There are some who seem to be particularly gifted with the ability to mull over numbers and facts for hours on end. There are those who are gifted to be teachers, nurses, and secretaries — those who keep the world going ‘round. And then…there are some, like myself, who are captured by beauty and remain simply unable to look away. Beauty tugs at our heart strings and causes us to forget the realities of this world and the things that are needed to make it run, as we find ourselves lost in the pursuit of capturing it. Some of us use paintbrushes, and some – pencil, charcoal, ink. Some delight in using the modern technology within our cameras to capture beauty…and some are content to sit with only their imagination as the limit of what they can capture.
I’ve always liked to think of this pursuit as being especially close to the heart of God, the Artist Who paints every sunset in the sky, and captures every sparkle on the water just so. God has put into us a little of His own Being…and that, I believe, is where we get our love of creating beauty!
However, the devil never rests at his job of corrupting every good gift from God…and in this current society I see it more starkly displayed than perhaps has ever been seen on earth before. Skulls are entwined with flowers and bows on every hoodie in the mall. Sculptures in every park look like chunks of metal that fell off a spaceship and got embedded into the ground. Paintings consist of random splatters and drips…or people who are garishly disproportionate…or inappropriate. And so many dark, depressing works of “art” that just make your skin crawl – many of which include hellish faces leering at you as you walk by. That’s what happens when God isn’t welcome. All true creativity, sweetness, and beauty is lost. Without instruction from the Master Designer, we can only create empty forms of beautiful things…and they will be lacking all of the vibrancy and life that made them worthy of capturing in the first place! And every “art gathering” is simply an expo of New Age, magic, death, pride, lust, and all KINDS of terrible things. NOT exactly what our hearts are longing for.
So, how can we make the best use of our art? How can our art most glorify the Creator of art — the King of the Universe? How can our art stand out like a beacon of light in the midst of the dark, dank “art cave” of this world? How can we truly capture God’s heart in our art?
1.) Capture innocence.
The sparkle in a child’s eyes. The frisking of a puppy. The gentleness of the world cloaked in snowy wonder. The delicate curve of a flower’s soft petals. These things are all full of an innocence that the world overlooks, and has forgotten how to appreciate. The world needs bold colors, elements that grate against each-other in an irritating way, and disturbing images to capture our media-deadened minds, so that we’ll take notice. But God’s ways take us back to child-like innocence and purity…and the ability to take delight in the gentle and sweet things that He has created; these are the sort of things that come from His heart! Everything He does blends perfectly, and He always highlights just the right parts to cause our eyes to marvel at the beauty. He does not create anything ugly, or perverse, or even irritating to our eyes and our sense of proportion and beauty. If you are going to make art, imitate our good God in this: capture innocence.
2.) Capture light, virtue, and beauty.
God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all [1 John 1:5]. The moody, depressing paintings of the world ooze with darkness and despair. They exalt perverseness and immorality, and the twisting of beauty into something that echoes the chaos of their hearts. This is not art to be praised! This is simply a window into the hearts of men without God, no matter how fine the brush-strokes, or how perfect the hues. These “artists” are to be pitied, and prayed for…but not emulated! No! Do not desire to be like these, however popular or praised they may be. To capture God’s heart, and draw hearts to Him through our art, it must be bursting with light, celebrating virtue, and full of the delight of true beauty – which can be found in all the things that God has created. In order to truly capture God’s heart in these things, though, we must actually have a close friendship with Him ourselves, first and foremost. In order to see what He sees, and capture things in just the right way that brings glory to Him and causes people’s hearts to rejoice, we must truly KNOW Him, and be close to His heart. Anyone who does not know God, cannot capture things through His eyes, and cannot see the beauty that only His children can see.
And, one tip I have been coming to understand about what sets a good painting or drawing or photo apart from the rest is always significantly about the lighting in the picture. So, I recommend, if you want to be able to capture the beauty you see, or the sweet things in your imagination — study light. Study the way it dances through the trees, and sparkles on the ripples in the river, and gives depth to scenes that would otherwise be flat and boring. Note how it causes a face to glow, and how it gives petals an inner radiance.
3.) Capture truth.
While drawing fantasy worlds may be fun, or relaxing, it is most likely never going to save a soul. Focus, instead, on what is true. And…what is truth? God is truth. Salvation is truth. Repentance and forgiveness are truth. Fighting to hold onto salvation is truth. Our heavenly reward is truth. Though this kind of art may not be for everyone, I have found some of the most compelling art I have ever seen to be that which captures the spiritual truths that give us a heavenly window into spiritual realities that we can’t always see, but know to be true. I think an excellent example of this is Ron DiCianni. His paintings are all beautiful depictions of a Christian’s life, and glimpses into heaven. I think perhaps my favorite is one he calls, “Safely Home”, which depicts a Christian martyr just arriving in the presence of the Lord, finally free of his chains, and held in His Savior’s comforting embrace, as an angel waits to give him his new and shining white robes. So much emotion is captured in this one scene, and it is one that causes your own heart to long to be faithful unto death — to “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown”. [Revelation 3:11].
4.) Capture Heaven.
Jesus dwells in Heaven. It is a very real world, full of light and beauty and free from the effects of sin and death. If you can give people a glimpse into heaven with your art, not only will their hearts be compelled to rejoice, but there will be an inner longing that is awakened in their hearts that may very well lead them to the Savior Himself. I can’t necessarily dictate to you all that this means for your art, and it very much ties in with my previous points…but if you prayerfully make this your goal in all that you do, you will find your art take on a new depth and life.
5.) Selfless art.
Perhaps the highest call for art is, in fact, using it to bless others. You may think that it’s not worth it to spend days or weeks on a painting just to give it away to one person. But the act of giving something so full of care and effort away for the eyes of the receiver alone is an act of the greatest humility and selflessness. Not expecting any praise or acclaim or gain, but just giving to make someone smile. I have personally found that I prefer this kind of art over every other; just seeking the Lord for His ideas for a picture for someone, often with a verse to go with it, that will really minister to their hearts in exactly the ways that HE knows they need. When I seek God for His thoughts and ideas, and His help to draw/paint/take pictures that are sweet and full of His love, I am never disappointed at the way He uses it to speak to the hearts of the receivers in a special way — and that is the greatest reward!
6.) Surrendered art.
Here I come to a most difficult point, but in it is found the greatest reward! If you think there is any chance for God to use your life to reach other with the gospel; if you want to serve God, and see lives changed…don’t look to your art, and don’t hold too fast to your own notions of what you want to do with your “gift”. There are so many thousands and millions of desperately hurting, lost, and dying people in this world who need Jesus, that if there is any potential that God could use you in the harvest, there really can’t be any time wasted on seeking after art for art’s sake. One painting, one drawing can take days and weeks to complete. And there just isn’t any way to justify the loss of that much time. Jesus is returning soon, and every moment we spend in seeking our own interests is a moment that we aren’t reaching out and rescuing another soul for eternity. We can try to justify our art as a “tool” for the gospel, and as long as it truly is, I think God will bless it. But how much of it is simply seeking our own idea of what we want to do, and what we find delightful and “fun”? Honestly, there is just no time to waste on art that doesn’t directly call people to seek the Lord. God has really made this clear to my heart. I had thought that I might like to go to art school as I was considering after-highschool options…and even after I decided against college, I still held onto art as something that I desired to excel in and be known for. But then, God did something special. He called me to serve Him full-time instead, both in directly sharing Him with people all across North America, and in simply making the best use of my time, and making sure that everything I use my time for is with the goal of expanding the Kingdom of God. He has asked me to lay aside my desires to build my life on art, and instead, to desire to seek and save the lost. It is interesting, because sometimes He will give me something to do that involves art…whether illustrating a book, or doing photography for someone, or making a drawing or painting to bless someone with…and instead of it being me seeking my own pleasure or acclaim, it is just a part of my obedience to Him and His call on my life, and is filled with almost the same joy as leading a soul to Him directly. Sacrificing our art for the sake of seeing lost souls come to salvation is a sacrifice that is well-pleasing to God, and He will cause it to be like fertilizer for the seeds that are planted in people’s lives to spring up and flourish!
One encouraging example of this area of surrender, one that encouraged me to release my grip on “my art”, is Rosalind Goforth, who, with her husband Jonathan, was a missionary to China starting in the late 1800’s. God granted them the answer of their prayer of reaching 10,000 souls with the gospel. Rosalind was a talented young artist from a well-to-do, prominent family in England. Her days from youngest childhood were largely spent beside her artist father’s easel, who strongly desired that she would be an artist, and saw in her a natural talent. At age 12, after hearing a preacher speak at a revival meeting, Rosalind gave her heart to the Lord. She said, “From that time, and increasingly as the years passed, there seemed to be two elements contesting within me, one for art, the other — an intense longing to serve the Master to whom I had given myself.” Rosalind did, in fact, end up graduating from the Toronto School of Art, and was preparing to leave for London to complete her studies in art abroad when God changed her course. In Rosalind’s own words,
“The autumn of 1882 found us again settled in Toronto, when I at once entered the Art School. The period of three years that followed was a period of great unrest in my life. While I loved my art, for it was born in me, yet there was always the inner, secret longing for definite Christian service. I came to pray daily that a door might be opened for such.
Mother and my eldest brother, Fred, had given Father their solemn promise that I would be sent to England for training in the Kensington School of Art. In view of this promise, Mother’s later action may be better and more sympathetically understood.
Little did I dream as we entered the year 1885 how completely the course of my life, as then planned, was to change before the year ran out. Graduation from the art school was to come in May, when a coveted gold medal was to be presented by the Governor General of Canada. One pupil, Miss X, and myself were so far ahead of the others in the class, it was a foregone conclusion that one of us would get the medal. There is little doubt had I won it I would have been so elated the artist career would certainly have followed. But GOD planned otherwise.
Early in February, I was taken ill with inflammatory rheumatism. This was the third serious attack. For days my life hung in the balance. I was only half conscious and unable to move or be moved. Every joint in my body seemed on fire. Some weeks before, I had memorized the hymn, the first verse of which is:
How sweet the name of JESUS sounds
In a believer’s ear;
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fears.
Words fail me to describe what that hymn meant to me through those days of agony. The words, fresh in mind, came without effort. While at times the whole six verses would come as soothing balm, it was the message of the first two lines of the last verse that brought to me the irresistible call to service. The words,
I would thy boundless love proclaim
With every fleeting breath
seemed burned into my soul. I came out of that valley of suffering determined to pry myself loose from the things that were forcing me to follow other than the path of Christian service.
It was then I began to pray that if the Lord wanted me to live the married life, he would lead to me one wholly given up to Him and to His service. I wanted no other.
Graduation time came, and while I was able to attend, I, of course, failed to win the gold medal, which was awarded to Miss X.
Preparations had begun for my going to England, for I had told no one, not even my mother, of my spiritual struggles and secret hopes, believing it was better to leave the Lord to work out all in His own way. Then, in a truly marvelous way, He brought into my life just what I had asked for, a man wholly yielded to GOD and His service.”
That, of course, being Mr. Jonathan Goforth. And Rosalind tells the remarkable story in his biography and a few other of her written works.
“On looking back upon that time, the greatest wonder seems to be the rapidity with which events took place: the meeting with Mr. O’Brien at St. Peter’s; a few days later his invitation to the workers’ meeting of the Toronto Mission Union; the introduction of ‘Jonathan Goforth, our city missionary’; and a few days later the never-to-be-forgotten incident of examining the worn Bible. At that meeting, though the first I had attended, my name was included in the committee appointed to find a place and open a branch mission in the east end slums. Mr. Henry O’Brien was chairman, while Jonathan Goforth was also included on the committee. Thus we were coworkers from the beginning.
The two years given to work in the East End slums, was of the greatest possible value in gaining experience which gave me a realization of my own personal responsibility towards my unsaved sisters. Of course, by this time, art had practically dropped out of my life, and in its place had come a deep desire to be a worthy life-partner of one so wholly yielded to his Divine Master, as I knew Jonathan Goforth to be.
A painting by Rosalind’s brother, Fred, showing the level of talent she gave up to serve the Lord.
To my great surprise, Mother’s reaction to this slum work was most sympathetic. For weeks all went well. Then one day, as if uneasy, she expressed a wish for Mr. Goforth to come for supper Sunday evening. He came and Mother liked him; but that evening when I returned from the mission, Mother looked straight at me in a strange way and said, ‘Rosie, was the moon out tonight?’ Everyone in the room had his eyes on me, and my embarrassment was more than I could bear, for I had to acknowledge, as I fled, that I did not know! (Jonathan Goforth had accompanied me home.)
The next morning, Mother came to me and said sternly, ‘This slum work is to cease at once. You are to get ready and leave for England without delay!’ I replied quietly, but firmly, ‘Mother, it is too late; I promised Jonathan Goforth last night to be his wife and to go to China!’
Poor Mother! She almost fainted! It is not necessary to give the details of the week that followed. Suffice it to say, Mother gave me the choice of obeying Father’s dying wish or leaving home. For six weeks, I stayed with a brother in a distant city.
Then came a letter from my sister pleading with me to return, as Mother was sobbing day and night and seemed failing fast.
On reaching home, I was shocked at the change in Mother. She would not speak to me and seemed broken-hearted. My distress was now very great. Could it be GOD’s will for me to break my Mother’s heart? At last, one day, as I listened to her pacing her bedroom floor, weeping, I could stand the strain no longer and determined to find out GOD’s will so plainly I could make no mistake. Going down to the parlor, where the large family Bible rested on a small davenport or desk, I stood for a moment crying to the Lord for some word of light. Then I opened the Bible at random, and the first words my eyes lit on were:
“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and
bring forth fruit” (John 15:16).
I knew at once GOD was speaking His will to me through these words, and in an instant the crushing burden was gone. Running to Mother’s room, I begged her to hear what I had to say.
Unwillingly, she unlocked the door and stood while I told her of my prayer and answer. For a moment only she hesitated, then with a cry I could never forget, she threw her arms about me, saying, ‘O my child, I can fight against you, but I dare not fight against GOD.’ From that moment till her death eighteen months later, Mother’s heart was entirely with me in the life I had chosen.”
So, as you can see from this example, it may be a difficult thing to surrender your art to the Lord – and there may even be those who can’t understand why you would set aside such “talent”. But I know that Jesus has said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37 ESV) And I hold fast to this hope and assurance — that anything I give up in this life will be my greatest gain in the life to come.
So whether in taking up your art as a tool to spread the love of Christ, or laying it down as a sweet offering before the throne of God, do it all for the glory of God.
And may I also give a fair warning to those of you who are considering going to college for art? Be very careful and prayer-full. You might actually do better to pray and study under God’s guidance – with Him as your teacher, than to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to go to a school where they can’t actually help you. Many of the art programs are so yucky, and with many teachers so full of the darkness of the world, that you couldn’t actually learn to make beautiful art there. They cannot teach what they do not know. Additionally, most art programs today are full of immense wickedness, and sin is celebrated and encouraged! It is a sad reality, but you don’t have to be discouraged, because God is the best teacher in these things that you could ever have! Seek Him, and you will not be disappointed!