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Food for Thought - Musings

Potter, Gardener, Shepherd and Lord

As I have been pondering God/Jesus these past several weeks I have found myself considering 4 titles associated with God/Jesus. These are potter, gardener, shepherd and Lord. As I began to reflect on the first three titles (potter, gardener and shepherd) images communicating care, love and tenderness spontaneously arose in my mind and heart. I imagined a potter gently molding and shaping me into a lovely vase designed to contain and share the beauty of God’s creation with others; I saw myself as a prized flower in a garden being lovingly tended to and cared for by the gardener. Finally, I could hear the shepherd calling me by name and as I hastened his call he led me along quiet waters, into green meadows and even anointed my head with oil. Each of these titles spoke to me of a relational intimacy characterized by loving involvement and gracious care that warmed my heart and brought comfort to my spirit. But as I continued to reflect on all this it occurred to me that these scenes I had imagined were somewhat idyllic and, dare I say, a tad bit self-absorbed, maybe even self-indulgent.

As I turned my attention to the title ‘Lord,’ I realized that this title did not lend itself to the same romantic notions of bliss that the others held for me and instead of comfort it birthed resistance within me. The title ‘Lord’, i.e. master, conjured up words like submission, obedience, yielding and surrender – all words that run contrary to my tendency toward self-will, self-absorption and first-person living. This was all disconcerting and a little too revealing, but I pressed on.

As I continued to reflect it seemed to me that I am more in the market for a God who is an artisan, who crafts me into a beautiful work of art, or a gardener who tenderly cares for me insuring that I blossom forth with breathtaking beauty, or a shepherd who watches over me and supplies all my needs. I do not really want a Lord. I want to be captain of my own fate, the master of my own destiny with my faithful and loving God at my side. I am uneasy with a God who declares himself Lord of my life, but deep down I am even more troubled by my ability and desire to reduce God, the creator of the heavens and earth, to one who is “my god” – a god there to do my bidding.

It seems that I have set up a duality between the title of Lord on the one hand, and potter, gardener and shepherd on the other. I pondered the inclusion of this fourth title alongside the other 3 thinking maybe they are more similar than I am allowing myself to imagine. So I plunged deeper into these three titles, looking at the scriptures for additional insights regarding these titles of God/Jesus.

The Potter:

‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 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. Then the word of the LORD came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.’ Jer 18:1-6

‘Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?’ Isaiah 29:15-16

‘But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one 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 special purposes and some for common use?’, Romans 9:20-21

These passages clearly declare that the potter is the one in charge not the vessel; the potter decides the shape, size and function of the vessel. The vessel receives the action of the potter, bearing the imprint, design and function that the potter decides. The potter is Lord of the vessel.

The Gardener:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2

It is the gardener who decides where the plant will be planted, when and how it will be pruned, if it needs to be re-planted in another location or allowed to even continue to grow for another season. The plant receives the actions of the Gardener. The Gardener is Lord over the garden and over the plants in the garden.

The Shepherd:

“…the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Jn 10:3-4

“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths…prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…anoint(s) my head with oil….” Psalm 23

Likewise the Shepherd is the one in charge, not the sheep. The shepherd calls the sheep, leads the sheep, makes the sheep rest. The sheep do not call the shots or set the agenda; the Shepherd is in charge; the Shepherd is Lord. In fact, Psalm 23 begins and ends with; “The LORD is my shepherd… and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” David did not see the titles of Shepherd and Lord as incompatible, but interchangeable.

Additionally, the passages below marry the titles Lord with Shepherd and Potter.

“Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.’ Isaiah 64:8

“The LORD is my shepherd… and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Ps 23

“Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Ps 100:3

It becomes clear that often I tend to paint God with the colors of my own choosing, colors that convey God’s love, compassion, mercy, tenderness and care that preserve my self-will and self-determination and minimize God’s rule, authority and sovereignty. That is not to say that God is lacking in love, compassion, mercy, tenderness and care but only that that is not the whole story. My poetic imaginings of an idyllic God are incorrect, for they fail to convey the fullness of who God is, even in the very roles of Potter, Gardener and Shepherd. God/Jesus is Lord and it is the Lordship of God/Jesus is our lives that should be center stage. For it is the title Lord and not potter, gardener or shepherd that one day every tongue will confess; ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Phil 2:9-11). But merely saying that Jesus is Lord is not enough:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mt 7:21

We are to live, and order our lives as responses to the Lordship of God/Jesus. Paul puts it this way; “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:8-9). God/Jesus as Lord is foundational to all of life and every other title ascribed to God/Jesus. This is an exacting and demanding title, but one that is not lacking in love, compassion, mercy, tenderness and care. However, before we latch on to those realities, we need to soberly look at where we stand with the Lordship of Christ. Are you, like me, more at home with the idyllic images of Potter, Gardener and Shepherd, or are you ready to enter into a life of submission, obedience and surrender. A life that is characterized by denying yourself, taking up your cross daily and following Jesus, your Lord, trusting that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Jesus will save it. As I write this, I am endeavoring to more fully embrace Jesus as Lord in the everyday circumstances of my life, my interactions, my joys and struggles, and I invite you on this journey as well.

Spend time pondering if Jesus Lord of your life? If so, what can you point to that would confirm your answer? If not, why not? What is keeping you from allowing Jesus to be Lord of your life? What are you afraid of not getting? What are you afraid of losing? How your life would be different if you internalized and embraced in a deeper way that God/Jesus is Lord. How would this affect your choices, your interactions, your use of time and money? How would this impact how you made decisions, what you valued?

Finally spend time conversing with Jesus as potter, gardener, shepherd and Lord. Share your heart, your fears, hopes, struggles honestly and openly and then listen.

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