Keeping Your Hands to Yourself

In some traditions and translations, the Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost. There are places within scripture where the fashioning of a human life is compared to a potter forming clay. I don’t know about you but combining those two images gives me a very strange picture of how the Spirit works in our lives.

It also puts a Righteous Brothers song in my head.

I have a little bit of experience working on a potter’s wheel, enough to know that I have no latent talent for spinning clay into works of art and also enough to know that it is messy work.

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” [Philippians 2:12-13]

If we could gratefully remove the sexual undertones tied to the scene that I am refusing to explicitly mention, we are the lump of clay that is thrown into the center of the potter’s wheel. The centering is key, as nothing that comes afterward can come from clay that has not first found a center on the wheel. That center is the work and person of Jesus Christ. The spin of the wheel is our life, with its various internal and external forces working upon the clay. Finally, our hands engage the clay.


In our own strength and skill, that clay will be a wobbling mess threatening to decorate the studio in mud in very little time. It is at this point that we are reminded that we have been given that Holy Ghost to guide our hands (portrayal by Patrick Swayze optional) and that it is the workmanship of God that is truly shaping the clay.

Where does the fear and trembling come in?

If it is God who is creating this masterpiece out of the former filth of our lives, fear and trembling is a proper reaction when we try to intervene and shape the clay through our own means and designs. This applies when we are trying to shape ourselves as well as when we try to stick our hands on the wheel of the lives of others.

“…spiritual love proves itself in that everything it says and does commends Christ. It will not seek to move others by all too personal, direct influence, by impure interference in the life of another. It will not take pleasure in pious, human fervor and excitement. It will rather meet the other person with the clear Word of God and be ready to leave him alone with this Word for a long time, willing to release him again in order that Christ may deal with him.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

When we give our brother the word of God, we have given him a tool that was designed by God to shape the clay, but once we have offered it, we need to step away since it is still God who is the one who wields the instrument.

When we use tools that are not meant for the clay or decide to apply our own hands to the clay that is the image of another which has been entrusted to God, we risk throwing the entire sculpture off balance.

Forming the pottery on the wheel is all about balance. Especially early on, the clay will fight with the potter who must wrestle with the clay in order to have it submit to his hands. Even after the potter has overcome the clay in this initial struggle, there are still forces trying to pull the creation this way and that.

There are no other hands that we can trust to form us than those of the potter who is God. The potter who sees the final creation even in the lump of clay. The potter who controls the spin of the wheel, who has thrust our hands into the clay and works through them.

Though we can call attention to something that has become unstable in the life of our brother, our greatest ministry to one another is often that of pointing. We do not place both of our hands onto the spinning clay but use a single finger to point our brother back to the center that the entire pot springs from, and to the potter whose hands we can trust in forming our being.

Given recent events, apologies if I gave the impression that this post was about something else… 🙂

29 thoughts on “Keeping Your Hands to Yourself

  1. “We have this treasure in vessels of clay—the light of Jesus in our hearts—so that all the mighty power we now experience in Christ is shown to have its source in God and not ourselves” (2 Cor 4:7). Amen.

  2. dswag.. i’m singing this song now since reading this.. it’s a good classic.. thought i’d share.. wish this video was of better quality.. the acoustics are cool.. enjoy..

  3. I totally was thinking of Patrick Swayze but not in a lustful way. Just remembering how dumb that movies was and especially that specific scene. I’m not a romantic and I hate gushy love stories with the exception of “While you were sleeping” only because I enjoy Sandra Bullock and I thought the family in that movie is about as crazy as my in-laws and therefore it made me laugh. Wow, that was a tangent I just went on. Sorry. I laughed at your Patrick Swayze reference nonetheless. I have never tried pottery. Something about having wet, messy hands which really turns me off.

    • Wheel thrown pottery was part of my high school art requirement my senior year. We had a lot of freedom to complete projects as we wanted over the course of the year, but had to compete everything… it was the very last thing I did. It didn’t look like something I would enjoy, and I really didn’t. Probably didn’t help that I was terrible at it.

      That movie is pretty bad, but definitely a scene that has passed into the pop culture lexicon.

  4. I’m having a bit of a faith crisis as I speak so I’m sorry I have nothing spiritual to add. I did enjoy the post though 🙂 and i’m glad my comments are showing up.

    • I didn’t think to check it because it had never happened before but I just checked and your comments got caught in the spam filter for some reason. Sorry about that, I approved the two original.

    • Sorry to hear that you are going through some stuff – insert platitude – Let me know if there’s anything more helpful that a guy who writes words on the Internet can do.

      • Lol just me being very frustrated with my life. I suppose if I were a good Christian, I’d be thankful for the mess. I have a hard time in suffering situations because of the theology of God putting me in it-is God a sadist? Does he enjoy watching me struggle and in pain? Yeah I can’t reconcile a loving God with a theology that says He wants me in a painful place so I can be holy. It makes me feel like he authors evil which isn’t correct. It’s a frustrating thing to go to God in your pain when you feel he caused it, or maybe he didn’t bother to prevent it. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

        • When I am in a place to be logical, I try to remind myself that trials are going to happen no matter what in our lives, but being His means that those trials can be used to refine us.

          Reading through Hebrews a couple years ago a thought came to mind, the raw materials of this world that God has to work with are suffering and death, that is the nature of the fallen world. They are the very materials that God used upon his son to bring about our salvation. We, as his brothers and sisters, are perfected through those same tools, but also through the love of a God who would suffer them himself.

  5. Dswoager, your post made me think even moe about how we raise chikdren. Your reference to fear and trembling come to mind, regarding how we are called to shape them. Especially the picture you described of God working through our hands – really gives one pause. Not my will, but Thine…..

    • Fear and trembling sounds about right. Just about anytime I think that I am responsible for moulding a young life it scares the crap out of me. Makes me wonder how we got so many not screwed up people in the world.

  6. Elle, that makes sense to me. I have had many times when it felt like God was up there repeatedly hitting the smite key on his computer……
    And I’m sure that if the clay on the wheel was human, it would be screaming at the hands that are messing wih it – clay is rather short sighted.
    I personally don’t believe God tests us – but all the crap in the world sure does…..

    • That’s actually one aspect of the metaphor that is really helped by actually trying to do wheel spun pottery. Feeling the push and pull off the clay as you are trying to get it under control is a fascinating picture of how we wrestle with God and how he wrestles right back.

  7. Wow, yeah it is. That works. And as far as “how we got so many not screwed up people in the world”, I would guess it’s partly the grace of God and partly parents who actually took their responsibility seriously. But that’s just my guess……

    • I think, by and large, that we humans are pretty resilient creatures… or at least that’s what I tell myself, but yes there is a lot of grace in there as well.

  8. I think you inevitably encounter the sexual when you think of God’s union with man:

    Genesis 2:24
    Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

    1 Corinthians 6:16-17
    Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality.

    His work in us is deep and intimate.

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