What divine action has been most unexpected in your life?
The birth of Jesus the Christ was one of the biggest surprises in history. He arrived when his parents were on a trip to Bethlehem to register for a census required by Caesar Augustus. When he was born, his mother “wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom” (Luke 2:7). No one would have expected a Savior and Lord to make such an unexpected and unspectacular entrance.
But God is full of surprises. The apostle Paul describes God as a master potter and asks the question, “Doesn’t the potter have the power over the clay to make one pot for special purposes and another for garbage from the same lump of clay?” (Romans 9:21). The divine potter is constantly at work, molding people in ways that advance the divine will. If God wants to use Caesar to move the family of Jesus to Bethlehem and put the Christ-child in a manger, God is completely free to do that.
Fortunately, God’s unpredictable actions have a certain logic to them. Again and again, we find that they are grounded in mercy. Some of the divine potter’s creations seem disposable: “pots made for wrath that were designed for destruction.” But God “very patiently puts up” with these flawed pots, because God wants “to show his wrath and to make his power known” (verse 22).
Other creations are “pots made for mercy, which he prepared in advance for glory.” These have been crafted “to make the wealth of his glory known” (verse 23). God is constantly working God’s purposes out, sometimes through Gentiles and sometimes through Jews, sometimes through judgments and sometimes through unexpected gifts. Each of us learns from bad times as well as good, from failures as well as successes.
All of these life experiences have a merciful purpose, because God wants to draw all people close to God’s self. “We are the ones God has called,” wrote Paul. “We don’t come only from the Jews but we also come from the Gentiles” (verse 24). Paul knows that God is full of surprises, and that God is always working for good in our lives. Nothing is wasted with God the potter, but instead everything is shaped according to God’s purposes.
Since we cannot control God, our best response is faith. This means trusting our Creator to continue to shape us as followers of Jesus. Remember that Jesus was a vulnerable Jewish boy, born in Bethlehem because of the order of a powerful Gentile emperor. If God could create Jesus from the clay of first-century Israel, God can certainly form us as faithful people from the surprising mixture of materials found in our world today.
Potter God, shape me, mold me, fill me, use me, in the name of Christ the Lord. Amen.