A lot of the early “Jesus People”—think California, late sixties—looked like the hippies they had been. Their dress and appearance was “countercultural”—sandals, patched bell bottoms, peasant shirts, beads, flowers, and long hair. They were “Jesus Freaks,” a label they wore proudly. They brought their hippie, contrarian lifestyle with them into the body of Christ.
Many in the early Jesus People movement lived communally, imitating the lifestyle of the early Jerusalem Christians (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). Artists and craftsmen pursued their vocations and sold their goods—paintings, pottery, weaving, music—to help support their Christian “family.” They lived, worked, shared, studied, and discipled one another as committed Christians.
Because pottery was a common artistic pursuit among some in the hippie movement, and thus among the Jesus People, biblical references to “the potter” and “the clay” caught the attention of early converts. This was an image they knew well:
“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)
To their credit, many Jesus People were sincerely dedicated to following Jesus. Their communal lifestyles—giving up personal ambitions for the sake of Jesus and His people—reflected their simple, yet profound, understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. Indeed, they didn’t see a lot of radical commitment in established American churches. The idea of being clay in the hands of the Divine Potter appealed to their sold-out, spiritual sensibilities.
The Jesus People, in their love of the potter-clay imagery, latched on to something that shaped their spiritual outlook. And we should allow it to shape ours as well—to yield to God the way clay does to the potter’s hands.
The Divine Potter
What would we do without the variety of containers we use every day? Plastic milk and water jugs, glass jars, plastic containers of all sorts, cotton and canvas bags, wooden and cardboard boxes, large and small. We don’t think twice about what a benefit they are. But think about biblical days, especially in the Old Testament. They had one kind of container that served a multitude of purposes: clay jars. If you had a variety of different needs, you simply made or purchased a different sized clay jar or pot. Everything was clay! Some were fancy, some were common (2 Timothy 2:20-21). But they were all made of the same stuff—dirt (clay) and water.
It’s no wonder the potter-clay image shows up so frequently in Scripture—beginning in Genesis 2:7 where “God formed man of the dust of the ground.” Human beings represent the very first examples of God’s skill as the Divine Potter! And the image continues.
In the midst of his agony, Job reminded God that He had “molded [Job] like clay.” Why would God now destroy what He had made (Job 10:8-9, NIV)? Isaiah rebuked Israel for thinking that she, the clay, knew more than God, the potter (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9). Jeremiah lamented that Israel, “once worth their weight in gold,” had reduced themselves to mere “pots of clay” (Lamentations 4:2, NIV). The apostle Paul used these Old Testament references in defending God’s right to elect whom He will to salvation—the pot not having the right to challenge the potter’s work (Romans 9:20-23). And the image of God as Judge is often pictured in terms of a clay pot being smashed to the ground (Psalm 2:9; Jeremiah 19:10-11; Revelation 2:27).
The dominant theme in Scripture is a simple one: God is the potter and humanity is the clay. It is another way to express God’s sovereignty over all humanity; a way to express our need to yield to His divine plan; a way to encourage us to find the purpose for which we have been made; a way to accept the divine purpose for all of God’s handiwork.
The Divine Potter’s Plans
In 1902, a forty-two year-old woman sat in a prayer meeting with a broken heart. She had served the Lord faithfully all her adult life in various capacities, all the time dreaming of her heart’s desire—to take the Gospel to Africa as a missionary. Finally, her plans seemed certain to be fulfilled. But at the last minute, her dream evaporated like a mist because she had not been able to raise sufficient funds. Heartbroken, she attended a prayer meeting at church.
Hardly able to focus on what was going on around her, she was struck by the words of an elderly woman who prayed, “It really doesn’t matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives.” She couldn’t get that idea out of her mind as, later that night, she sat meditating on Jeremiah 18:1-3, the story of God the potter shaping Israel the clay. Before retiring that night, Adelaide Pollard wrote out all four stanzas to the now beloved hymn, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” published in 1907. You may know the words to this beautiful hymn by heart, the first verse of which says,
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
In Jeremiah’s image of the Divine Potter and the clay, one particular thing caught Adelaide Pollard’s eye: The Potter saw a blemish in the clay He was using, so He shaped the pot again. Had God delayed Adelaide’s trip to Africa in order to shape her differently, to refine her for His service? She didn’t know, but was willing to yield herself to the Potter’s hands. And she did eventually get to Africa as a missionary, all in God’s time.