God’s Shaping Hand

God is the very reason behind your existence. You are where you are by His doing. Your life is not chance or random. You exist for reasons known only to God. God’s purpose governs your life.

My heart began moving in the direction of these verses just yesterday. As is often the case, a pastor’s heart is moved by his own circumstances, his own spiritual condition, his contact with others, and most importantly of all, the sovereign work of God’s shaping hand. 

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.Jeremiah 18:1-10

Yesterday, I re-read an email I sent to a friend almost a decade ago. I saved that email because of the spiritual connection we have with one another. For a number of years, he was the iron that sharpened the iron in my life, and I think I was the same to him.

We often carried on discussions contemplating Lazarus as a picture of man in his many stages spiritually. My friend is an artist. He paints, and he also does sculpture. He has gifted hands and a gifted heart. 

I tell you that to set the stage for the email I am about to share which I sent to him yesterday. I sent it, in response to a nudging from God, that I can’t explain. I just sensed we both needed it. And after pondering it through the night and into today, I sense that you may as well.

“It seems to me someone should image the before and after of a man in the three states Lazarus was in. First, he was dead and putrid. Next, he was alive and bound. Ultimately, he was loosed to rejoice in the work Jesus accomplished in his life. As I ponder my own present state spiritually, I come to the realization that Lazarus was never in a position to help himself. He was not when he was sick. He was not when he was dead. He was not when he was bound. Only via the Lord’s word and work could anything happen in the life of Lazarus. You are a gifted man. You can imagine what the clay can become. Can the clay imagine itself? Can it shape itself? Can it willto be different than it is? No! But the Creator, by the work of His hand and the passion of His heart, can take something so ordinary as clay and shape it into whatever He wants it to be.”

“Shortly after we got married, we picked up a little wooden statue of a half carved man with a little sticker on the front. His head is the only thing that made him something other than a block of wood. The sticker said, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God was not finished with Lazarus when he was sick. He was not finished with him when he was dead in the tomb. He was not finished with him when he was alive but bound. He is not finished with me. He is not finished with you. Chafe under his shaping hand as we might, He who began a good work in you will continue to perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Get ready for the chisel!”

When he responds, I will know if God met him in that moment. If not, perhaps He will meet you in the rest of what we will say about God’s role in shaping each of our lives. 

First, your life is a work in progress. 

God is making something, just as the potter was making something on the wheel before the eyes of Jeremiah. He has a purpose and a plan. Jesus said “My Father is always at His work to this very day and I too am working.” John 5:17 This is true in regard to your life. God is at work in your life. You may not see it. You may not believe it. You may have no recognizable sense of what He is doing. But God is working. He is making something. 

Second, like the clay in the hand of the potter, the Fingerprints of God are all over your life

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

This is true first in regard to His work as Creator. 

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. Acts 17:26

God is the very reason behind your existence. You are where you are by His doing. Your life is not chance or random. You exist for reasons known only to God. God’s purpose governs your life.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? Romans 9:19-21

The potter knows his clay. He knows whether this lump or that lump will respond to His shaping purpose. I always tremble before such a passage, as I consider whether or not I am allowing my life to be shaped according to the Potter’s purpose. God showed Jeremiah the responsibility of His people to remain pliable in the hand of the Potter until He accomplished His will.

God is making something. He is at work in and around your life. The fingerprints of God are all over your life. 

Third, He is shaping you with a purpose in mind. 

What would the fingerprints of God look like in a person’s life??   Your circumstances, your life experiences both good and bad, have all been tools of God in shaping you. If some of those have seemed especially severe, perhaps it is because God has been trying to get your attention. Perhaps you have been resistant to what God wants to do in your life. 

Fourth, as the Bible paints a picture of GOD as Potter, it reveals the incredible patience God has with His people through this shaping process. 

In Romans, Paul said He endured with much patience vessels of wrath. What does that mean? Could it mean what we see in Jeremiah 18, that the clay was often spoiled in the hand of the potter? Each time, God sought to remake it into a vessel He could use. How many times has God started over with you?? How many times has He given you another opportunity?

Here we discover two principles concerning God’s shaping purpose for each of our lives. 

God expects there to be challenges in working with my life. He has a design in mind. If I am resistant to one plan or one purpose, he will shape me for another, with the ultimate goal of my life becoming a trophy of His grace. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship…See Ephesians 2:8-10a

The word workmanship is that word from which we get our English word ‘poem’. It means something made.

David acknowledged this in Psalm 139: For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14

God made you. Not only so, He is making you. In His Sovereign purpose, even if your life has been spoiled in the hand of the Potter, He will remake you into a vessel of His choosing and for His glory. God was intimate with you before your birth. His fingerprints are all over your life. He desires that you allow His shaping purpose to continue.

Finally, it is important for you to remember that if you continue in your resistance, God will make you a castaway. 

Marred pottery went to the pottery junkyard. Marred souls have their own place in the judgment of God. Later, God told Jeremiah to purchase a finished jar from the potter. He was to take the people outside the city to the place for cast away pottery. 

“Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. Jeremiah 19:10-11

It is important that I understand the potter’s ultimate authority over the clay. If I fail to submit to God’s purpose, then I will be subject to God’s judgment. As I wrote to my artist friend, I reminded him, and God reminded me, that He is Sovereign over my life, just as the potter is sovereign over the clay.

Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

As you survey your own personal circumstances, you might question God’s wisdom or skill in making you. You might say, “As a Potter, You have no hands.” Does your personal frustration arise because you have resisted the shaping hand of the potter? Or could it be that you have failed to see God’s incredible patience with you as He shapes and re-shapes your life. 

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?  Romans 9:20-21

 My responsibility is to surrender to the hand of the Potter as He molds me into the vessel of His choosing. Yes, It seems to me someone should image the before and after of a man in the three states Lazarus was in. First, he was dead and putrid. Next, he was alive and bound. Ultimately, he was loosed to rejoice in the work Jesus accomplished in his life. As I ponder my own present state spiritually, I come to the realization that Lazarus was never in a position to help himself. He was not when he was sick. He was not when he was dead. He was not when he was bound. Only via the Lord’s word and work could anything happen in the life of Lazarus. Even ungifted people can imagine what the clay can become. Can the clay imagine itself? Can it shape itself? Can it willto be different than it is? No! But the Creator, by the work of His hand and the passion of His heart, can take something so ordinary as clay and shape it into whatever He wants it to be. Is it time to make a new surrender to God’s shaping hand?

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi

Songs in the Night

When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul

“But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

There is a night in every day. There are also nights in every life. The night to which I refer, is a period marked by grief or gloom, by questions or confusion, by discouragement or doubt. A night can last hours, or days, or months or years.

It can be a night of anxiety, or a night of alarm; a night of brokenness or, a night of bankruptcy; a night of confusion, or a night of calamity;  a night of depression, or a night of desperation; a night of emptiness, or a night of emergency; a night of frailty, or a night of failure; a night of guilt, or a night of gloom; a night of heartache, or a night of hopelessness; a night of illness, or a night of injustice; a night of being jobless, or a night in jail like Paul and Silas; a night of loss, or a night of loneliness; a night of misery, or a night of mockery; a night of need, or a night of news that crushes the soul! On and on we could go, describing those dark nights that engulf us—those nights that seem to never have a sunrise.

Job was in one of those nights. His night was made darker by friends and family who couldn’t understand his darkness. They came along and said, “If you would just look for God—if you would just ask God—God would give you answers.” One of them, Elihu, observed: “But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

In his statement, Elihu was right, and he was wrong. He was wrong about Job. Job sought the Lord amidst the darkness of his circumstances. But God offered Job no answers. Elihu suggested that getting out of the darkness was as easy as breathing a prayer. “Just knock on God’s door, and He will answer.” But Job had knocked, and there was no answer.  Job had raised the question: “Where is God my Maker?”

Are you in one of those nights when God doesn’t answer? Are you in one of those seasons characterized by gloom rather than gladness, by fear rather than faith? Elihu was wrong! Answers are not always immediate, even when a man looks for God. But Elihu was right when he said, “God giveth songs in the night.”However, as of yet, Job had no song. Job wanted a song.  Job needed a song. Job was not guilty of failing to seek God. But God was yet to grant a song in his night of despair.

God promises to give a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But all Job had was heaviness and heartache.  All he had was weariness and woe! God’s songs come in His timing, but He does give songs in the night. He gives a song in the night of oppression and in the night of opposition; in the night of pain, and in the night of perplexity; in the night of questions, and in the night that quakes with dread;  in the night of regret and in a night of ruin. God does give songs in the night!

We see it in Scripture. Job’s life had no song. His life was all darkness. But God, in His timing, gave Job a song—and oh what a song Job sings from the pages of Scripture. Once God’s glory shined into the darkness of his circumstances, Job exclaimed:  “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of  Yours can be thwarted!”Job 42:2 Job’s sure song rings through the ages into your darkness and mine.

Two servants of God sat in a Philippian jail. Beaten and in bondage, God gave Paul and Silas a song to sing in their midnight. God gave Joseph a song concerning the darkness of his dungeon and David a song about the dark cave of Adullam. He gave Miriam and Moses a song as they came out of the oppression of an Egyptian darkness. Can God give you a song in the darkness of your personal despair?

We also see it in experience. How many of you have been through a time of darkness when you thought God was a million miles away, only to break through that darkness and discover thatGod was nearer than you ever imagined? Your soul still sings of that dark night when glory finally dawned!

Anyone can sing in the day. Anyone can sing when their cup is full and when their life is full of blessing.  It is quite another thing in the night of suffering, or in the night of sorrow; in the night of trial, or in the night of terror; in the night of urgency, or in the night of uncertainty; in the night of weakness, or in the night of worry; in the night of violence, or in the night of villainy!

It is easy to sing when there is light to read the hymal, but in the darkness, the words must come from the heart—they must come from inspiration. There are nights in life so black that it seems that there is no song! When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul. You may mouth the words in church, but your soul will not sing until God stirs and writes the words on your heart amidst the darkness.

Habakkuk’s song in darkness of his circumstances was: Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk  3:17-18

One night, a young woman tossed in her bed, deeply discouraged. Her church was  was planning a full day of activity. But she was  sickly, and wouldn’t be able to participate. That night she struggled. She struggled with questions about her own life. She struggled with doubt and discouragement. Out of that night of despair, God gave her a poem. She wrote it that very night, never intending for anyone else to read it. The year was 1834. But in the providence of God, Charlotte Elliot’s words were published in The Invalid’s Hymn Book in 1836.  That prayer, penned in brokenness from her sickbed, has been used to touch millions of lives. Here are a few of the words of her song. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bids’t me come to Thee: O Lamb of God, I come!” That was her song in the night!

Is it dark in your heart? Are you discouraged? Do you have doubts? What could God do with your sorrow if you surrendered it to Him? What could God do with your brokenness if you allowed Him to place His hand on the keyboard of your life, creating beautiful harmony out of your brokenness?

Perhaps you know the story of Horatio Spafford. He was a lawyer in Chicago during the time of the great Chicago fire. He was severely hurt financially by the fire as well as emotionally. Matters were made worse by an economic crisis that followed. Overwhelmed, and overworked, his physician advised the family to take a trip allowing them some time to recover from the trauma. They planned a trip to Europe. Just prior to time for the ship to leave, Spafford was forced to stay behind to tend to unexpected business. His family made the journey. He planned to follow. However, on the way to Europe, the ship on which his family sailed, capsized. He wasn’t sure what happened to his wife and four daughters until he received a telegram from his wife that began with these words: “Saved alone…” All four daughters perished at sea.

He arranged to board a ship to go and meet his wife. Near the scene of the tragedy, in the midst of his own heartache, Spafford penned these words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot—Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well—It is well with my soul.”

God does give songs in the night! But until He does, you can’t pump it to make it sing. You can’t force something out of your darkness that isn’t there.! However, you can pray that God would plant a song in your heart. Only God gives a song in the night!

Why are you passing through a season of darkness and despair? I don’t know. You don’t know. But trust God to know! Trust God to have an answer. Trust God to come to you in your night of despondency. Do you remember the storm on the sea?  Jesus came, walking across the water in the dead of their night, and amidst the fury of the storm.  What time was it? It was in the fourth watch of the night. It was the deadest and darkest part of the night. As they struggled, they thought the Lord would never come. But come He did! Be assured, dear Christian, He will come to you in the stormy night of your circumstances. And when He comes, He will give you a song to sing from your darkness whose melody will touch the lives of countless more!

God does give songs in the night!

Photo by Victorien Ameline

Until I Know What God Will Do for Me

This is a rock bottom moment in David’s life! He is hurting, broken, and defeated. God’s promises seemed out of reach. His life, His future, and to a degree, even his faith, was on hold. On top of it all he was trying to take care of aging parents.

So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him. And David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.” 1 Samuel 22:1-3

I encountered the verses above in a very personal way two years ago this month. My dad was very sick. The situation required me to make a three-hour drive -one way- as often as twice a week, while maintaining my job responsibilities and my own family. I was burning the candle at both ends, and I was absolutely exhausted. I was also discouraged. I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do, but I didn’t understand how God was going to work out my situation. How was I going to be able to do what I needed to do for my parents and still keep doing what He wanted me to do and maintain my sanity in the midst of it all?

Then one day the Lord met me in these verses. I saw David facing his own crisis of faith.He was destitute, discouraged and in danger. His circumstances brought him a dark, damp, dreary, depressing cave.  He is at a low point. He retreated to that cave in despair. He was joined by a host of others in similar circumstances. But what really touched me, is that in the midst of that situation, David is trying to figure out how he can best care for his parents. Think about it. David had a host of brothers. Where are they? It is David who bears this burden on his own heart.

I knew when I read these verses, that God was trying to tell me something. I didn’t know just what. So, I spent some time looking at what David said. As I did, God began to show me some things that greatly encouraged me. I hope they will encourage you.

Remember, this was a low point in David’s life. He was living in a kind of limbo. His life was on hold. He was stuck in a terrible period of difficulty. Here are the things God showed me about David.

First, David Didn’t Know What God Was Doing.

Have you ever faced such a time in your life? Maybe that is where you are today. God promised David a kingdom, but he was living in a cave. There are times when we find ourselves in one of life’s cave experiences.  It seems to us that all of our help and strength is gone.  We are suddenly overcome by loneliness and despair. Even in a cave full of people, David felt all alone! Have you ever been there?  David was living in the cave of despair, and he didn’t know what God was doing.

This is a rock bottom moment in David’s life! He is hurting, broken, and defeated. God’s promises seemed out of reach. His life, His future, and to a degree, even his faith, was on hold. On top of it all he was trying to take care of aging parents.

The statement: “Until I Know…” makes it clear He just didn’t know what God was doing. It was a time of devastating uncertainty in David’s life.

In the midst of his uncertainty, Saul, his enemy, still searched for David every day. He wanted David dead. It was for that reason that David was hiding. This was not a short space in David’s life. It seems to have spanned more than a decade. He would get out of that cave, but it would be years before David would get out of this season of despair that entered his life.

There are times like that for all of us. We just don’t know what God is doing. Maybe you are in one of those seasons today. You can’t see God’s hand. You can’t trace his plan. David didn’t know what God was doing. But in spite of that, David makes this incredible statement of faith: I need make sure my parents are cared for, “Until I know what God will do for me.”

While on the one hand, that statement is an admission that David didn’t know what God was doing, on the other hand, it expresses his confidence that:

God Was Doing Something.

Even though you may not know WHAT God is doing, do you believe that God is doing something. You may not be able to put your finger on what it is, but you know God is at work in and around your life.

What was God doing? This cave, became for a time, a place of separation where David was brought to the place where he had nothing to depend on but God alone. Because it was a place of separation, it also became a place of preparation. It is in times of difficulty and discouragement, when trouble seems relentless, we are forced to ask questions about ourselves and about our faith.

Is God with me? Will God take care of me? Is He working—even when we don’t know what He is doing? It becomes a great test of our faith when we must choose what we will believe about the God we serve. David didn’t know what God was doing, but he did sense God was doing something.

Perhaps the first indication of God’s activity were all these people who came to join David in that cave. They just seemed to show up spontaneously. All of them were just as discouraged as David. Look at that motley crew God called to join him. They didn’t seem to be people of promise. Yet, it was some of these discouraged folks who became David’s mighty men whose exploits in courage became legendary.

What touches me about this passage is that this period of David’s life also impacted his family. He felt a very real responsibility for them—especially for His parents. He takes them to Moab. Why Moab?

If you are a student of the Bible, you will remember that  David’s Great-Grandmother was Ruth, the Moabitess. She married a Jewish man named Boaz. They had a son named Obed—who had a son named Jesse. Jesse was David’s dad. Ruth was David’s great grandmother. She was from Moab. Do you suppose there were relatives in Moab, David thought he could trust to look after his parents?

He took them there he said, “Until I know what God will do for me.” This leads me to the next observation I want to make about this verse:

David Was Willing to Wait For God.

The Bible gives us insights into some of David’s feelings during this very discouraging time in his life. Consider these verses from Psalm 57. They were written by David when he fled from Saul and hid in this cave.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Psalm 57:1-3

Psalm 142 was also written by David when he was in the cave.

I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul. Psalm 142:1-4

Obviously, he was in the middle of an incredible period of difficulty and discouragement. But David was willing to wait on God. Will you? Will you trust God until you know what He will do for you? David was willing to wait in danger or in difficulty. He didn’t know what God was doing, but his faith made him believe that God was doing something and he was committed to wait on God.

All of us find ourselves in times of discouragement. Our lives seem to be on hold. Our destiny seems down the drain. We are stuck in a dark cave of despair. It is in one of those seasons that David chose to surrender his life, as well as the life of those he loved into the care of God.

My dad died just a few weeks after I encountered these verses. I look back and I see how God was caring for me and for my parents during those difficult days. I didn’t know what God was doing. However, I sensed God was doing something. God taught me that in those times, all we can do is wait on God, as David said, “Until I know what God will do for me.”

Photo by Anaya Katlego