“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
Let’s start with a story.
One day, when she was three, my little girl drew me a picture of hearts and handed it to me with a big smile on her face. I was grading papers and in the distraction of the moment, it occurred to me to teach her how to make a better heart. Hers were all wiggly and wonky. The Holy Spirit stopped me and told me to look at my daughter’s eyes. They were full of bright hope and love. She wasn’t trying to prove her proficiency to me as an artist, she was telling me she loved me. I threw my papers aside and scooped her up in a bug hug, pulling her close to me until she found her favorite spot to snuggle into my chest. I could smell her hair and feel her sticky PBJ lips kiss my cheek. I whispered “I love you” for the thousandth time this week. I realized that day that her gift was her love, not the green hearts themselves. I could see the love I had for her reflected in her eyes and being given back to me.
That little girl is nearly a teenager now, in art class daily at school, learning to create more complex things, but her green hearts still have a place in my memory books because they remind me that an offering given in pure love is the most aesthetically pleasing, genuinely, beautiful thing in the world. Would her green hearts be beautiful to my neighbors? Maybe…maybe not. Does their opinion matter to me or to her? Nope.
How simple it is. When we, out of our re-gained identity as children of God, create and offer it to Him like a child draws a picture for someone they love, we lose interest in creating for comparison, contest, or criticism. We create for an audience of one, and we have His approval already in Christ, made for relating, gaining perspective, understanding, receiving love and giving love from a place of being loved.
It’s only when we remove art from the artist’s intent and see it as a thing unto itself that it becomes a “thing” that is open to criticism, judgment, and assessment for it’s own sake, as if it must pass a test before it is worthy of being seen. But artistry was never meant to be separated from the artist’s intent. Just like when God created the world, making is supposed to result in relationship. All creating done by His children in Christ, in love, from a place of trust, surrender, is beautiful to God.
Here’s a picture you can use to help talk about the way that creation comes out of love. Even in the beginning, the conversation was plural, “let us make man in our image.” The communion and unity of God in the persons of the Father, the Son, and Spirit (one God, not three, to be clear), moved Him to create and the result of creation was worship, it was fellowship, communion.
In the same way, when we who are created in His image are near Him, we feel a desire to overflow in acts of creation. As we create out of love, in the presence of God, it moves us back to a desire for communion, for closeness, for knowing and being known–both by God and by others. God’s glory is the goal of creation, and God is also glorified in His creation, which is beautiful! But the felt sweetness for us is not in the elusive “goal” of His glory, or “beauty” itself, but it is found in the visceral experience of it, when we feel the pleasure of God and can perceive His delight in us. This can happen at an individual or community level too!
I want to offer five principles that open us up to the big, bold, VIBRANT world of Christian Artistry.
1) We Were All Born to Create So That We Could Experience God’s Love
Do you remember when you knew instinctively that you were a creator? Children are innately creative. We are hardwired for artistic communication in a similar way that we are hardwired for language. We were made in the image of a master creator.
God designed us to be in relationship with Himself and with others and art helps us do that. We use physical expressions like talking, singing, painting, sculpting, musicking, dancing, and even just playing as a way to relate—a way to know and be known. In fact, if you sit with a child or adult when they are doing these things, you will gain a window into their heart. They will be able to access feelings and thoughts that are normally filtered out by behavioral expectations and self-monitoring.
Just like the child who draws green-hearted love, Christian artists are not creating for the sake of building a name for themselves. They are creating in order to connect, to minister in love. That’s why, when a child paints a picture for someone they love, they wait. They don’t wait for praise or applause (at least, not at first); they wait to see if THEY are accepted or rejected. Making is done from the place of purest desire, to be deeply known and loved and to deeply know and love others.
And for those of us who know Christ, being loved does not depend on what we make or do. It has everything to do with who you belong to. And you, Beloved, can belong to a Father who gives you His stamp of approval by faith because of the cross of Christ. Now, through His sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit, you are part of His family, with direct access to His presence and all the love found there. God wants to makes His home with you. (John 14:23)
When our artistry is directed to our Father in a heart of love, eyes on Him, what we make is received joyfully by Him regardless of the sound or appearance. So, even if you are not a great singer or visual artist or dancer, He still receives what you create with great grace and joy, because it is made in spirit and truth (John 4:24)! That is why art made by Christians is inherently tied to worship (in intent). When God’s Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ, fills us as believers, it is a Spirit of a child (Sonship) that cries out to the Father for communion (Galatians 4:4-6).
The goal of creation, then, is knowing and loving God and letting him know and love us. The goal of creation is worship. It is communion. It is participating in God’s glory. His glory is available for us to know (as much as humans can experience Him), in simply “us abiding in Him” and “Him abiding in us.” The greatest glory we experience is trusting, reliant, obedient intimacy with the Father and the Body of Christ.
2. Creation Can Be Twisted By the Enemy to Subvert God’s Love and Design, But Jesus Has Won It Back For You!
Satan is going to try to steal, kill, and destroy everything God loves, including our artistry (John 10:10). Think of how naturally this happens. But focus on how God redeems us and how our art tells the story!
Example A: An artist experiences pain or brokenness because of their sin or the sin of others, and their art takes a dark turn, where they are communicating lies, not truth, darkness not light. They meet Jesus and their artwork begins to testify to redemption and rescue. They are children of the light now.
Example B: In many cultures, some people believe certain instruments were given to them by demons or evil spirits, so that some of their instruments and musical styles cannot be used to bring God glory. But we know that all of creation’s original intent was to glorify God. So we speak truth! We steal those instruments and musical styles back from the enemy and declare that God is able to redeem everything created back to Him (Romans 8:19-23), from trees, rocks and rivers, to instruments and musicians, some of whom were ritual specialists in these false religions! They begin to serve Christ.
Example C: This next example may seem mild, but it’s very dangerous. Consider how quickly young people are thrust very early into the world of applause and rejection related to their artistic expressions. A gift is identified in music, art, dance, or theater and the lessons and concerts start. The applause gets translated into approval, which is dangerously addictive, and the failures get translated into rejection. How quickly an offering becomes a sacrifice. How quickly a sacrifice becomes a burden. How quickly the burden becomes an obligation. It’s no longer a conveyor of love and joy, but the gift becomes nothing more than a tool, a commodity, a means to an end, which is, our success (humanly defined). It’s difficult to get our identity untangled from these webs of approval and failure and many artists are consumed by fear of man and fear of failure (the same thing can happen in sports), but when we surrender our lives completely, we become grounded in Christ for our identity. This keeps us from fear of man, fear of failure, love of money, and desire for our own fame and legacy. Our identity is not what we are good at, it is who we belong to. Feel the pressure lift. Feel the joy come.
So in all of these situations. Belonging to Christ in identity is what breaks the power of the enemy and allows us to create freely. This is the natural posture of a Christian. Victory by faith by the authority and Spirit of Christ, as God’s sons and daughters. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Jesus has won. The enemy will not dictate the freedom we have to create in our mother tongues, cultural instruments, and song styles.
3) What is “Good, Excellent, and Beautiful” can only be accurately assessed at the moral and motivational level, By God and His Spirit in us. An accurate biblical understanding of excellence is irrevocably tied to “moral virtue” and the intentions and state of the heart.
So, as Spirit-filled believers, if we must assess our own artistry or the artistry of fellow believers, we should not be thinking about what might make them palatable to the world, we will instead recognize that most artists are not offering a piece of art, but their heart, their thoughts, their perspective. So encourage artists to make art from that place. Heart art. This makes them a joy to God and to the body of Christ. Forget the world, let them see that the king is enthralled by their beauty. Encourage the artist to seek the Kingdom and deeply know God and what He loves, which is the only accomplishment worth boasting over (Jeremiah 9:24).
This means, what looks or sounds excellent to humans may not actually be considered as such in God’s eyes if the heart is deceitful and full of impure things. Flip that truth around and it is also accurate to say that what we see as meager, dirty, or ugly, may actually come from great love and honesty of heart and bring God great delight! Notice how there is not one comment in scripture about how God is only delighted if what we make is “beautiful.” We have record of people presenting him lavish concerts and sacrifices, but these are things people wanted to bring before God as an atonement for sin or as repentance. It was never what He wanted.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17
God has never been interested in good music for good music’s sake; He has been interested in the obedient trust, love-driven submission, and child-like praise for which artistic expression is often a medium.
Art carries heart. It is on the basis of the heart that our songs, paintings, and dances will be judged by God. Is it full of honesty and love? Otherwise, it is clanging noise to Him.
He is looking for the love in your heart that is flowing from the relationship you share (in praise, adoration and thankfulness, worship). Creation should be the overflow of relationship–of being close enough to delight in one another’s company, to glory, to revel, lament, to cry, to just be together. He wants to see the love He has for us reflected in our eyes back at Him. In fact, God has quite another priority in mind. He says to Samuel when choosing king David, “People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” David knew what God wanted, and that, he strove to give Him.
At some point in the church we have to come to terms with the fact that God is able to hear beautiful music in the “worst” singer you know, able see stunningly soul-moving visual arts in the creation of the least artistic person you know, and maybe the most clumsy person, a dancer, all based on the heart condition. We have become so aware of our audience that we have judged with our eyes and not God’s standard. Jesus doesn’t work that way. He sees the core intention. The truest part of who we really are, for better or worse.
Read the following verses about what God wants.
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear (or “my ear you have pierced”). Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:6-8
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Ecclesiastes 5:1
And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12:33
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6-8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence (arete ἀρετή: moral goodness, graciousness, virtuousness), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
Note that there is very, very little about God’s specific desires or preferences regarding music or art in the Bible. There are certain songs or exclamations that people have written—things like “come into His presence with singing and praise,” “Play skillfully on the strings!,” “Praise Him with the harp and the tambourine!,” and “Sing to the Lord a new song.” But none of these are requirements of the Lord.
There’s nothing that says God likes some instruments more than others, nothing that says we must sing in parts or in unison or acapella. Nothing that says He likes CCM songs more than old hymns or vice versa. Do you want to know why the Bible is silent on these thing? Because God doesn’t care how a song to Him SOUNDS to humans one little bit. He is actually, 100% focused on the heart of the artist, singer, dancer, etc., to see if what they are giving him is a pure gift of love and if their life is being lived honestly, righteously and purely before Him in the most inner parts of a person.
But what about the spirit of excellence, or an “excelling spirit,” given to Daniel or the craftsmen to build the temple? Notice that this was a God-given gift to accomplish a specific God-given task in that moment in time. There were directives on how to build things, to reflect the symbolism of a heavenly reality. It was prophetic artistry commissioned by the Lord. These were not simply natural giftings that were then harnessed for “God’s glory.” This was a unique anointing of God for a task of creating something God desired to create for which he called people away from their jobs as artisans to work on His projects. This kind of Spirit-filled “excelling anointing” was rare. May God multiply this “anointing of excellence” to His people to accomplish His projects. Even still, I would suppose, it is likely not the destiny of every child who seems to take to the piano, or the paintbrush, or the dance floor. But do not despair. God is looking deeper.
Did God choose Moses to lead or David as king and delight in Him on the basis that they had a “spirit of excellence”? No. Moses met God’s criteria in his humility and obedience. He dwelled in the tent of meeting and demanded God’s leadership. David met God’s criteria in the state of his heart—He had a heart after the Lord’s. He played honest songs on His harp in fields of sheep before he ever played in the King’s courts. The songs made demons flee because David’s heart was overflowing with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. And the songs, now Psalms, were a prophetic feast for the whole world that flowed from a heart of repentance, love, and intimacy with the Lord. Who else met this criteria? Look throughout scripture. Who did God find beautiful and pleasing, and on what grounds?
- Noah, who was righteous in heart and actions, when the world was evil.
- Abraham who trusted God’s righteousness and faithfulness for what He did not have.
- Joshua, who knew God from the tent of meeting and from that place of relational trust, found great courage to enter the promised land.
- The widow who fed the prophet and the widow who gave her last mite.
- The prophets, who were so awed by the presence of the Lord, they chose His word
- Caleb, who had a different spirit or heart than the others and was wholehearted for the Lord.
- Mary, the mother of Jesus, who received the seed of Christ into herself with a thankful heart trusting God completely at the loss of her own reputation.
- John the Baptist, who did not mind the rebuke of the religious leaders but called people to repentance from a heart who only sought to do what God was doing in the world.
- Peter, who diligently mended his nets, and then left everything to follow Jesus and fish for men instead.
- Nathaniel, in whom there was no deceit.
- Another Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet to listen and poured perfume on his feet.
- The ones who gave up everything to follow.
- And you! You can meet this criteria by yielding to God as King, and coming to know Him through the redemption of Jesus by faith, so you can really live in the overflow of His love.
So, as Spirit-filled believers, if we must assess our own artistry or the artistry of fellow believers, we should not be thinking about what might make them “excellent” or palatable to the world, we will instead recognize that most artists are not offering a piece of art, but their love, their heart, their thoughts, their perspective.
So we encourage people to make art from that honest place–to make “art with God” in their own language, cultural style, with no eye toward pleasing others. This is “heart art” from a place of purity and righteousness in Christ. This makes creators a joy to God and to the body of Christ. Forget the world, let them see that the king is enthralled by their beauty. Encourage the artist to seek the Kingdom and deeply know God and what He loves, which is the only accomplishment worth boasting over (Jeremiah 9:24).
4) Your Value and Identity is Not Based in What You Make or Do, But in Your Status in Christ as a Child of God-So You Can Rest and Enjoy Life in Him.
In the same way that my love for my daughter is not contingent on what she does or makes, Jesus has made the perfect sacrifice for our sins, so I can be a full-inheritor of my rights as a daughter of God and a recipient His love. I have no favor left to earn. All has been given freely to me. All payment for my debt as a slave to sin are met at the cross and the tearing of the veil in the temple and I run in the path of His commands because He has set my heart free. I become like a child.
The green hearts on the page were just a side effect of her love for me, not the love itself. The music, the sound, the visual effects, the appearance, and the applause (if there is any) is all—is usually absolutely no consequence to our Father, unless He gave specific directions to carry out (Exodus 25ff). It is simply about love, and yet, for Christian artists, we love to create, not out of the need to earn love, but out of the overflow of love, and our art carries the heart. This is artistic worship. For the child who draws green-hearted love all over a page, for the non-musician who tries to write their first song, or for the professional artist who has really received their inheritance in Christ, the feeling is the same-there is just delight. This is artistic thriving.
This kind of glory is what a parent can have with a child when there is nothing between them, when they realize they are the delight of their parents. This is why Jesus came to die for our sins, so nothing would be between us. And don’t we feel this desire in our image too? This desire to know and be known intimately. Her gift was her love, not the artwork. The artwork was simply a medium for love. What do you want to make and pour out as an offering of love to your Father and to serve others? A song like my middle daughter loves to make? A soccer move like my son makes? God loves it when we say, “Hey Daddy, watch this!” Why? Because He wants us to enjoy life, by loving Him and savoring life lived in the pleasure in His presence, to learn how to do and make new things, to build things, and to have fun with them and let them drive us to a thankful “soaking-in” of His love for us! Like Erik Liddel, Olympic runner said, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” Now we create like a child draws a picture for someone they love, feeling God’s pleasure, knowing they are already accepted and loved.
5) God Asks Us To Surrender Our Gifts, Dreams, and Identity in Exchange for His Gifts, Dreams, and Identity.
Here is the tricky part. Has God asked you to exchange your dreams of success for His dreams? Absolutely. Have you obeyed Him in this? Or are you still holding tightly to your gifts in hopes that you might be able to achieve your dreams and His at the same time? Erik Liddel knew His running gave Him and the Lord great pleasure, but His service for God was not in winning races. It was simply in preaching the gospel. Liddel had to surrender the public celebration of his natural gift to help the Lord with His projects, like discipling the nations. He obeyed Jesus by going to make disciples in East Asia. He ran there. He also taught others to run there. What does it look like to apply his lessons to the world of art. You go disciple the nations. You “go” as an artist. And you seek the kingdom first, not your career.
Oswald Chambers, famous for the collection of His sermon notes in My Utmost for His Highest, was actually convinced very early on that He would make His impact for the Lord in the arts. Hes said, “My life work as I see it, my eternal work, is, in the Almighty strength of God, to strike for the redemption of the aesthetic kingdom of the soul of man—Music and Art and Poetry, or rather, the proving of Christ’s redemption of it. . . . As far as my limited knowledge goes, our Master and Savior has no representative to “teach, reprove, and exhort,” and an ambition, a longing has seized me and seized me so powerfully that it has convinced me of the need.” But, the next year, he felt a calling away from the arts into full-time preaching and teaching of the gospel. It took him four years of “the darkest night of the soul” to fully surrender all to the Lord. During this time, outwardly, Chambers was friendly, charming and carefree. But within, the Lord was doing a work that would ultimately bring him to the very end of himself. One by one his hopes and dreams were being put to death. What he realized was that the cal to follow Jesus is a call to die.
Is your identity as an artist (musical, visual, or other) defining you more than Christ’s call to ful surrender and intimacy with Him? As I mentioned earlier, as young people, we start to build our identity based on what we are “good at,” what separates us from the rest of the people (this is rooted in pride, a desire to be good in and of ourselves). But this is not God’s way. If our identity is based in what we DO and MAKE, then we will never be able to receive His love to its deepest level. But if my identity is firmly rooted solely in His love, then He can ask whatever He wants of me and I will have no trouble giving it. If I cannot do what I love anymore, it is not the end of the world! It’s hard to see how much our identity is wrapped up in our artistry until we hear the call of God to leave that as our main pursuit and to pursue the kingdom first. But that is often what God is asking us to do. This “leaving” of our old identity markers in personality, gifts, and dreams, can be a beautiful journey, but also difficult to actually follow through. It takes great bravery.
As far as using the arts “for others” goes, how better to serve others than by living and worshiping in the presence of God? Some people in the world will be drawn to that pure light and other will hide from it. But worldly success in the arts can never be the goal. Thriving is defined not as worldly success, but in seeing the seed of Christ bear fruit in righteousness in the world as we boldly speak and scatter the seed of Jesus everywhere we go, inviting people into the kingdom.
If God does promote your art to the eyes of the world, He will carry the responsibility to help you endure the temptation, pressure, and persecution you will face there. But do not seek a worldly platform for yourself or you will prostitute the gift God gave you for connection with Him and others in holy communion. It is idolatry. Do not allow yourself to believe that you want your fame for His glory. If you are truly concerned with what He loves, you will be ministering to His heart and making His name famous by the natural fruit of the Spirit coming from your life and your obedience in making disciples of Jesus. Everything else will flow from that place.
It’s like a man I knew who bought expensive candy and chocolate as a gift for his wife. When he gave it to her she smiled a sweet smile and but did not eat any of it. He was shocked and asked her why she wasn’t eating anything he gave her. It turns out, she didn’t really like anything he picked out. He felt foolish because he had given her what HE liked best, forgetting to think about what she liked in planning the gift. In the same way, we often offer God gifts and sacrifices that take a great deal of our time, effort, energy, and focus, but what if what we are making is not what He has asked for?
What has He asked for? Our LOVE! Love for Him and others.
One day, my daughter came up to me and ask me what my favorite animal is. If I’m honest, the important thing I am focused on is how I will get dinner done on time, but I stop and tell her what animal I like at the moment (I pick randomly a deer and a bunny, because I have no favorite animal). She then asks me my favorite color (which I also picked randomly pink, because I actually have no favorite color…I like them all). Now she sets off to make it for me! She draws a pink bunny and deer with care and ten minutes later, I am presented ceremoniously with my “favorite animals” in my “favorite color.” I draw her into my arms and all dinner progress is halted in the name of love. She’s giving me a gift out of a heart of love and I love that.
But what I actually would love is her help in doing what I am doing. So, I ask my little girl to put her drawings away for now and help me clear the table for dinner. She could get her feelings hurt, or she could show me she had moved into maturity by loving me in a different way, by obeying me, in getting on board with what I am doing and helping with my projects (which is making dinner). She will still get to draw me pictures, but intimacy with me as she gets older means I can ask for and expect her help, not just her gifts. So she has to surrender (fully) what she wants to do for me, and instead, do what I am doing and asking her to do for me.
So God loves to receive our artistry as gifts of love, and He also expects us to put it away sometimes and do what He is doing in the moment (practical serving, preaching, making disciples), which may have NOTHING to do with our artistry. It is this kind of love that Jesus is referring to when Jesus says, “If/when you love me you will obey my commands” (John 14:15) and “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
You Want To Give A Beautiful And Worthy Gift That God Actually Wants?: A 5-Point Call to Worship Though the Arts
Call to Worship #1: Fully surrender your whole-self in repentance and consecration to God and the gospel.
If you really want to give God what He wants, ask God to help you to die To Your Self-Life. With His strength, Word and Spirit, you have to put to death your desire to be recognized, paid, or noticed for your artistry. Why? Because what you desire determines your trajectory. Your heart guides your direction That’s why God wants all our hearts. You even have to surrender your desire to serve God in a way that fits your personality and “talents.” Why? Because He may choose to use you in your weak areas and you have to be open to that. How many times have I only looked to serve God from my strengths or natural “giftings.”
What if my children did that to me when I asked them to help me in the kitchen? What if they said, “Sure, I’ll help you, but not with cleaning the kitchen, my giftings are more artistic in nature, I’ll write you a song instead.” What would my response be as a parent? Frustration? Confusion? Anger? I would explain it to them, telling them that I have already told them what I want them to do and how this is priority over their artistry. In the same way, God has told us to disciple the nations. This is His priority. That means we need to prioritize making disciples. Are you doing that? Why or why not? I am not talking about hoping people see the gospel in your art, I am talking about talking about actively sharing the good news of Yeshua, teaching others to obey what He commanded, baptizing new believers, and helping them learn how to live in God’s presence. You might say you are not “gifted” or “called” to disciple-making. But obeying Yeshua needs no call or gift or personality, any more than obeying and honoring our parents needs a special call or gift or personality.
Will you clean the kitchen? I mean, will you do the time-consuming, nitty gritty, grimy, hand-on work of seeking out the Lord’s placement for you among the nations, healing the sick, preaching the gospel, prophecy, teaching, shepherding lost sheep, mercy ministry (helping the poor, refugee, sick, orphan, widow)?
Purpose your whole self to seek the kingdom first and see what God is doing in in discipling the nations! And if you need more skills to be proficient at this, then ask God what skills you need, and go gain those skills. But realize that most of the time, God gives you the training and enabling and connections you actually need most through His Spirit and real-life situations that you do not plan or set out to accomplish (again, reference Moses, David, Mary, Peter, Paul, etc). He will often shipwreck a perfectly good trajectory toward your own success and influence in order to place you in a position of authority in His Kingdom. But you must get off the old path first. You will have to unlearn a lot of what you thought was valuable and retool. You have to leave the world in order to enter the kingdom. The gate is narrow and few choose it. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. A fully surrendered heart can offer a pure and pleasing sacrifice of love.
Call to Worship #2: Look at Him and see His love for you.
Set your eyes on Him. A painter or sculpture working from a live scene or model, paints with their eyes on the subject of the painting more than the painting itself. Where are your eyes locked? Are you looking at Him or your own work? How often are you looking up from your projects to see the love He has in His eyes for you? How often are you eating the Word through your ears, so you paint, dance, or write truth? Make Him something with no eye at all toward the beauty of the product, but with your eyes set on Him, minister to His heart. What you make will naturally be beautiful.
So the invitation is to make art for God with the goal of connecting with Him for yourself and in intercession as you minister to His heart. Others can enjoy your work as a side effect of your worship (which is why you should only do artistic work that is morally and spiritually in line with God’s way–not according to artistic “norms” of nudity, love of money, or immorality). Offer it to your Father as a child draws a picture for someone they love. Express your heart, what are you sad about, what makes you happy, but most of all do it with your eyes on Him.
Call to Worship #3: Make Something He Wants.
If we are going to be artistic as Christians, we need to know what God wants. How does God see beauty? What is beautiful to Him? If we want to see art and artists like He does, and be the kind of artist that He desires, we have to look through the outward and into the heart. The Lord is looking for inner beauty at the motivational core, for a heart that is completely devoted to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9). When we look at people and their art this way, we see masterpieces in unlikely places, every humble and honest offering a poema, a work of art (Ephesians 2:10). We begin to prize communion over presentation, honesty over production, and process over perfection. Really, what we make for God, whether a song, or a painting or a dance, or a poem, is only a container for the gift of our hearts. For haven’t you heard that without love, even the most beautiful gifts are only a clanging cymbal or clashing gong? (1 Corinthians 13:1 paraphrase)
If God told you he rejected your offering to Him, would you be hurt? Of course. But there is an offering that God rejects. It is the false offering of love-lacking, faithless “good” works, that is actually masking self-idolatry. It is when we create and offer things to God while also hoping to receive praise ourselves. He does not share His glory with another. Creating or performing in hopes people will see it and give God glory rarely accomplishes that goal.
The artist always gets the recognition. Not the Lord. Even if the composer says “Soli Deo Gloria” people will not give glory to God, but talk about the love the composer must have for God. In all this, what do we do? How do artists get ourselves out of the spotlight and truly give glory to God? We worship.
And God will only receive our worship if we offer it as a child draws a picture for someone they love. These gifts are joyfully devoid of self and yet, we put our intent into it, our love, so in a way our creations are a part of us, but in a healthy way now. We try to make something He likes! It is simply an expression of love from our heart to His. We make in order to show our love, to reconnect with the Father, to experience His delight in us (which, because of Jesus, is not contingent on our own “good” works).
What has He asked for? Our partnership in the gospel. Preach the Word. Make Disciples. Do justice. Love mercy. Feed the poor. Visit the sick. None of these actions require our artistic gifts, but you will be surprised that when you start doing these things God wants, He may put your artistic skills to use, probably just not in the way you planned. And, in the same vein, none of these actions require your artistic gifts, but all of them require your understanding of what God desires, following the Holy Spirit, and your love-driven obedience.
Call to Worship #4: Focus On His Gifts Not Yours.
I once had a dream where God took my to a treasure room and I saw all these beautiful things piled up. He said, “things are the spiritual gifts no one is asking for.” Do what He is doing and asking you to do, not just what you are good at so that you can see your need, so that you can perceive your spiritual poverty—what you do not have. Then you will have the wisdom you need to ask for it and to return to a lifestyle of reliance on God. He does not use people the way that businesses use people. You are not a commodity to Him. Your artistry is not a commodity to Him. Many of us just want to know that we are “useful” to God. But, I will say it one more time for emphasis. You are not just a commodity of the kingdom. He will not use you and wear you down. You are valuable aside from and in spite of your natural or hard-won artistic talents. You are valuable because you are His.
God does not operate on resumes. He chooses and assigns people on availability, steadfastness, purity of intention and motivation which comes from childlikeness, genuine love for Him and His Word, and the state of the heart set on Him. He also chooses people sometimes without these things and knocks them out to stop them from their plans and consecrate them to His service (see Saul turned Paul). But you can willingly follow, and anyone who truly loves God will. He tells you how in His word. Obey the commands of Christ.
Call to Worship #5: Offer Your Gifts To Him With A Fresh Wonder And Purity Of Intent, As A Child Draws A Picture For Someone They Love.
Sing a song to the Lord from your heart today! Paint Him a picture! He longs to hear it and see it. What’s holding you back from running into this, Beloved? You are welcomed into the family of God through Christ. No matter what hurt or rejection you have faced as an artist or creative person, your Father will not reject you. Pour out your love fresh to Him in dance, music, sculpting, painting, spoken word, and any other artistic medium you can! Let’s fill the earth with His praise!