A masterpiece can’t make itself

I’ve just been handed an intense copywriting project that requires me to dig into the recesses of my mind for plumbing engineering specs I haven’t thought about in two years. It’s going to take a whole day of fierce concentration to get everything done. I get started, and before long, I’m deeply submerged in the realm of copper tubing, sealing elements, and recirculation systems.

And my phone rings. Or somebody knocks on my office door. Or somebody needs to ask me a question in general.

Snap. Just like that. My train of thought derails. I lose the sentences I’m crafting. And the beautiful, concise paragraph I’d been forming in my brain disintegrates, never to be seen again.

Yes, I’m exaggerating (but only slightly).

I hate being interrupted, and I don’t always handle it with grace. I’m better about it than I used to be (experience is a hard teacher), but I still struggle.

When I’m working, I get so deep into the zone of my thoughts that when someone jerks me out of those thoughts, I feel disoriented and confused. It takes me a few moments to realign myself so I can even communicate. Then, once I’ve answered the question or provided the solution, I have to find a way to jump back into the project. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can’t. Either way, I probably won’t find my way back to exactly where I was before.

And that’s okay. Part of adulting is learning how to pick up the pieces of your shattered concentration and keep moving forward. But when you have to change directions halfway through a project, often, your project won’t turn out like you originally intended.

Have you ever considered how God feels when we interrupt Him?

In Ephesians 2:10, God calls us His workmanship. That word means masterpiece. My life, and your life, are all part of God’s brilliant, beautiful, perfect plan. He’s designed a life and a future just for you and just for me, based on who we really are and what He created us to do.

We’re God’s masterpieces. We’re His works of art. But it will take our lifetimes on Earth to get us to the place where we’re complete. Want to know why? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can certainly speak for myself.

I get in God’s way.

I interrupt His plans with my own actions and half-brained attempts at controlling my own life. And while He can take the broken threads of my life and weave a beautiful piece of art from them, how much more beautiful would it have been if I hadn’t interfered in the first place?

Yes, God is Almighty, and there’s nothing I can do to screw up my life to the point where He can’t redeem it. But what if I hadn’t stuck my fingers into the frosting to begin with?

ephesians-2-10I often think of God as a sculptor, and I see myself as a shapeless block of marble, unyielding, stubborn, and not worth much at face value. And God, in His infinite patience and wisdom and artistry, chip-chip-chips away at my rough spots with His chisel and hammer. He looks at the ugly corners of my life and sees something majestic and beautiful, and He has the power to make something amazing from it.

But it isn’t always a fun process. Sometimes it hurts.

When I interrupt Him and try to fix myself, I only end up making more rough spots that He’ll ultimately have to chisel away. When I try to take control of my own life, I make more work for Him.

I go down roads I shouldn’t. I listen to people who are wrong. I look to idols to tell me what I should look like or how I should act. And instead of submitting to the design that He has for my life, I start trying to chisel myself into a shape that He’ll accept. But have you ever seen marble try to chisel itself? Even if it could, it wouldn’t turn out pretty.

A masterpiece can’t make itself.

God sees me. He’s the only one who really can see me. He knows my flaws and my failures. He knows my rough spots. But He can look beyond all those blemishes and see my true value. Since He’s the only one who can see it, He’s the only one who can bring it out. He knows what needs to be cut out of my life in order to let the best of me shine through.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

God is more gracious about being interrupted than I am, and I can take a lesson from that. I can learn to be kinder when I react to interruptions. I can learn to be persistent and keep trying even when my thoughts and plans are derailed. And maybe I will learn to not interrupt God with my own feeble attempts at control.

He’s the artist. I’m the masterpiece. And I can’t wait to see what He’s creating.

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Even masters never stop learning

Have you ever seen the work of a master artist? I don’t know a lot about art, and I know even less about painting, but it’s one of the arts that takes my breath away. I would watch the Joy of Painting for hours, just marveling at how Bob Ross could take a paint brush and some colors and transform a blank canvas into a gorgeous landscape (happy little trees and all their friends included).

What’s really amazing to me is that the masters I know understand that they don’t know everything. The true masters realize that they always have something new to learn. Since we’re talking art, let’s talk about Michelangelo. No, not the Ninja Turtle. The artist. He’s known for a few minor, insignificant things like the statue of David (the one missing the arms) and the Sistine Chapel. No, he’s not really well known.

Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Michelangelo is one of the greatest artists of all time. Yet, one of the sketches he was working on late in his 80s had a phrase written on it: “I am still learning.” Imagine. Michelangelo, one of the greatest, most accomplished, most recognized artists in all history, and as far as he was concerned, he was still a student.

Chapelle_sixtine_plafondToday’s verses are Proverbs 9:8-9.

So don’t bother correcting mockers;
they will only hate you.
But correct the wise,
and they will love you.
Instruct the wise,
and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
and they will learn even more.

I do believe there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, but if your search for either of them is grounded in God’s Word, you can’t go wrong. And it’s good to have both, because the Bible often says having both is best. But the best indication of a wise person is that they’re teachable.

Being teachable can be tough. Face it, learning stuff is hard work, and for independent thinkers who like to do things their own way, following class instructions or a teacher’s syllabus can be very frustrating. But for many things in life, there really is only one way, and you have to learn it somewhere.

For a minute, just put yourself in Michelangelo’s shoes (or sandals or whatever people back then wore). This man had painted detailed imagery across the walls and ceilings of a giant cathedral. He’d carved incredible statues and sculptures that retain their priceless value even today. If anyone could have pushed back his chair and declared himself all-knowing on a subject, it was him. But did he do that? No! He declared that he was still learning.

So if a master painter like Michelangelo could be okay with still learning, why can’t we be okay with it too? Is there some great looming deadline hanging over our heads where we need to reach omniscience–or at least subject matter expert status? If there is, it’s a bad idea. You can know a lot about a lot of things, but you’ll never know everything.

Sorry. That’s just the way it works. You will never stop finding things you don’t know, but you can stop learning.

You don’t have to keep learning. You are perfectly free to shut your brain off and glide through life on the accumulated knowledge you built up in high school and college. It’s your choice whether or not to learn. But let’s make one fact very clear: Just because you decide to stop learning doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have all the answers. In fact, you’ll probably find that you have fewer answers than before.

And I’m not talking about being a professional student. There is such a thing as too much education. But don’t ever get it in your head that you know it all, because the moment you do, God will send a lesson your way to bring that ego down a few notches.

Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. Then look for lessons to learn everywhere you go. You can choose to stop learning if you want, but why would you?

Want to be wise? Want to have knowledge? Be willing to keep learning long after you think you’ve already got the answers. You’ll be surprised by what you don’t know and by how much more you still have to learn. That’s what it means to be a master.

The dangers of insecurity in Christian artists

Everyone is insecure about something. Maybe you’re insecure about your looks. Maybe you’re insecure about your job. Maybe you’re insecure about your talents.

I’m a creative person in a corporate world, and it’s very easy to get very insecure very quickly. I’m a people pleaser. I like it when people tell me I’ve done a good job. I like to make people happy.

When I create something, I pour my heart and soul into it. If I don’t, it comes off stale. If people don’t like what I create, it’s difficult to separate myself from what I created. If people don’t like it, it’s hard not to take it as an insult or a slight. And as a result, I can get very insecure about showing people my work or trying anything new. I’m afraid that if people don’t like it, they won’t like me either.

I know I’m not the only creative type to struggle with this. The problem with that mindset is that we are placing my identity in my work, and that’s not where our identity is supposed to come from.

490270_18101926Today’s verse is Romans 8:15.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

There’s nothing wrong with your art being an expression of who you are. That’s one of the purposes of art—to be a physical representation of you and your perspective on life. But you are more than that painting on the canvas. You’re more than those words on that page. You’re more than that lump of clay on the wheel. What you created is just a tiny piece of your perspective on the world, and just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean they hate you.

God created you to be an artist. He gave you the eyes, the ears, the voice, the thought process that is so different from other people around you. You see the world differently, and that’s fine. That’s intentional. But when you find your self-worth in the title artist, you’re in for a rocky road.

So if you don’t find your identity in what you create, where do you find it? If you can’t be satisfied with a manmade title, what title will satisfy you?

How about Child of God? That’s what God did for us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He gave us the gift of adoption into His family, so He’s not just some terrifying unknowable figure far above us. He’s our Father, and we can call Him Daddy.

When you’re a child of God, you answer to the Creator of the Universe. He’s the only one you need to worry about pleasing. Not your friends or your neighbors or your coworkers or your roommates or even (to some extent) your family. Now, because we follow Him, we do our best to live in peace with everyone around us, but He has the ultimate say.

A Child of God who has the gift of artistry has to answer to God Himself, and that’s it. God is your pattern to follow. God is your inspiration. God is your critique partner.

Sure, if you’re working a job that requires you to stay within the bounds of corporate style, do your best. Work for the people in authority over you to the best of your ability because God put you there. And if they don’t like what you create, that’s fine. Don’t see it as a reason to be defensive or insecure about your work.

Whatever you think you are lacking, that becomes your insecurity, and if you aren’t careful to keep your focus in the right place, your insecurity can become your security blanket.

Nothing stifles a creative spirit more than insecurity, but it’s important to understand where that insecurity comes from. If you are an artist and you are feeling insecure, stop for a second and take a deep breath and make sure you know where you’re getting your identity.

Your work may be beautiful and brilliant, but you need something stronger than it to carry you through the days when you can’t remember who you are. Instead of relying on your own creativity to find yourself, try looking to God instead. After all, He’s the Master Creator. He made you. And He’s your biggest fan.