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Praise God with the Art

Another cliché. Christian writers always say they hope to praise God with their art. But some art made by Christians, frankly, doesn’t. We don’t agree on which is which. It’s such a difficult thing to tell what God is pleased by, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s not really.

Does the question come down to who knows God better? Or is it more a question of ourselves? Do you know what praising God with your art means for yourself, sitting at a keyboard in a dark room, full of voices no one else can hear?

Are you sure what you’re creating praises God? Is there some secret to it, praising with art?

One of my favorites, Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia), wrote that “you write the story as well and as truthfully as you can because that’s how you glorify God.” You can only be who God made you to be. You can only write what God gave you to write. You can only say what the world and human nature give you to say. You write as well and as truthfully as you can.

You praise in your own way. Praise God for your ability. Praise God for your opportunity. Praise him for the inspiration and the metaphor and the connections. Praise him for everything you get to do every day you wake up to a new day, with new hope, and still another chance to do something in the world. Praise him for your chance to be here, and for the love that taught you how to read, and appreciate books, and for the ones who spent the time investing in you and growing your dreams. Praise God for his influence on them and their influence on you. Praise him for your influence on others, what you have to do in the world with your voice and your choices, your own ideas about what makes the world so worthwhile.

You can praise him now with your life, and that will change your art. It will change you, praise God.

You might be skeptical. Think it won’t? Try it. It will. It will change you. And go ahead and do it for that reason if you have to, to be changed. God will change you anyway.

Just praise. Don’t think negative thoughts about stuff like this: When asked how informed Protestant ministers and laypeople see themselves in regard to 12 facets of today’s culture–books, music, sports, celebrities, television programs, politics, magazines, radio and TV talk shows, movies, the Internet, video and computer games, and clothing and fashion–a representative sample of 797 Protestant church ministers nationwide and a companion survey of 1,184 adults who attend Protestant churches at least once a month, not one of the 12 categories registered a majority of clergy or laity as very informed about culture
(study by LifeWay, one of the largest CBA store chains, of the Southern Baptist Convention).

You will find how to balance engaging with your culture and remaining set apart from it as you come to the table praising God. And it will happen, in part, because you won’t be looking at the problem of that balance directly. You’ll notice yourself interacting with the world and observing it more accurately while remaining distinct. And you’ll be more artistically relevant. You’ll portray more of the world more accurately. And you’ll find your voice.

This long-term debate among Christians about how much involvement with culture is inescapable, but it will not be a problem for you. Your involvement with culture and your observation of the world around you will be reflected in your art because you put God first. And you will find the balance, the answer for you.

And you won’t have to worry about what people think of that scene in chapter 13 that didn’t seem all that lovely. Or the protagonist’s lack of faith and susequent fall to temptation after that big, painful stuff in chapter 9. Because you’ll know that yes, that was a worshipful moment of inspiration. Flannery O’Connor says, “The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.”

You are willing. You’ve proven that already. And where you are willing, God will work. So we must praise God, in the name of Jesus the storyteller, with borrowed words and ideas. It isn’t ours to craft and shape as we will any more than it is ours to choose not to live in the world around us. We live here, as writers, making choices about how accurately we will observe. Regardless, our art will reflect us. Therefore, it is our wills we must shape to fit.

And it starts with us. So let it start with us. Praise God.

10 Responses to “Praise God with the Art”

  1. Suzan says:

    Truth and beauty, Mick. Thanks for this.

  2. As I read this, the words began to take on the cadence of a psalm. In Psalm 150, all creation is exhorted to praise God and lists all the ways we can praise God with musical instruments.
    What you’ve written here, Mick, is a writer’s psalm. Thank you.

  3. Lovely exhortation, Mick. Thank you.
    Praise is a lot like electricity. We choose to flip the switch, but what we’re tapping into has power beyond our comprehension. May we choose, and may we be forever changed by the illumination.

  4. Seek first His kingdom. I like this post because it is a reminder that we are first and foremost His children created to glorify and enjoy Him forever. As writers, that’s just how we do it.

  5. What a great post!
    This post reminds me of how Liz Curtis Higgs put things into perspective for me when she talked about the lady with the alabaster jar of perfume, how that perfume was most likely part of her work uniform, so to speak. But she gave what she had.
    I listened with new ears and saw with new eyes as Liz talked about that lady and it hit me that I am holding an alabaster jar, prostituting myself with words. I thought I had to put something on, put on some costume, be someone I wasn’t, write things that aren’t “me” to please God in this CBA environment.
    What I have are the words in my little alabaster jar and when some people look at them, it is scandalous that a prostitute like me would pour those words over Jesus, but it’s what I’ve got and what’s important to me is not who thinks I’m wrong, but that Jesus accepts my offering.

  6. Elaina says:

    Thanks, Mick. I really appreciated this so much. I think if we do the first things, first, what flows from us is exactly what it’s supposed to be. There’s this amazing beauty in simply being in His presence. I often get most of my ideas when I’m on my four mile walk every afternoon. I walk through my neighborhood to a gravel road where there’s an entrance to national forest. I’m a total sucker for dirt, trees, birds and the horses at the stables and so when I’m “out there,” it’s natural for me to revel in His glory and beauty even if no words flow from my lips.
    Before I know it, I’m usually overflowing with ideas that will eventually find themselves to paper. Of course some would dispute that what I write isn’t really all that Christian — it doesn’t follow their random rules. But I write what I must and it flows from my relationship with Him regardless of what some would say about that. I don’t walk to write. I walk because it’s a necessary part of my day — a necessary communion with Him. Whatever comes out of that is bonus.
    Michelle . . . thank you for sharing your observations as well. The alabaster jar, is to me, one of the most exquisite examples of worship and love for Jesus in the Bible. What an awesome example. She didn’t filter her offering through what those around would say her gift should be.

  7. Freedom is a beautiful thing, and art is never about compromise.
    Freedom is understanding who we are in Him. If He is all things to all people and He is in each of us, then doesn’t it follow that He has uniquely gifted each of us to reach different groups of people that are as many and varied as He is?
    True unity begins with understanding and ends with love.
    May we each discover ourselves in the midst of Him and fulfill only 100% of the call on our lives to faithfully steward that which we’ve been given.

  8. Meg Moseley says:

    Sometimes, writing just feels like work. Or a battle. Thanks for reminding me that it’s a love song, too.

  9. BJ Hamrick says:

    Thanks, Mick.

  10. Jen Mc. says:

    Listen to this!
    A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 1948:
    “Christian literature, to be accepted and approved by evangelical leaders of our times, must follow very closely the same train of thought, a kind of ‘party line’ from which it is scarcely safe to depart. A half-century of this in America has made us smug and content. We imitate each other with slavish devotion. Our most strenuous efforts are put forth to try to say the same thing that everyone around us is saying- and yet to find an excuse for saying it, some little safe variation on the approved theme or, if no more, at least a new illustration.”
    That was part two. Here, in parts one and three, the paragraphs before and after, a most perfect example of the soul that escapes the party line entrapment of Christian literature.
    “Nicholas of Cusa wrote four hundred years ago:
    ‘When all my endeavour is turned toward Thee because all Thy endeavour is turned toward me; when I look unto Thee alone with all my attention, nor ever turn aside the eyes of my mind, because Thou dost enfold me with Thy constant regard; when I direct my love toward Thee alone because Thou, who art Love’s self hast turned Thee toward me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Thy delightsome sweetness doth so lovingly enfold me?'”
    “Life eternal, says Nicholas, is ‘nought other than that blessed regard wherewith Thou never ceasest to behold me, yea, even the secret places of my soul. With Thee, to behold is to give life; ’tis unceasingly to impart sweeetest love of Thee; ’tis to inflame me to love of Thee by love’s imparting, and to feed me by inflaming, and by feeding to kindle my yearning, and by kindling to make me drink of the dew of gladness, and by drinking to infuse in me a fountain of life, and by infusing to make it increase and endure.'”

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