“Ready… Set… GOAT!!!” My nine year old laughed hysterically watching Nana’s false start to an impromptu family game of Birthday Limbo. (Apparently, this version came with equally impromptu rules.) There were several other false starts accompanied with bursts of laughter and good humored grandparents.
That’s what this post has felt like trying to write – many false starts. Thank you for your patience as you’ve waited to read this final installment of The Art of Living mini series nestled within the Nourish series (and the final installment of the Nourish series!). If you’re not sure what the Nourish series is all about, head over here to read the Intro. I’d also encourage you to read Part 1 and Part 2 of The Art of Living, if you haven’t already. May you be greatly encouraged!
The Art of Living – Part 3
We bought an art journal for our daughter once. Every single page was covered in thick black – apparently useless, if not for the wooden instrument that came with it. The fun of the activity was scratching off the black paint to reveal the brilliance underneath. Each page a surprise – some had metallic sheen, some were glittery, and some were a rainbow of colors.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)
God chose a wooden instrument to permanently scrape the thick black off any willing soul.
The interesting thing I see in this verse and others – Romans is chock full of awesomeness, for example –is that while it’s true that being made right with God is a once and done deal, it’s equally true that afterward we undergo a lifelong process of becoming who we already are.
Books abound on this subject, but for our purposes I just want to point out we don’t work to make God love us – we work to understand the love God already has for us. We aren’t working to earn the gift; we’re working to unwrap it.We don’t work to make God love us – we work to understand the love God already has for us. We aren’t working to earn the gift; we’re working to unwrap it. Click To Tweet
Unwrapping the gift looks like glorifying God and enjoying Him forever by apprenticing ourselves to the Master Artist.
But before we can apprentice ourselves to the Master Artist, we need to have some vision of where He’s going. Or, for starters, a clear vision of where He’s not going.
Where We’re NOT Going
My sin mars the underpainting of God’s holiness and goodness in my life. Left black, the art of my life only communicates the ugliness of sin.
If I mistake grace for permission to continue splashing the black of sin across the canvas of my life, then I’ve misunderstood or forgotten what grace is.
Why would I want to destroy a work of art God is currently restoring? An apprentice doesn’t destroy the work he’s seeking to emulate.
“…Grace leaves us obligated to deal rigorously with the sin that grace addresses. If God was so serious about sin that he sacrificed his own Son and filled us with his own Spirit, how can we be any less serious about our sins…?” p.216 Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp
As an apprentice to the Master Artist, I can know that His vision for the art of living will never be to add or tolerate the black of sin in my life.
There is No Higher Joy
So where we ARE going may initially look counterintuitive. Don’t panic, and don’t pull an Eeyore. Remember the art journal.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
What does that even mean to take up my cross? I thought this was the art of LIVING not dying!
I like the way the Billy Graham website answered this question. You can read the full answer here, but the gist was that it means we put to death our plans and desires, daily, and live by God’s because there is no higher joy.
The art of living well is the art of dying to ourselves for the purpose of living for God. “Ok, God, I’ll do things Your way.” Living for God ultimately brings joy – a deep down, indestructible kind – because God IS joy.
How Badly Do I Want It?
C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory said this:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
And that’s the game-changer.
It’s not so much that it’s going to hurt like heck to follow God. It’s more like I don’t have a clue what infinite joy looks like.
The motivating factor in all this scratch-and-etch surrender is the brilliance and beauty God will reveal and the joy He will give.
If we have to experience pain on this earth anyway, why not let it be the skillful scrapes of the Master Artist?
It was for the joy set before him that Jesus was willing to go to the cross for me. He saw the finished art I can only dream of.
Like Father, Like Son-follower
Grace is, among other things, the privilege of becoming more like my heavenly Father. Like Father, like Son-follower.
And this is how I make art in tandem with God – living life His way. Letting the One who etched me into the palm of His hand scratch away anything that mars the beauty He wants to reveal in me.
It is a privilege to be an apprentice to the Master Artist. God transforms our lives into art beyond our imagination when we follow Him. Obedience might be the most painful daily decision we ever make. But it’s the pain of healing.
After a conversation with a good friend recently, it prompted the thought that some of the pain of “losing my life” is simply in losing my desire to look like I don’t need help when I clearly do. At some point, we all need help. Some of the pain of “losing my life” is receiving His. When Jesus freely offers what I need, it takes more humility to accept it than to play the martyr.
Jesus gladly sacrificed Himself for you already. He’s got you if you’re willing to be gotten.
After looking at my mess trying to pose as art, Brittany had two words: “Try again.” Not to earn God’s love but to unwrap it. To experience the joy set before me.
We try again, because, as apprentices to the Master Artist, we’re instructed to take up the wooden instrument that will reveal beauty in our lives. We take it up, but it’s His hand around ours that does the work, like a parent guiding a toddler’s grip on a crayon.
May we continue honing the art of living by apprenticing ourselves to the Master Artist.