Ever since I was a young child I knew that I had been gifted in the visual arts but I was puzzled regarding the purpose for this gift. Discouragement often set in because the visual arts have often been considered impractical (and, therefore, unimportant) by those having grown up in the scientific/rational paradigm of North America. I believe that in not knowing the high purposes of God as a child, however, I was spared from growing in ambition and this enabled me to be lead by the Holy Spirit step by step.
A word of warning to any artist (or any Christian for that matter) who wants to be a vessel for God’s power- Duck! Throughout scripture almost anyone who had been used by God in a significant way went through a process of being humbled. For instance, Joseph was sold as a slave, left for dead, falsely accused and spent time in prison. David spent something like 14 years in the desert running for his life, and Moses was a fugitive. Even Jesus was, for the most part, misunderstood, rejected and eventually murdered. It seems that God’s process of creating vessels that are capable of carrying His glory includes discipline. Our agendas (plans to make a name for ourselves and to ‘get ahead’) need to be completely stripped from our hearts (even the hidden parts that we can not see). This will give us the ability to start moving in whatever direction God wants us to go – In sincerity being able to say, “Whatever God!” Something that has recently humbled my heart was seeking employment. At the beginning of this summer I was looking for a job in the graphic-design industry in order to utilize my God-given skills and was blessed with two favorable interviews. At the end of the interviews, both employers said, “Yes.” However, through a course of events, neither job offer resulted in employment. I was very tempted to get upset and allow frustration to poison my heart but I felt God say to me, “Don’t worry, I have something else in mind.” I was soon lead by God to start a job in a care home and the word he spoke to me that gave clarity to this decision was, “Jon, there is a piece of my heart that I want you to find in this home.” My word to you – Be ready for the unexpected and be willing to move in whatever direction God will direct you, especially if it does not seem to further your career/agenda. Only He knows what preparation we need for what comes next.
Another situation where God lead me in an unexpected direction was the subject matter that I was to produce for my University art classes. Originally, due to my zeal for the prophetic, I started to paint images with overt spiritual content. I was met with harsh criticism from professors who believed that faith was outmoded. I was frustrated by their response and was tempted to either forfeit my plans to continue engaging with an academic institution or to continue boldly throwing my pearls before swine. After spending time in prayer, however, God reminded me of how Jesus most often spoke in an indirect fashion because He did not want to give men with a depraved mindset the opportunity to trample things of great value. After listening to a friend of mine talk about art I was blessed with an idea (I believe God given) regarding the content that I could use for my work that would satisfy my professors. My sister had been working at a care home for the past year and I felt that doing a portrait series of these people would not only satisfy the academic institution’s values but it would also give me opportunity to speak something that was on God’s heart. Honor/esteem is seldom given to people with physical or intellectual disabilities and I felt it was important to take the opportunity to honor them in this way. I realized that I did not need to depict ‘spiritual’ content in order to communicate God’s love. Hopefully people would be aroused to ask questions such as, “Why would someone depict this subject matter?” or, “Why does this work strike me as being so unusual?” By being prompted to ask questions, it has been my hope that the audience would be prompted to seek more truth. I felt a greater peace regarding working with content that was not overtly faith-based after hearing from God regarding His seasons and set times. This series of work was important for the season I was in (God wanted me to stay in His camp of rest where I was to develop technical skills and proficiency) and He has since started to move me into a season where I am to start marching – working with content that is more overtly faith-based and speaks of things that are of a spiritual nature. I believe that the lesson of recognizing the season that God placed me in not only has ramifications for my artwork but pertains to the church as a whole.
While I was camping earlier this summer a friend and I went for a canoe ride and we came to a stop in a canal. As we listened to the twenty or more distinct birdsongs and the many others sounds of life teeming from the lake I realized that they were all working together in unison/harmony. It was as if all of creation was an orchestra that got progressively louder, softer, slower and faster as the great conductor directed the worship. I was caught up in this rhythm when, all of a sudden, a motor boat screamed by on the far side of the lake. I realized that, as God’s children, we need to know the timing of God so that we do not behave as the rude motorboat who does not respect His leading. We need to be in tune with His Spirit if we are to fulfill his greater purposes.
Thank you for listening to my life experiences/lessons because I believe they have positioned me (and will hopefully help position others) to participate in His greater purposes for the arts.
A High Calling for the Arts
Through watching documentaries that reveal the wonders of creation such as BBC’s Planet Earth I am struck by the revelation that God is, by nature, creative. Deep crevices in the ocean (largely unexplored by man) are teeming with life forms that look more alien than science fiction. (It is evident that God’s creativity far surpasses any of man’s wildest imaginations.) Also, according to many scientific theories, the universe is continually expanding and new galaxies, stars and planets are formed every day. Combined with awe-inspiring sunsets painted in the sky every night, I am led to believe that God creates beauty for the sheer enjoyment of creating. (Much of his beauty will never be appreciated by man). It is His nature to create and he, therefore, can not stop creating. If man is made in God’s image what is human creativity in its maturity? By being in relationship with a creator who has no limits I believe that the Church has only begun to explore its creative potential. Considering He is a God of creation, as more of His Spirit is manifested I believe a natural result will be a release of greater creativity.28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. As God is releasing fresh revelation to the church, especially regarding her government, I believe He is also revealing new strategies that will empower us for a governmental shift. After listening to Ray Hughes (a speaker who has given much teaching regarding how God reveals Himself through creation) it is evident that one of these strategies is the arts. Hughes gives the illustration of how a song bird has three distinct songs: one to declare its territory and one to allure a lover. The third song is considered ‘the song of the dawn’ because, at the crack of dawn, before the first rays of sunlight appear on the horizon, the songbird sings a song that causes organisms (ie- plants) to open their pores. This enables the organisms to receive sunlight. If secular science has revealed this phenomenon, much revelation has yet to be understood by the church regarding the arts and the implications of this revelation are huge! I believe the arts are a powerful tool for communication that have been largely overlooked.
Hughes later explains how all matter is vibrating at the molecular level and this gives evidence that creation was spoken into existence. All matter is affected by the original sound waves that were emitted from the Word when He spoke the world into existence. “Let there be…” continues to echo throughout creation but because sin/darkness polluted creation this clear sound has been distorted. Is it possible that after a person has been communing with God and, therefore, positioned himself to be in sync with His sound, the individual is then able to transmit His sound to the world around him? I personally believe that the function that art has played in the past (such as being a conduit that God can speak through) is but a shadow of the fullness that God wants bring through the arts. I dream about an anointing being released where works will not only stimulate thought but will carry the atmosphere of heaven. People would be healed, delivered and even brought to salvation through this work.
I think about the example of Paul in Acts- “11God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:11-12) Once a person has been brought into alignment with God he would then be empowered to bring his world into alignment.
Another strategy that I believe God is releasing through the arts is an ability to communicate truth subversively. (Merriam Webster defines subversion as – “a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within.”) In other words, when a person listens to or views an artwork his will and emotions are often impacted before his mind kicks into gear. Because of this, art has an ability to communicate to people that would normally not listen to a particular message. As artworks are anointed by God’s Spirit I believe they have the ability to communicate truth to places that were previously inaccessible. After such a person’s heart has been reached, that person would be provoked to ask questions such as, “Why am I feeling this way?” and, “What is it about this piece that is so different?” This subversive strategy in communicating the truth was used by Jesus when He ministered in Galilee48 This is revealed by Him stating, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48) As the Galileans hearts were touched by seeing signs and wonders their hearts were softened to consider the truth that Jesus wanted to teach them.
Not only are the arts potential conduits of the supernatural but they can also speak/teach about the supernatural. I was shocked when I read an article in a Costco magazine (secular article) that fiction with supernatural content has revived literature consumption for young adults. The wild popularity of Harry Potter movies has contributed to this phenomenon and it is evident that a great appetite exists in the youth of North America for the supernatural. It is, therefore, vital that the Church matures in its supernatural gifts so that it is able to feed the hungry souls of this generation. If we fail in this commission, these appetites will quickly succumb to the occult other demonic counterfeits. One artist in particular that has been a great encouragement to me in using art to communicate truth (even issues regarding the supernatural) is an author. When C.S. Lewis was questioned regarding where he received the material for his books he described how he waited on God and he wrote whatever he saw. In an age where the prophetic was not understood, C.S. Lewis stood as a forerunner of the many prophetic artists that I believe will follow his example. His literature has fuelled blockbuster sensations that have taken the world by storm and have, therefore, spoken truth to people that were otherwise inaccessible. Considering 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty,(Haggai 2:9) I believe that the artwork to come will surpass even Lewis’ legacy.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that I do believe that church is in its infancy with regard to its creativity and that we are on the brink of new levels of creation being brought to the church that will leave a lasting impact on society. Considering Jesus is the captain of the guard, we, His children, first need to be disciplined to follow His lead so that we are not busy building our own kingdoms but that we are cooperating with Him in building His kingdom. “13 One [Jesus] who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.” (Micah 2:13) Also, nothing will affect a lasting impact unless it is He who works through us. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zech 4:6) Also- 1“I [Jesus] am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8)
I have peace knowing that Jesus is the mastermind for affecting this generation and as long as we abide in Him He will release to us the necessary strategies to leave a lasting impact. I look forward to the day when a company of artists have arisen who are positioned to heed God’s call and are filled with His power. They would be vessels of His light and would be empowered to cooperate with Him in subduing this world of darkness. “14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) It is time for His children to arise, realize the inheritance that Jesus paid for them and seize the day – Carpe Diem!