A couple of years ago I read John MacArthur’s wonderful book, Alone with God: Rediscovering the Power and Passion of Prayer 1 and learned so much! I was particularly struck by a section in Chapter 6, “Your Will Be Done,” where Dr. MacArthur shares this part of Philip Keller’s A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer.²
Caution: you will never again sing “Change My Heart, Oh God“ (by Ron Kenoly) without remembering this powerful story.
Author Philip Keller, while visiting in Pakistan, readJeremiah 18:2, which says, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.” So he and a missionary went to a potter’s house in that city. In his book, A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer, he writes,
In sincerity and earnestness I asked the old master craftsman to show me every step in the creation of a masterpiece …. On his shelves were gleaming goblets, lovely vases, and exquisite bowls of breathtaking beauty.
Then, crooking a bony finger toward me, he led the way to a small, dark, closed shed at the back of his shop. When he opened its rickety door, a repulsive, overpowering stench of decaying matter engulfed me. For a moment I stepped back from the edge of the gaping dark pit in the floor of the shed. “This is where the work begins!” he said, kneeling down beside the black, nauseating hole. With his long, thin arm, he reached down into the darkness. His slim, skilled fingers felt around amid the lumpy clay, searching for a fragment of material exactly suited to his task.
“I add special kinds of grass to the mud,” he remarked. “As it rots and decays, its organic content increases the colloidal quality of the clay. Then it sticks together better.” Finally his knowing hands brought up a lump of dark mud from the horrible pit where the clay had been tramped and mixed for hours by his hard, bony feet.
With tremendous impact the first verses from Psalm 40 came to my heart. In a new and suddenly illuminating way I saw what the psalmist meant when he wrote long ago, “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay.” As carefully as the potter selected his clay, so God used special care in choosing me ….
The great slab of granite, carved from the rough rock of the high Hindu Kush mountains behind his home, whirled quietly. It was operated by a very crude, treadle-like device that was moved by his feet, very much like our antique sewing machines.
As the stone gathered momentum, I was taken in memory toJeremiah 18: 3. “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.”
But what stood out most before my mind at this point was the fact that beside the potter’s stool, on either side of him, stood two basins of water. Not once did he touch the clay, now spinning swiftly at the center of the wheel, without first dipping his hands in the water. As he began to apply his delicate fingers and smooth palms to the mound of mud, it was always through the medium of the moisture of his hands. And it was fascinating to see how swiftly but surely the clay responded to the pressure applied to it through those moistened hands. Silently, smoothly, the form of a graceful goblet began to take shape beneath those hands. The water was the medium through which the master craftsman’s will and wishes were being transmitted to the clay. His will actually was being done in earth.
For me this was a most moving demonstration of the simple, yet mysterious truth that my Father’s will and wishes are expressed and transmitted to me through the water of His own Word ….
Suddenly, as I watched, to my utter astonishment, I saw the stone stop. Why? I looked closely. The potter removed a small particle of grit from the goblet …. Then just as suddenly the stone stopped again. He removed another hard object ….
Suddenly he stopped the stone again. He pointed disconsolately to a deep, ragged gouge that cut and scarred the goblet’s side. It was ruined beyond repair! In dismay he crushed it down beneath his hands….
“And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter” (Jer. 18:4). Seldom had any lesson come home to me with such tremendous clarity and force. Why was this rare and beautiful masterpiece ruined in the master’s hands? Because he had run into resistance. It was like a thunderclap of truth bursting about me!
Why is my Father’s will – His intention to turn out truly beautiful people – brought to nought again and again? Why, despite His best efforts and endless patience with human beings, do they end up a disaster? Simply because they resist His will.
The sobering, searching, searing question I had to ask myself in the humble surroundings of that simple potter’s shed was this: Am I going to be a piece of fine china or just a finger bowl? Is my life going to be a gorgeous goblet fit to hold the fine wine of God’s very life from which others can drink and be refreshed? Or am I going to be just a crude finger bowl in which passers-by will dabble their fingers briefly then pass on and forget about it? It was one of the most solemn moments in all of my spiritual experiences.
“Father, Thy will be done in earth [in clay], in me, as it is done in heaven.”
1 Copyright © Third Edition, July 1, 2011. Alone With God, John MacArthur Jr. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
2 Copyright © 1976. A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer, Philip Keller. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.