I started this series last year but had to stop in the middle of painting the second piece due to moving house. I was unable to move all my work south to the new studio and definitely couldn't take this piece as the paint was still wet. I intend to collect it this August and complete it once back.
I didn't expect to continue this series until I had completed the second piece, but recently I found myself thinking about processes and eventually my thoughts lead me back to this series. I began the third piece at the start of June. I have come quite far with it though it still needs some work.
"Does a clay pot ever argue with it's maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you are doing it wrong!'" (See Isaiah 45)
If we take the clay to be us, and the maker to be God, then I find the answer is often yes, we do argue.
Over the course of life we grow and change. Sometimes we go through situations that we would rather not experience; some caused by our own bad decisions and some that are beyond our control. As we go through these times it can feel like we are being crushed or stretched in ways we can't stand - ways that surely can't be good for us! And we might shout out to God "What are you doing?! You're doing it WRONG!" We are so caught up in the pain of our circumstances, our feelings or disappointment that life is not going as we planned/expected, that we fail to see the bigger picture - that he is making us into something beautiful and even useful.
God uses circumstances to shape us but it's up to us what the outcome will be. As Oswald Chambers writes:
"Sorrow burns up a great amount of shallowness, but it does not always make a man better. Suffering either gives me my self or it destroys my self."
The first verse I quoted up the top actually begins: "Destruction is certain for those who argue with their Creator."
Does that seem harsh? I used to think so until I realised this:
When the potter works the clay, he gently teases it out with great skill. He knows how to pull form out of it in a way that keeps it strong so that when he stops working it, the clay can hold its shape. But what if the clay were to fight against this? Every time the potter gently teased the clay into shape, the clay flopped and wriggled back to it's old lumpy shape. Eventually the clay would become over worked, dried out and useless, never reaching it's potential. Suddenly it's easy to understand how "destruction is certain."
When we go through hard times, we grow deeply in a way that doesn't happen without the suffering. Once we have passed through the difficulties, we have a choice to make; we can use our experience to help others who go on to face similar trials, or we can refuse to move forward, keeping our focus on the 'what ifs' and growing bitter and never reaching our full potential.
"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (Romans 8:28)
God can turn all things for good, he can bring light out of the darkest of circumstances.
It is hard to appreciate the bigger picture whilst we are in the process and the pain is real. Somehow it is so difficult to trust God in the pain, despite the fact that he is GOD! Our awesome, mighty, loving Father, who wants what is best for us. I think this happens when we take our eyes off him and focus on ourselves instead. When I feel lost or disappointed in the process I often come back to these words:
"My thoughts are completely different from yours," says the Lord, "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God has the best plan in mind for each of us; he knows how to make butterflies out of caterpillars. I can't phrase it better than Paul who writes: "Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope." (Ephesians 3:20) But it's up to us if we will trust and let him. When you go through a defining experience, will you allow God to stretch you into something beautiful and useful? Or will you resist the change, try and wriggle back into your old shape or on to your old path, leaving yourself hurt, worn out and useless? God uses circumstances to shape us but it's up to us what the outcome will be.