occasions when God uses the illustration of a clay pot. The first is in Chapter 18. There it talks about a pot that becomes mis-shapen while the potter is making it. The potter squashes the clay down, working it into a new pot according to his purposes. He is able to reshape the clay into a vessel that will still be useful to him, because it is still soft and malleable in his hands.
In Chapter 19, however, it is a very different story. This time God tells Jeremiah to go and buy a clay jar from the potter. He is to pronounce the judgment of God against the nation of Israel, then to break the jar as a sign to them. Just as the jar cannot be restored, they will not be rescued from His judgment.
What is the difference between these two clay jars? It is not their beauty or the quality of their workmanship – we are told nothing about these in relation to either of them. It is not the kind of clay used, not the purpose for which they were designed.
No, there is just one difference between the two: the first is still soft, pliable. The second has been fired and is hard baked.
When we are soft toward God, no matter how “out of shape” we may become, God is able to take us and reshape us, and restore us to usefulness. The process may be far from pleasant. Like the clay, we may need to be reduced to nothing before we can be refashioned into something beautiful and useful to God. Nonetheless, if we can just keep our eyes on the end result, we will be able to go through the process with the peace of God in our hearts.
On the other hand, if we have allowed the circumstances of life to harden us, if we have become set and “hard baked”, then no amount of working from God will be able to change us. Rather than remolding us, God’s hand will break and destroy us.
What keeps clay soft? Water! We need to soak constantly in the living springs of the Holy Spirit, keeping our hearts soft and receptive to God. That way, we are not likely to get out of shape in the first place – and if we do, God will easily be able to restore us.