Monday, February 3, 2020

Masterpieces of Our Own Making

Works of art, such as these statues and the architecture in St. Mark's Square
in Venice, Italy, are not just the result of artistry, but also devotion to God.
Have you ever stood in front of a painting and just marveled? It might not even be a world-famous masterpiece, just some artwork an amateur painter created. But there’s something about it that captures your eye.

Or maybe it’s a musical performance that lifts your spirits and makes you smile, leaving you humming the tune long after the presentation has ended. Again, it might not involve a world-class musician, and yet it sparkles, deeply touching the spirits of those listening.

What is it about the painting or the music that evokes an inner thrill, while another might do nothing more than cause its audience to respond with a collective ho-hum?

Perhaps John Ruskin had it figured out. A writer, painter and art critic in the 19th century’s Victorian era, Ruskin said, “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”

If someone insisted that I build a birdhouse, for whatever reason, I might manage to fashion something vaguely resembling a birdhouse. But it wouldn’t be anything about which even the kindest person in the world could find any nice words. Because first of all, my mechanical ability on a scale of 1-10 is a minus-3. But also, the task of constructing a birdhouse is something I would detest, not love.

But if one of our little grandkids were to do a little art project at school for Grandma and Pop, even with limited skill, it would be a masterpiece because it was made out of a heart filled with love.

One of my favorite hymns is “It Is Well With My Soul,” composed in 1873 by Horatio Spafford after his four daughters perished when the passenger ship on which they were sailing, Ville du Havre, collided with another vessel and sank into the icy Atlantic Ocean. The hymn’s first verse begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrow, like sea billows roll.” It is concludes with the refrain, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How could this hymn – which lacks the upbeat rhythms of today’s praise music – remain a favorite today, even a masterpiece, nearly 150 years later? I suspect it’s because, as Ruskin stated, love and skill were working together as the grieving father clung to his faith, devotion to a sovereign God who works all things together according to His perfect purpose (Romans 8:28). Even when we don’t understand why.

However, that pales in comparison to the wonders we see everywhere by the Lord Himself, starting with the first acts of creation described in the opening chapters of Genesis – light, the universe, the earth, living creatures of all kinds, and finally, mankind. After each stage of His creative work, God declared it was very good. Love and skill working together, creating an unimaginable masterpiece.

And it continues to this day. As the psalmist writes in words that could apply to every one of us, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14). Whether it’s a glorious sunrise or sunset, a delicate flower, or a wonderful newly born baby, there is no limit to masterpieces the Lord continues to create.

Because of this, we have the wonderful privilege of joining in what God is doing, serving as His “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). The Lord has entrusted each of us with skills and spiritual gifts, to be used in bringing honor and glory to Him and also for serving others. Motivated by love for our Savior, we can utilize our skills to create works that He will no doubt appraise as masterpieces.

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