The concept of praying someone else’s prayer always sounded so foreign to me. I wondered if it was merely “vain repetition” of Matthew 6:7. Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason, swayed me from that position as he discussed a book of Puritan prayers and read a sample of them on the air. For Koukl, it was helpful for him to have an example of prayer, and it gave him a starting point. The prayers of others made him think about issues and concerns that didn’t come up as frequently or naturally as it did for those who wrote and prayed those original prayers.
I think of Koukl’s discussion when I find myself repeatedly singing some lyrics from Toby Mac’s song, “Loose My Soul,” with one minor change.
“Father God, I am clay in your hands,
Help me to stay that way through all life's demands,
'Cause they chip and they nag and they pull at me,
And every little thing I make up my mind to be,
Like I'mma be a daddy who's in the mix,
And I'mma be a husband who stays legit,
And I pray that I'm a
n artist^Pastor who rises above,
The road that is wide and filled with self love.”
Like me, you are probably not an artist. Though I insert the title “pastor” into the song, perhaps “servant” would be a better substitute that could apply to all of us. Those of us who are Christians, should be like Paul (Romans 1:1), willingly subjecting ourselves as servants for God.
Toby based the title of his song on Jesus’ question in Mark 8:36, “For what does it benefit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” The world is going to offer us a lot of temporary fun and items to distract from our true purpose. The song records that the world will “Chip and nag” and “pull” at us. Romans 12:2 commands us “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The unbelieving society at large will try to make us conform to their values first and try to win us over to do things their way; this matches our daily experience with trials and temptations. Despite this being the stress point of the song, it doesn’t actually begin there; it begins with a call to our Father God.
Toby uses a common spiritual analogy of human beings as clay and God as the potter; sculpting them into “earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7) is a long-running theme from scripture. Many theologians who are far wiser and more knowledgeable than I have written about each of the passages where the analogy is used. Jeremiah 18:5-6 states “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” Romans 9 makes it clear that this is universal, not just for Israel, when Paul writes, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”
These two passages are important, but not without context, and in isolation may sound discouraging as we trying to face the challenges in life. Author Dr. Leighton Flowers sees the key to applying these verses, and other uses of the analogy, in 2 Timothy 2:20-23, which records:
“Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee
from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant
speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.”
There in 2 Timothy 2 we see the same ongoing metaphor of the vessels of “earthen ware” or clay pots, but with a key difference. Paul is calling the clay to do something. It isn’t an inanimate clump, as analogies are not complete. It needs to cooperate with the potter.
When Toby says he wants to “rise above, the road that is wide and filled with self-love” he doesn’t have the modern day understanding of healthy self-esteem in view, but instead, self-worship. Like in Jeremiah 18, we can’t issue orders to the potter, we can’t arrogantly sculpt ourselves, but we can cooperate with sculptor.
We can’t resist the world’s pull, be a faithful spouse and involved parent, without leaning into our Maker and Sustainer. We must allow Him to shape us into what He desires us to be — His Children. I need that reminder often, to “Press on” as Paul says in Philippians 3. I May have a goal of cooperating with God, with being “clay” in His hands, but as challenges come at me, I relate to Toby’s prayer request, “help me to stay that way through all life’s demands.”