Joel Osteen — Stay On The Potter's Wheel
I want to talk to you today about "Staying on the Potter's wheel". We all face situations that we don't like, where we're uncomfortable. We're not getting our way. Somebody's not treating us right. Traffic's backed up. A person gets on our nerves. It's easy to get frustrated, think, "God, when are you ever going to change this"? But I've learned you can't pray away every difficulty. Some of the things that are uncomfortable in your life them, you wouldn't be prepared for the promotion that he has in store.
God uses difficulties to do a work in us. The scripture says, "He is the Potter, we are the clay," and when God is spinning us around on that Potter's wheel and he comes across a lump of impatience, of pride, of jealousy, he'll put us in a situation to bring those impurities to light. Nothing randomly happens. Every traffic jam, every person that irritates you, every time you're tempted to worry, to be critical, to be jealous, that's an opportunity for you to be refined.
In the difficult times, we prove to God what we're made of. That's when our quality is tested, and if you'll work with God and stay on the Potter's wheel, be moldable, pliable, willing to change, then your character will come up higher, and as your character is developed, God will release more of his but too many people, when they're in an uncomfortable situation, instead of doing the right thing, keeping a good attitude, forgiving the wrong, being patient, they try to get off the Potter's wheel. They complain, get upset, offended, impatient. "I don't have to put up with this. I'm going to give them a piece of my mind". They respond the same way year after year.
That's why they get stuck, and this is what happened with the Israelites. They were headed toward the Promised Land. It was an 11-day journey. No big deal. But they started complaining. "It's hot, we're tired. We don't like the food. Moses, it's uncomfortable out here. Can't we just go back to Egypt"? They kept getting off the Potter's wheel. That 11-day journey ended up taking over 40 years, and they never did make it into the Promised Land. They kept going around the same mountain again and again. If they would have just uncomfortable.
We don't like it. But we know God wouldn't have us here unless we needed it. He's using it to refine us, to prepare us, to make us tougher, stronger. It's not working against us. It's working for us". If they would have passed those tests and let God refine them, their character would have come up higher. Their whole life would have been so much better.
Now, my challenge to us today is don't do like they did and go the next 40 years responding to the uncomfortable situations the same way, getting upset, offended, impatient, feeling sorry for yourself. No, stay on the Potter's wheel. Next time you get stuck in traffic, instead of letting that sour your day, have a new approach. "God, I believe you're guiding and directing my steps. You have me at the right place at the right time. So I'm going to stay in peace and enjoy where I am". That's passing the test. That's letting God refine you.
When you go through a disappointment, an unfair situation, instead of being discouraged, living in self-pity, no, "God, you said you'd give me beauty for ashes. You said what's meant for harm you'd use to my advantage. So I'm going to stay in faith and get ready for the new thing that you have in store". "Well, Joel, I always get upset when I can't find my car keys". "I always get offended when my spouse does a certain thing". Or "I always get discouraged when my friend doesn't call". Whatever the always is for you, the next time it comes up, respond differently. Start passing these tests.
Life is flying by. You don't have time to spend another year going around that same mountain. Your destiny is waiting on you. God has amazing things he wants to release, new opportunities, new levels, but it depends on the quality of our character. None of us like uncomfortable situations. But here's the key. If God is not removing it, that means we must need it. He's using it to refine us, to purify us, to get us prepared for new levels of our destiny, and if you're still responding to difficulties the same way you did 5 years ago, getting upset, offended, I say this respectfully, you need to grow up.
Don't go another 5 years letting those same things keep you from God's best. Recognize that's a test. God's giving you an opportunity to come up higher. Instead of complaining about that person at work that gets on your nerves, have a new perspective. That person is there to help develop your character, and next time you see them, they say something rude and disrespectful, instead of responding the same way, letting it upset you, or saying something rude back to them, no, stay on the Potter's wheel. Let it bounce off of you. Don't pay it any attention. Just smile and say, "I hope you have a great day". Here's the beauty. The next time you do it, it'll be a little bit easier. The next time, even easier, and if you keep at it, you'll look up in a year or 2, it won't bother you at all.
What happened? Your character came up higher. You changed. But too often, we're praying, "God, change my children. They're getting on my nerves". "Change my boss. He's driving me crazy". "Change the traffic, it's making me upset". God is more interested in changing me than he is in changing my circumstances. Sometimes we're trying to pray away the very thing that God wants to use, and the reason he's not removing it is he's waiting for us to change. That person that irritates you, God can use them like sandpaper to rub the rough edges off of you. That neighbor that's hard to get along with, God can use them to teach you how to be merciful, kind, understanding. Or that loved one that says things that are hurtful, God can use them to toughen you up, to learn not to be easily offended.
They're not there by accident. God has them there on purpose. Why don't you look inside and say, "God, how can I change? How can I be more patient, more forgiving, more loving, more understanding? See, don't ever pray for God to change somebody else without first saying, "God, change me".
Now, a question I ask myself often is, "How much have I grown in the last 5 years? Do I have a better attitude? Do I forgive quicker? Do I treat people better? Am I kinder? Am I more considerate"? We shouldn't be at the same place now as we were 5 years letting the same things upset you, the same people offend you, the same circumstances steal your joy, this is a wake-up call.
I'm sounding the alarm. You don't have time to waste another year going around the same mountain. Your assignment is too important. Your time is too valuable. Your destiny is too great. You can't afford 40 years, like the Israelites, to learn a lesson that we could learn in a fraction of the time. You got to put your foot down and say, "That's it, I'm done going around this mountain. I'm done having a bad attitude when I don't get my way. I'm done getting stressed in traffic. I'm done arguing with my spouse over the same petty things. This is a new day. I'm not waiting for anyone or anything to change. I'm going to change".
The scripture talks about how there are different levels that we can grow into. Vessels of clay, vessels of wood, that are used for ordinary purposes. But if you'll stay willing to change, and not get stuck in one level in your attitude, in how you treat people, in how you respond to difficulties, but you'll let God keep refining you, then you will become a vessel of gold used for his highest purposes, and we all start off at the same place in life.
Like a lump of clay, we have impurities, impatience, selfishness, anger, and God will put us in situations to work that out of us. The key is to pass those tests. Don't fight against everything you don't like. That's an opportunity to come up higher, and if you don't pass the test, the good news and again and again. It's not going to go away until God does the work in us. The sooner you deal with what you know God is bringing to light, the better off you're going to be.
When Victoria and I were first married and we were about to go someplace, I would ask her if she was ready to leave, and when she would tell me, "Yes," I would go get in the car and wait I'd get frustrated and go back in, said, "I thought you said you were ready". She would say, "I am ready". I would say, "Well, would you mind walking to the car"? This happened time and time again. I used to get so stressed, so uptight, and I was praying, "God, you've got to change her, and make her more of this. Make her more of that".
I had her on my Potter's wheel, and one day I realized I'm not the potter, God is. The funny thing is, God didn't change her. God used her to change me. Took a couple of years. I kept going around that same mountain again and again. "Life is too short to let this stress me out. She may not ever change. So you know what? I'm going to change".
I learned how to be patient, to stay calm, to be peaceful. Today, it's no big deal. When she says, "I'm ready," I know that means in general, she's ready. It's like the 2-minute warning in football. The clock officials says 2 minutes, but if you know football, it's going to take 15 minutes. Now when she says I’m ready I’ll go sit down watch some television, get something to eat, mow the lawn, wash the car. She doesn’t realize it but, I’m not looking that way, God’s used her to refine me, to make me better.
Are there things that you keep letting upset you, stress you out? Do you keep going around the same mountain, again and again? This may be hard to swallow but that other person may not every change, why don’t you change? God wouldn’t have put you in that situation if you didn’t need it. He is not going to be content with you staying a vessel of clay, a vessel of wood, not even a vessel of silver. He’s going to keep spinning around on that wheel, until he brings out all of those impurities and you become the vessel of gold he’s created you to be.
Now our job is to recognize that every challenge, every delay, every offense, as an opportunity to be refined. You can’t just pray it away. God’s not going to remove every difficult person from your life. You’ve got to learn to overlook the faults, to stay on the high road. He’s not going to shield you from every negative, derogatory comment.
You’ve got to learn to keep your walls up and not be easily offended. He’s not going to keep us from every delay, inconvenience, setback; you’ve got to learn to believe that He’s directing our steps, and go with the flow. Be aware of what you’re dealing with this week. Don’t let the same things continue to hold you back. If you’re going to become this vessel of gold, you’ve got to stay on the potter’s wheel and be willing to change. Keep growing, keep letting God refine you.
I was in New York City a few years ago and went to diner early in the morning to eat breakfast. There was a gentleman sitting a couple of tables over. He came and told how when he came in the restaurant that morning, it was very windy outside. The person in front of him let the door slam in his face. The person clearly saw him, looked around at him; it was almost like he did it on purpose.
This man had been hot-tempered his whole life. Normally he would have gone over there and told him, told him what he thought. He’d been watching us on television for a few years. He heard me talk about this subject, growing, not letting the same things hold us back. Just as he was about to give them a piece of his mind, he said Joel I heard your voice saying let it go and God will fight your battles. He did just that. He ignored what that person did, went down and sat down with a good attitude, started eating his breakfast. When he did, he said that he felt this incredible joy buzzing up on the inside. Something that he’d never felt before.
When you pass these tests, when you make a decision "I’m not going around this mountain responding the same way, I’m going to bite my tongue even though I feel like telling them off, I’m going to stay peaceful even though I feel like being stressed. I’m going to forgive even though they did me wrong". When you do the right thing when it’s difficult, like this man, you will feel a new sense of joy down in your spirit. You will know the Creator of the Universe is smiling down on you.
I read about how up in the northeast fishing for codfish had become a huge commercial business. There was a huge market for codfish all over the United States. They had a major problem with the distribution. At first, they tried freezing the codfish, shipping it all over the same as their other products. But for some reason when the codfish is frozen it didn’t have any more taste. Next, they tried shipping it alive in big containers with fresh seawater. They thought that would certainly solve the problem. But that only made it worse. Because the codfish just sat there, inactive in the water, they became soft and mushy, they lost their taste.
Someone came up with an interesting idea. They decided to put a catfish in each container with the codfish. The catfish is the natural enemy of the codfish. So the whole time the codfish was being shipped it had to stay alert and active, looking out for this catfish. It solved the problem. When the codfish arrived at their destination they were just as fresh and tasty as they were up in the northeast.
What’s my point? Sometimes what looks like an enemy is really an asset. That person that gets on your nerves, that neighbor that doesn’t treat you right, that traffic that gets you stressed out, what you think is there to defeat you, the truth is, God put it there to make you better. To refine you, to promote you, to bring you into the fullness of your destiny. Nothing in your life happens by accident. The people you encounter, the delays, the grouchy clerk, the slow waiter, the child that never stops. They are divinely orchestrated by the Creator of the Universe to help make you and mold you into that vessel of gold.
Now how you respond is what makes the difference. If you get upset, impatient, offended, feel sorry for yourself, you’ll get stuck. Pay attention to what you don’t like in your life, what you’re praying for God to remove, what you’re fighting against. Recognize that catfish is there to make you better, not to defeat you but to promote you. Now you may work with a catfish, you may be married to a catfish. You say, Joel my mother-in-law, she’s not a catfish, she’s a great white shark. God wouldn’t have put you there if you didn’t need it. Like iron sharpens iron, that’s going to sharpen you. Stay on the potter’s wheel. God’s using that to strengthen you, to refine you, to polish you, to develop your character.
Several years ago, Victoria and I were heading to an important meeting that started at 7:30. We got delayed at home and were running a little late. But I knew we could still make it on time if I caught all of the lights just right and didn’t run into any traffic.
Everything was going great, we were making good time, until I saw these flashing red lights at the railroad track. A train was coming up. We had never seen a train there at that particular time of day. I was convinced this was the enemy trying to delay me. I prayed, I rebuked, I confessed. It seemed like the more I prayed the slower the train went. It went slower and slower.
Finally it stopped and started backing up. About 10 minutes later it had changed direction and was just about to clear the road so we could go. I heard this loud train horn. I thought, that’s strange, they don’t sound the horn at the end of the train. I looked up and another train was coming on the second set of tracks; I didn’t even know there were 2 sets of tracks.
I finally got the message and said, you know what, I’m just going to relax. God is still in control, life is too short to let this stress me out. You know what that train was? A catfish. God allowed it to be there, not to just delay me, not to just make my life miserable, but to refine me, to make me better. For years I thought that was the enemy attacking me. Now, I realize that was God attacking my impatience. I’ve learned to stay on the Potter’s wheel. My attitude is, God you can have it your way, it doesn’t have to change, I’ll change.
The Scripture says in 1 Peter, our faith is tried in the fire of affliction as fire purifies gold. You don’t really know what’s in you until you’re put under pressure. The pressure brings to light what we need to deal with. Peter said, "Jesus I’ll never deny you, I’m your biggest follower". But a few days later when Peter was under pressure he denied that he knew Jesus 3 times.
When you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, where you feel like being impatient, you feel like telling somebody off, you’re tempted to be upset, offended, that’s when you have to recognize this is a test. I’m here for a reason. I’m not going to go around this same mountain, responding the same way. I’m going to come out higher. I’m going to keep my cool. I’m going to forgive, even though they didn’t me wrong. I’m going to stay in peace.
If you’ll stay on that potter’s wheel and let God keep refining you, you are headed towards that vessel of gold. That’s when God can release some of the amazing things He has in your future. But it all depends on the quality of our character. You can have gifts, you can have talents, but your character is what matters. Can God trust you with more responsibility, with greater influence, with new levels? If you’ll see these catfish, so to speak, in the right way, recognize each one is a test and respond properly, you’ll see God take you places that you’ve never imagined.
Years ago, the government of Thailand wanted to build a new highway but right in the middle of their path was a huge religious statue that had been there for decades. It stood over 40 ft. tall and was made out of clay. This statue was greatly endeared by the people; they knew they had to move it with extreme caution. Got their crane, and very delicately and carefully started to lift the statue. But even as hard as they tried, some of the clay began to crack. They stopped and readjusted, tried to do it more carefully. But then again the clay started to break off.
They were very distressed that they were damaging this important religious statue. They finally got it to this new destination but as they were lifting it off of the crane, off of the truck with the crane, a huge piece of clay fell off.
One of the men noticed something shiny underneath the clay. He went over to examine it. Much to their amazement, underneath the clay the whole statue was made out of solid gold. The clay was never supposed to be permanent; it was just a facade to protect the gold, yet it had been there for hundreds of years. They thought originally the statue was worth 30 or 40,000 dollars. But in fact it was worth millions and millions in solid gold.
In the same way, we all start off as vessels of clay. We have flaws and weaknesses. Impatience, selfishness, pride. All we can see is the clay. But underneath that clay is a vessel of gold. God made you to shine; as you grow, you let Him keep refining you, little by little that clay is going to come off. Maybe you used to get offended by that coworker that said hurtful things, and it ruined your day. You tried to pay them back but then you started overlooking it, staying in peace, taking the high road, letting God fight your battles. Now it doesn’t bother you anymore.
What’s happening? The clay is coming off. The gold is starting to shine through. Maybe like me you used to be impatient in traffic, stressed when your plans didn’t work out, but now you’ve learned to go with the flow knowing God’s in control, it’s no big deal. What’s happening? More and more of that clay is coming off. Your gold is getting brighter and brighter.
Or perhaps you used to rely on compliments, peoples' approval to feel good about yourself, that’s how you gain your value, your self-worth. But now you know that God approves you. That He’s made you valuable. That you're a masterpiece. So you put your shoulders back, you live with confidence, knowing that you’re one of a kind. What’s happening, the low self-esteem, the insecurity is breaking off, and your gold is starting to shine forth.
We all have areas where we can come up higher. All of us still have some clay, some dirt left on us. Don’t get discouraged. The Scripture says, He that began a good work in you will continue to perform it until it’s complete. The good news is you’re not a finished product. God is still working on you. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re still dealing with some weaknesses. Just stay on the potter’s wheel.
Just keep improving. Every person fails from time to time; the key is to get back up again. Don’t you dare settle for the clay. You have gold in you. You were made in the image of Almighty God. He created you to shine, to live free, happy, secure, peaceful, confident, calm. That’s what’s on the inside. I’m asking you to work with God to bring it out. Don’t try to pray away every uncomfortable situation. Recognize that’s an opportunity for more clay to come off. Don’t complain about the catfish; God put it there. It’s not there to defeat you, it’s there to make you better.
If you make this decision that you’re going to stay on the potter’s wheel, let God refine you, see these as opportunities to grow, then you will not stay a vessel of clay, a vessel of wood, nor a vessel of silver. But I believe and declare, you will become a vessel of gold, used for His highest purposes. You will not only enjoy your life more but you will see His favor in amazing ways and become all that He has created you to be. I declare it, in Jesus’ name.