Albert Knaggs – God’s Hand/Potter and Clay – Cape 2 Pre-Convention Meeting – Wednesday Evening, November 19, 2003

Well, some of you have already heard a little about my story. My testimony begins with my father, with my father’s family; he was born in Ireland and his family heard the gospel there in 1906. Through the experiences of life, we were singing in that hymn [284], “I never can forget the day I learned to walk in Jesus’ way.” When the gospel came, when we first learnt to know about something different, something better, something from God, something that was right and true, and like we’ve just been hearing, it can make a drastic change in a person’s life. It’s a change from death to life and from hopelessness to a living hope. It’s a promise of things that are even beyond what we can measure or comprehend; and as we go through life and the varied experiences that come to us in life, we don’t always see and understand that God has anything to do with it at the time, sometimes we might and sometimes we don’t. We realize that God’s Hand may be working something and doing something by guiding us and giving us thoughts; also by moving others on our behalf. Just so many things that we can read about in the scripture, and that we’ve heard about in the testimonies of others, but we do know that that happens in that God is taking notice of those who have respect for Him, those who fear Him and desire to know Him and He does, He is able, and He does work out a plan, a means, a way, whereby people can get to know Him and come into contact with someone like the lady we were just hearing about – miraculous really! God sees every needy soul and He is able to help and deliver everyone in His own time and way.
I was also thinking a little today of God’s Hand. Being in God’s hand and His hand working with us like a potter works with clay. Someone mentioned that chapter in Jeremiah just recently, the 18th chapter, where Jeremiah the prophet was sent down to the potter’s house. The Lord told him to go to the potter’s house and there He would cause Him to hear His words, but first of all He showed Him an example, showed him what the potter was doing; and while he watched that day and before God said anything to him, he saw the potter making a vessel on the potter’s wheel. I don’t know, but I suppose you have potters here and you’ve seen them working, either in the primitive or the modern sense, but there is a wheel, a round wheel that’s turning either with foot power or motor power and then a lump of clay placed exactly in the center of that spinning wheel. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into that clay before it’s ever put on the wheel. Putting it on the wheel is getting close to the final stage.
We had a little hands-on experience of working with clay when I was at school. We had a potter’s wheel there, a little motorized one in the classroom and that was something that each of us did, just to get the feel of what it was like. Before we could ever get near the potter’s wheel or do anything on that, we had to start working with the clay. It was the actual kind of clay that the potter would use to make a vessel of some kind to his own liking and design, but when it first came, when we got it out of the container it came in, it was hard, a little hard, it wasn’t real hard, but it was too hard to work with; it was kind of dry, and we didn’t know whether there might be – there shouldn’t have been – any impurities in it, but we had to know that for sure because if there were, it would spoil the working of the vessel later. Another thing that was critical was to know that there were no air bubbles inside, concealed inside the clay, and so it was a matter of cutting it many times to check for that. We had a special thing made up – a little square thing with a wire stretched between two boards – and we just repeatedly kept cutting that clay with that wire, and then putting the pieces back together, then working them with our hands, squeezing them. Also there was the adding of a little bit of water to make it a little softer and more pliable, more workable. Just a couple drops would be too much and lacking those couple of drops would be too little, and it wouldn’t work right; we learned some of those things in the process of trial and error with lots of failures, but eventually the teacher who was overseeing the whole process would let us know when they felt it was satisfactory to begin to work with on the wheel, and then we had our turn at that. And so we placed it on this spinning wheel and just even to get it right in the center was a little trick otherwise it would be wobbling all out of place and you couldn’t do anything with it. It had to be perfectly in the center so it would just turn smoothly without any side motion. And then we began to form. We had some kind of an idea in our mind of what we wanted to make. We didn’t have any plan to go by, or any picture to follow. We were just going to make whatever seemed good in our own thoughts, and so we began.
One of the first things that happens if you’re going to make a vessel that’s hollow inside. Of course that is the usual method, like a jug or a vase or a flowerpot made of clay. It’s a matter of having your thumb or fingers on the inside, as well as on the outside, at the same time; and then pressure of the two working together is what forms and shapes and determines the thickness of the vessel. We even had to add a little moisture as we went along, as just the dryness of the air and of our hands being on the clay, affected the softness of it. And so it was a good experience, and it helped us to know that some of those things that looked very simple in skilled hands, can be very complex, and not as easy as they look.
Well, what the Lord was trying to tell Jeremiah there in that 18th chapter was, as it says that as he watched that potter working on the wheel, ‘The vessel that he made of clay was marred [or spoilt] in the hands of the potter.’ Now that potter was just a man that was working with natural clay and going to make a natural vessel, but it doesn’t tell us why that particular vessel was marred in his hands. It doesn’t tell us whether it had some impurity in it or some hardness, maybe a pebble; or maybe it was just a hard lump of clay that hadn’t been softened like the rest, or whether it had a bubble in it that eventually made a hole when the walls got thin; but whatever it was it was marred. Another thing that could have marred that vessel was a little slip of the potter’s hand, or a little too much pressure either on the inside or the outside. In any case it was marred, and it says he made it again, he made another vessel as seemed good to the potter.
He started over. He just took that clay as we did many times in that classroom, and started over again as it was marred for various reasons, and more often than not, for the slip of our hands, or the wrong kind or amount of pressure, rather than any fault of the clay. And of course that day the Lord was trying to show Jeremiah, He asked the question actually, He said, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you, as this potter?”
He was talking to them, of course, in a time when things were not like they should have been among the people of Israel; they had forsaken God and they had rebelled against Him and had done a lot of things that were wrong, therefore the work that God was trying to do in them had been marred, because of their own stubbornness and their own rebellion; their own unbelief and disobedience; but the Lord had not given up, just like the potter didn’t just throw that piece of clay away when it didn’t work out right the first time. He started over, and the Lord was wanting to do that for Israel, just start over, and work again. Maybe soften it a little more, maybe it was just a little too hard, it needed to be softened a bit more; maybe it had some impurities, maybe it had some hard places, or some air bubbles, things that would certainly disqualify it and cause it to fail.
Well, thinking again of experiences of life being like this, and God’s hand being involved in our lives, all of our lives through the years, and even regarding the testimony of our parents before us or our grandparents. Looking back, we can see some things in the lives of others and even in our own that there very definitely was the evidence of God’s hand working and doing something there which we didn’t realize at the time, even in ourselves. As we look back, we’re thankful for it all, and we can see that it was all the right thing and the wise thing, which is always the case with what God does. We’re so thankful for that now.
I guess one particular experience in my own testimony, where I feel that way and see, in looking back, that God’s hand was working was after I had made my own choice in a convention, which was at my own home place. I grew up on a convention ground, where the convention has been since 1921, and after I had made my choice at that convention and was trying to serve God. I had finished school and was working on the farm, and then the time came when, after I had turned 18 there was this draft or conscription from the US army; it was required that every young man over 18 years of age, if he was healthy and strong and didn’t have any physical afflictions or problems, would have to serve two years in the army; and so that was coming, but I had deferment from that because of being on the farm. There were exceptions for certain things: if you were a student in college, you could have deferment. Just put this off for a little while until you got through studying. If you were on a farm, as they considered agriculture critical to the life of the nation, there was also deferment for that if it was actually an active producing farm. So, I had that for a few years.
Then I began to have this feeling, well, I was thinking of settling down and at that point I didn’t have any thought of the work, but thinking about settling down. This deferment was still there. It only meant that whenever the deferment was finished, the army was next, and I’d be gone for two years, so I began to think about trying to make a little plan for the next years of my life, and I felt if I’m going to go and serve these two years, I want to do that now, and have it done, and then I can get on with life at home. So, I didn’t apply for the deferment that year, and it wasn’t long before I got my letter from Uncle Sam as we call the government, which said that your friends and neighbours have selected you to serve. It makes it sound very nice, doesn’t it! Anyway, I soon found myself in the army and after six months of training, I was sent up to Europe to Germany for the rest of the time, the year and a half, and I wasn’t a bit anxious to go to any other country at that time. They had given us some options, apparent options, that we could write in where we wanted to go, and I chose various places in the United States, and even Alaska. I thought that would be far enough away!
And so that is how I ended up in Germany which was usually the case. What you put down on the paper didn’t matter much, they sent you where they wanted to. While this was happening I didn’t see, I didn’t have any thought that God was doing something, that God was working in this, even in my thought of not applying for the deferment and just going ahead with the army experience, but I found myself in Germany and I was in a situation there where I could spend a lot of time with the friends and the workers. I had a little Volkswagen car, a Beetle, and I could take them around when I wasn’t on duty, I could take them to meetings and to missions and visit people, and I got a little closer look at how the workers live and what they do than I had before; and I also got a sense of some other things.
When I first arrived there before I knew anybody in that place where I couldn’t speak their language, I couldn’t understand their language, I got a little taste of what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange place. Everything was different of course. On the base it was all English and American. As soon as you left that, you were very definitely a stranger; you didn’t know where to go or how to go, or how to say anything that they understood and you couldn’t understand them. All of that wasn’t the most pleasant experience but it was good, and it was helping me to learn some lessons, and to understand a little better what it feels like for any person to be a stranger to God, to not be able to communicate with God, and not know Him and not understand His language, His word; and so as that year and a half passed and the experiences that came, the privileges were many. I began to think about my life in a little different way, and no doubt, it was the Lord giving me thoughts about that. I began to think about the Work, and spending my life in that way.
I had already committed myself to some other things that were going to require some changes, but that was not impossible. Those thoughts kept coming more often and the feeling kept getting stronger. By the time I was ready to come back home from there, it was becoming quite clear what I must do to have peace in my soul. Sometimes we’ve told people that being troubled about the work is a little like being troubled before you make your choice in the first place, because it amounts to the same thing. When God begins to speak to us about spending our life in His service and the service of others, until willingness comes to co-operate with His will. It takes away our peace, and the only way to restore that peace, and the only way to have peace, is to submit to His will for that and when I did, there was peace.
So now looking back, I can see the Lord’s hand in all those things that happened, and all that brought about the change and separated me from home and friends, and gave me the feelings of a stranger; also the privilege of being with the workers as much as I was there, and just a whole lot of things that couldn’t be listed or named, that had an effect in changing my course and my outlook in life and its purpose. Of course I’m thankful for every day since, not because it’s always been pleasant. I thought of that verse today too where it says, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose.” It says, “All things work together for good.” It doesn’t say “pleasant,” it doesn’t say “easy,” but if we meet every experience, even the worst, in the right attitude, by allowing God to teach us something in it, it can work something good in the process.
We read about all the wonderful characters in the scripture, of those outstanding ones, the ones that had so much faith and had such unquestioning trust in God and what He could do, and what He did do. We might think that they were some kind of unique people – that they weren’t like us – but they were altogether like us; they got that way because they responded to God’s working, and some of those very hard experiences and tests they came through, produced those qualities or virtues in them, by the grace of God.
I was thankful for all those things that God is seeking to do, and does do, and will do, and can do in us in the future days, and whatever days we have, we want to always have, to respect, to keep in His hand, especially. Someone else just sent a note yesterday. They had been reading that chapter in Jeremiah and they had this thought that “just to be in God’s hand helps to keep us a little softer than just sitting on the shelf.” We want to be in His hand, and in the place where He can continue His work in our lives, in our spirits and in our souls, and can continue to make us what we ought to be, so we can be a help to declare His work, to show forth His work to others that don’t know Him yet, that they can also see a little measure of what He can do, and that can give them hope, a promise. It’s like the testimony of the man that we heard about that gave that woman hope and faith and peace, and it would be good if we could do that for others in our day and generation also, and let God just continue His work in us.