Is the act of creating art self-indulgent or is it a calling? This is the heart cry of every Christian artist. I’ve been asked this question many times and in different ways over the years.
Is being an artist a frivolous endeavor in a troubled world? Are we selfishly dabbling in the temporal when we ought to be far more concerned with the eternal? How should Christian artists view the pursuit of art? These are questions I’ve struggled with.
Self-indulgence is described in the dictionary as “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own desires.” This definition gives an interesting clue to our ambivalent emotions about art making.
As artists, I’m sure that you’d agree that creating art in any form is immensely gratifying. Who has not felt a deep sense of satisfaction when painting, sculpting or engaging in any creative activity? It makes us happy. So could becoming excessively happy be a problem? I doubt it. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, so it's hardly likely that Jesus would frown on our happy pursuit of art!
But how about the “excessive or unrestrained gratification of our own desires”? That is a different issue altogether.
If you've not surrendered your will to Him, that could certainly be a problem. When I made Jesus the Lord of my life, He became the Lord of my loves as well.
If you haven’t yet deliberately made that decision, now is as good a time as any to do so. Over time His desires will become your desires. I seek to please Him first and you will too.
The Greek word used in the verse above for “lose” actually means “destroy!” Yet turning our lives over to Him is to receive it back renewed, refreshed and stunningly beautiful. Losing our lives is far from a sad or diminishing proposition. It’s the opposite.
Instead of experiencing loss, Jesus enriches our yielded lives in ways that are indescribable. However, its surprising rewards are not experienced if our surrender is half-hardhearted or only partial. I trust that you will surrender completely so that you too can share the joys of a transformed life.
In this new and different life, the making of art is a sacred calling as opposed to self-indulgence. It is entered into sincerely and with every resource available, the common and the precious.
I'm reminded of the woman with the alabaster jar of costly perfume. You can read the accounts in Mat 26, Mar 14 and Luke 14. She lavished on Jesus what was precious to her. It was a genuine response to His call of love and forgiveness. Her gratitude found expression in an exquisitely beautiful action; she broke her jar of perfume and poured it out in worship.
Did she spend her savings on the expensive perfume in the hope of using it on her wedding day? What plans had she for her perfume before she met Jesus? We can only guess.
It's curious that someone in her profession saved up to own such a costly fragrance. Perhaps, despite her disappointments, she still dreamed of someday smelling sweet to someone who found her special.
Were her secret hopes contained in that jar of perfume, that was broken and poured out in reverent worship?
What is most poignant in this account is Jesus’ response to her offering.
" She has done a beautiful thing to me." Mat 26:10
He commended the beauty of her offering!
As artists who study beauty, yearn for it, train in it and strive to create it, this is instructive!
It should be noted that such a sacrifice, which was beautiful in Jesus' eyes, attracted scorn, contempt and indignation from everyone else watching.
The total surrender to Jesus of our creativity, and our hopes and aspirations for it, will most likely provoke the same response in a world that sees other more practical reasons for its use.
Join me in disregarding their opinions as she did, keeping our eyes only on Jesus and seeking His approval. He made certain that her offering was not in vain; she is still being held up as an example over two thousand years later!
What plans did you have for your art before Jesus called you to Himself?
Will you now turn those over to Him?
Will you lavish that which is dearest to you— your resources, time, energy and those secret places of your vulnerability to Jesus?
Responding to His call leaves self-indulgence behind in the dust.
It should cost you your all for it to be a fragrant offering.
Only then is it a “beautiful thing” to Him. Only then will you truly discover your calling.