“Look! As the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”—JER. 18:6.
1, 2. Why did God consider Daniel to be a “very precious man,” and how can we be obedient like Daniel?
WHEN the Jewish exiles entered ancient Babylon, they saw a city filled with idols and found a people enslaved to wicked spirits. Nevertheless, faithful Jews, such as Daniel and his three companions, refused to be molded by the world of Babylon. (Dan. 1:6, 8, 12; 3:16-18) Daniel and his companions were determined to give exclusive devotion to Jehovah as their Potter. And they succeeded! Daniel lived in Babylon nearly all his life; yet, God’s angel said that he was a “very precious man.”—Dan. 10:11, 19.
2 In Bible times, a potter might press the clay into a mold so that it would take on the shape he desired. True worshippers today recognize Jehovah as the Universal Sovereign, the one having authority to mold peoples and nations. (Read Jeremiah 18:6.) God also has the authority to mold us personally. However, he recognizes our free will and wants us to submit to him voluntarily. Let us focus on how we can remain like soft clay in God’s hands, considering three areas: (1) How can we avoid traits that might harden us against God’s counsel? (2) How can we cultivate qualities that help us to remain soft and submissive? (3) How can Christian parents submit to God when molding their children?
AVOID TRAITS THAT MAY HARDEN THE HEART
3. What traits could harden our heart? Illustrate.
3 “Above all the things that you guard, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life,” says Proverbs 4:23. Against what hardening traits must we be on guard? They include inordinate pride, the practice of sin, and a lack of faith. These could foster a disobedient, rebellious spirit. (Dan. 5:1, 20; Heb. 3:13, 18, 19) King Uzziah of Judah certainly displayed pride. (Read 2 Chronicles 26:3-5, 16-21.) At first, Uzziah did “what was right in Jehovah’s eyes,” and “he kept searching for God.” But “as soon as he was strong, his heart became haughty,” even though his strength was from God! He even attempted to burn incense at the temple—a privilege reserved for the Aaronic priests. Then, when the priests confronted him, proud Uzziah became enraged! The result? He had a humiliating “crash” at God’s hands and died a leper.—Prov. 16:18.
4, 5. What could happen if we failed to guard against pride? Give an example.
4 If we failed to guard against pride, we too could begin “to think more of [ourselves] than it is necessary to think,” perhaps even to the point of resisting Scriptural counsel. (Rom. 12:3; Prov. 29:1) Consider the experience of a Christian elder named Jim who disagreed with his fellow elders about a congregation matter. Jim relates: “I told the brothers that they were not loving, and I left the meeting.” About six months later, he moved to a nearby congregation but was not appointed an elder there. He admits: “I was crushed. My self-righteousness got the better of me, so I quit the truth.” Jim remained spiritually inactive for ten years. He acknowledges: “My pride was hurt, and I began to blame Jehovah for what was happening. Over the years, brothers visited me and tried to reason with me, but I refused their help.”
5 Jim’s experience shows how pride can cause us to justify our actions, making us quite the opposite of malleable. (Jer. 17:9) “I just could not stop focusing on how the others seemed to be wrong,” explains Jim. Have you ever been hurt by a fellow Christian or by the loss of certain privileges? If so, how did you respond? Did pride come into play? Or was your main concern that of making peace with your brother and remaining loyal to Jehovah?—Read Psalm 119:165; Colossians 3:13.
6. What can happen if we practice sin?
6 Making a practice of sin, perhaps even committing secret sins, can also make one unresponsive to divine counsel. Sinning can then become easier. One brother said that in time his improper conduct did not bother him much at all. (Eccl. 8:11) Another brother, who got into the habit of viewing pornography, later admitted: “I found myself developing a critical attitude toward the elders.” His habit was hurting him spiritually. Eventually, his conduct came to light, and he received much-needed help. Of course, we are all imperfect. If, however, we begin to develop a critical attitude or to excuse a wrong course rather than seek God’s forgiveness and help, our heart may already be hardening.
7, 8. (a) How did the ancient Israelites demonstrate the hardening effect of a lack of faith? (b) What is the lesson for us?
7 We find an example of how lack of faith can harden hearts in the case of the Israelites whom Jehovah delivered from Egypt. The nation saw God perform many miracles in their behalf, some truly awe-inspiring! Yet, when the people neared the Promised Land, they showed a lack of faith. Instead of trusting in Jehovah, they became fearful and murmured against Moses. They even wanted to return to Egypt, where they had been slaves! Jehovah was deeply hurt. “How much longer will this people treat me without respect?” he said. (Num. 14:1-4, 11; Ps. 78:40, 41) Because of their hard-heartedness and lack of faith, that generation perished in the wilderness.
8 Today, as we approach the new world, our faith is being tested. We would do well to assess the quality of our faith. For example, we might examine our view of Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 6:33. Ask yourself: ‘Do my priorities and decisions reflect that I truly believe Jesus’ words? Would I decide to miss meetings or field service so as to increase my income? What will I do if secular pressures continue to mount? Will I allow the world to squeeze me into its mold—and perhaps right out of the truth?’
9. Why should we “keep testing” whether we are in the faith, and how can we do so?
9 As another example, think about a servant of Jehovah who is somewhat reluctant to follow Bible standards, perhaps regarding associations, disfellowshipping, or entertainment. Ask yourself, ‘Might it be that this is true in my case?’ If we detect such a hardening attitude developing within us, we urgently need to examine our faith! “Keep testing whether you are in the faith; keep proving what you yourselves are,” the Bible counsels us. (2 Cor. 13:5) Honest self-appraisal in the light of God’s Word should be a regular part of our thinking.
10. What can help us to be like soft clay in Jehovah’s hands?
10 God’s provisions to help us remain like soft clay include his Word, the Christian congregation, and the field ministry. As water softens clay, daily Bible reading and meditation can help us be malleable in Jehovah’s hands. Jehovah required that the kings of Israel write for themselves a copy of God’s Law and read it daily. (Deut. 17:18, 19) The apostles realized that reading the Scriptures and meditating on them was essential for their ministry. They quoted from and referred to the Hebrew Scriptures hundreds of times in their writings and encouraged the people to whom they preached to do the same. (Acts 17:11) Today, we too see the importance of reading God’s Word daily and prayerfully meditating on it. (1 Tim. 4:15) Doing so helps us to remain humble before Jehovah and be malleable in his hands.
11, 12. How can Jehovah use the Christian congregation to mold us according to our individual needs? Illustrate.
11 By means of the Christian congregation, Jehovah is able to mold us according to our individual needs. Jim, mentioned earlier, began to soften his attitude when an elder took a personal interest in him. “Not once did he blame me for my situation or criticize me,” comments Jim. “Instead, he remained positive and expressed a sincere desire to help.” After about three months, the elder invited Jim to a Christian meeting. “The congregation warmly welcomed me,” reports Jim, “and their love was a turning point for me. I began to see that my feelings are not the main thing. With the support of the brothers and my dear wife—who never wavered spiritually—I gradually regained my spiritual strength. I also received much encouragement from the articles ‘Jehovah Is Not to Blame’ and ‘Serve Jehovah Loyally,’ found in The Watchtower of November 15, 1992.”
12 In time, Jim was reappointed an elder. Since then, he has helped other brothers to overcome similar trials and to recover spiritually. He concludes: “I thought I had a solid relationship with Jehovah when in reality I did not! I regret that I allowed pride to blind me to the more important things and cause me to obsess over other people’s faults.”—1 Cor. 10:12.
13. The field ministry can help us to cultivate what qualities, and with what benefits?
13 How can the field ministry mold us for our good? Sharing the good news with others can help us to cultivate humility and various aspects of the fruitage of God’s spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Think of good qualities that you have cultivated in the ministry. What is more, as we display the Christlike personality, we adorn our message, which may affect the attitude of some householders. For example, two Witnesses in Australia listened respectfully to a householder who spoke very unkindly to them. Later, however, she regretted her manner and wrote to the branch office. In part, she said: “To those two very patient and humble individuals, I would like to convey my apology for my most self-righteous and condescending behaviour. I am a fool to stand before two people spreading God’s Word and attempt to steer them away like that.” Would the householder have written that if the publishers had shown even a hint of anger? Probably not. Yes, how beneficial our ministry is—both for ourselves and for our neighbors!
SUBMIT TO GOD WHEN MOLDING YOUR CHILDREN
14. What must parents do if they want to be truly effective in molding their children?
14 Most young children are eager to learn, and they tend to be humble. (Matt. 18:1-4) Accordingly, wise parents can strive to inculcate knowledge of the truth and love for it in the minds and hearts of their little ones. (2 Tim. 3:14, 15) Of course, to succeed, the parents must first impress the truth on their own hearts, making the truth their way of life. When parents do this, their children not only hear the truth but also experience it. Moreover, they learn to view parental discipline as an expression of love that reflects Jehovah’s love.
15, 16. How should parents demonstrate their trust in God if their child is disfellowshipped?
15 Despite a Christian upbringing, however, some children later leave the truth or are disfellowshipped, causing the family heartache. “When my brother was disfellowshipped,” said a Christian sister in South Africa, “it was as if he had died. It was heartbreaking!” How did she and her parents respond? They followed the direction found in God’s Word. (Read 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13.) “We resolved to apply the Bible,” said the parents, “recognizing that doing things God’s way would result in the best outcome. We viewed disfellowshipping as divine discipline and were convinced that Jehovah disciplines out of love and to the proper degree. So we kept our contact with our son to absolutely necessary family business.”
16 How did the son feel? “I knew that my family did not hate me,” he later said, “but they were obeying Jehovah and his organization.” He also stated: “When you are forced to beg Jehovah for help and forgiveness, you realize how much you need him.” Imagine the family’s joy when this young man was reinstated! Yes, when we give attention to God in all our ways, we can have the best outcome.—Prov. 3:5, 6; 28:26.
17. Why should we make submission to Jehovah our way of life, and how will this course benefit us?
17 The prophet Isaiah pointed to the time at the end of the Jewish exile when repentant ones would realize: “O Jehovah, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are our Potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Then they would plead: “Do not remember our error forever. Look at us, please, for we are all your people.” (Isa. 64:8, 9) When we likewise humbly submit to Jehovah and make such submission our way of life, he will view us as very precious, just as he did the prophet Daniel. What is more, Jehovah will continue to mold us by means of his Word, spirit, and organization so that one day we will be able to stand before him as perfect “children of God.”—Rom. 8:21.