Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What do tests accomplish?

Ever been through a test? I'm not talking about the tests that you took in school, I'm talking about a live-it-out test from the Lord. Tests come in all forms, and often overlap in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual realms.

I'm going through a test right now. I spend so much time painting that the Lord ties the two together for me. One bit of advice I usually give my students is not to rush over the rough parts, but to stop and consider HOW you might solve a problem. This gives you a chance to consider various solutions. When painting, you're in the driver's seat, of course. In life you're not--at least you're not if you've offered yourself to the Lord as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), as I have. God is the driver. So how do the two compare?

This way: when you get to a place in your painting or your life where you don't quite know how to handle things, don't willy-nilly rush through it fearfully, just trying to erase the bad or uncomfortable or embarrassing parts, but take the time to consider carefully the situation and the REAL solution.

It's so easy to auto-focus on the problem in a painting. I used to find the problem and scrub out the offending part as quickly as I could get it out of there, or, conversely, spend more time massaging what was already beautiful in order to ignore the problem, putting off working on that one part. I've discovered that if I will simply stop, take my painting off the easel away from the pastels, and spend time ON the problem, the solution that comes is not only helpful to the painting, it becomes a tool I have at hand in considering the next problem of its kind.

When I come to a rough patch in life my instinct is to duck my head and lean into the pressure, to pull harder and try to fix things myself, which usually involves either making more money (as if money mends everything) or filling my mind with things that distract me from my troubles (as if by not thinking, things will be better.) Now, as I go through this trial, I know the Lord is urging me to treat it the same way I do a painting. Take the time to consider what's there and think back to the times I've been here before.

Oh, the solution isn't in my power, as it is when I'm painting, but the way to arrive at a peaceful place is exactly the same. Don't try to scrub out the offending parts. Don't massage the places that are working as a means of distraction. Stop. Take time to consider what has worked before...or in this case, WHO has worked before. I can't tell you how many times the Lord has proved Himself to me, providing exactly what I need at the perfect time. And I have some powerful promises for the future from Him, too. The past looks good. The future looks better.

So this time is no different. I'm drawn to Peter's advice. "There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world."

He's the Artist. I choose to trust Him for the outcome. Thanks for your prayers!

Oh--and don't scrub out that offending part of your painting so fast. Take time, think it through. That way, when you find the solution, you have something you can really rely on for the future.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Should the Yellow Brag...?

I sit down each morning to study the Bible. It's a time of quiet communion with the Lord Jesus. Most mornings I smile and pray and get on with my work, whether it's cleaning up the kitchen and making the bed, or planning a class and writing my book. But today...well, today was a show stopper.

Today I studied Romans 15:17-18. Naturally I had to look at this in context, so I can't say it was just those verses, but that's where it started. It reads:

Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me...

The writer, the apostle Paul, is pointing out that he can only brag about what Jesus has done through him, not about what he has done for God. That emphasis really got my attention.

It's not about my service, not even if what I'm doing is right or good or important or holy. It's not about my success as an artist, not about how I serve at church, not about my home--not about MY anything. I'm merely the tool Jesus uses sometimes to do things.

I thought about the pastels I use. They're tools that I pick up to make a painting. I have a lot of pastels, each one a slightly different color. I love every one of those colors! They make the painting--but just because I love them and used them to make it, do they have bragging rights?

Would it be right for that yellow on the wall to say, "Look! I'm the perfect color for a wall in sunlight. Deborah used me to do that. It's a privilege"? No, it has no right to brag about the painting. It didn't make it. In fact, it could really only understand the little part it plays, not the total painting.

I know the metaphor is a bit inept and breaks down, but it helped me to see that I need to do what Christ empowers me to do and not become focused on my little part in it. I love my work. I enjoy being an artist, taking care of my home, serving my church. But what brings me to my knees is what Jesus has done in my home, at my church, and through my work.

I love painting and teaching art, and if some of you are finding some enjoyment in the paintings or learning a few things, that's just great. Please enjoy and learn. But please also know that the lesson and the joy itself has come from Jesus. I can't take credit for that. It would be like the yellow bragging about the sunlight...