Living in a region known for its abundance of clay used for generations of pottery making, I’ve come to learn that each potter has his own unique style and design. Even though it is easy to identify many potters’ works by the unique characteristics of each piece, potters always “sign” their works with what is known as a potter’s mark. This mark is carved into the clay before it is fired in a kiln, and it serves to differentiate one potter from another. It sets his works apart from any imitators.
Going back to my 20s, I remember having a yearning to know God. I read the Bible, listened to radio sermons, and faithfully attended church. Eventually, I found myself at the front of the altar lining up to receive salvation and water baptism at the same time. I was excited to share with people everything I knew about the Bible and told my friends and co-workers about my new-found faith.
My boss, at the time, was a very strong man of faith. He was excited for my news and told me he would like to hear my testimony. He asked if I would write it down. Well, the word “testimony” was all new to me, but I was willing to take a crack at it. I went home, pulled out my Bible and began “looking” for my testimony. With all diligence, I began to write until there was a stack of papers the thickness of a novel.
So, I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands, so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
JEREMIAH 18:3-4 NIV
After taking my story home to read for a few days, my boss came back and said, “This is good writing, but you didn’t tell me your testimony.” Looking back, I understand what he meant. I had pretty much rewritten a condensed version of the Bible and told the story of Jesus. I had not yet realized that a testimony is a story of what God, through Jesus, had done personally for ME. This was a wake-up moment for me. What WAS my testimony? What HAD God done for me? Where was the evidence that He was changing my heart and life?
Funny thing is that once I understood what a testimony was, it dawned on me that I didn’t have a testimony. You see, I had not yet had an encounter with the living God. I had presented myself to God in a physical sense, but I had not yet given Him my heart. The truth is, I didn’t know how.
It wasn’t until years later that I would have that first heart encounter with God. That didn’t mean God wasn’t doing things in my life or blessing me along the way. It’s just that there was, as yet, no evidence that He had put His fingerprints — His potter’s mark — upon my life. Until that moment, I was still an unformed lump of clay.
There is a beautiful song by Steven Curtis Chapman that is titled, THE FINGERPRINTS OF GOD, whose lyrics describe how the evidence of God’s workmanship is visible in the lives of whom He touches. You can’t mistake it. You see, when a potter works with a piece of clay, he can’t help but get his fingerprints all over it. Working with clay is as personal as you can get when creating a vessel of any kind. There is an intimate relationship between the potter and the clay that is necessary in order for the clay to be properly shaped and formed. The clay, once touched by the potter’s hand, is never the same again. It transforms in a way unlike what it used to be. It goes from the shapelessness and nothingness of muck into a thing of great beauty and usefulness. It is perfectly fashioned and uniquely designed by the potter.
This revelation led me back to the Bible in search of God’s fingerprints. “What do His fingerprints look like?,” I wondered. I found Abraham and Moses, David and Ruth, Jacob and Joseph — and many more. Each of them were dramatically changed the very instant the Potter had touched the clay of their lives. There was no mistaking it. There was no subtlety about it. Once touched, forever changed. Could this really happen for me? Why hadn’t it happened already?
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
ISAIAH 64:8 NIV
Jeremiah 29:13 NIV provided a clue, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” Up until this point, I had been searching for God by studying about Him. I could quote Scripture verses like there was no tomorrow. Though I had His autobiography sitting right there in the pages of the Bible, I did not “know” God. I only knew “about” Him. I related to God through a sense of duty by being good and showing up at church regularly. I attempted to learn new ways of living and failed miserably. None of this produced any real, life changing results. What was missing? The intimacy of a relationship, of course.
Like clay, I discovered that a heart can get hardened when it is left to sit for too long or exposed to the wrong elements. It loses it pliability and has to be gently worked to become softened again. For clay, this probably is not a hardship. For people, it can be painful and intrusive — but necessary. So, when I did finally seek God with my whole heart, He immediately began the work of making it more pliable and receptive to His touch. Through this intimate act between potter and clay, my heart gradually became molded by His love and desire for what He wanted me to become.
If you know anything about using a modern-day kiln, you know that “firing” pottery requires intense heat. You might also know that this is the stage where there is a chance the clay will crack due to many factors. It is the final moment of the creative process where the potter anxiously waits to see how his creation has survived the fire. A skilled potter knows how to operate the kiln and knows how to compensate for moisture, thickness and other things. He knows how to produce a vessel without cracks and perfectly shaped for its chosen purpose.
When the piece is finished, it does not exist to bring admiration to itself. It exists to bring honor to the one who created it. Each piece is known for its maker and creator and would be nothing special if it could not be identified by the potter’s mark.
How happy to know that God loves to play in the mud for He doesn’t mind that we are dirty. He dearly loves to create something worthwhile and useful from the muck of our lives.
I can now look at the places in my life that have been forever changed. God’s fingerprints are everywhere. There is no mistaking it. My life has been taken as clay by His unseen hand to be molded and shaped. I have been broken and remade and skillfully fashioned for His purpose. I have gone through many fires that have served to test and strengthen me. If you look closely, you will see it. I bear the Potter’s Mark upon my heart.
For who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
ROMANS 9:20-21 NIV
Written by S.R. Williams. Originally in "Making It Home" E-Magazine in 2010 now out of publication). Revised 2018. Copyright 2010-2018.