Posts Tagged ‘heart of the artist’

I’m reading through Rory Noland’s classic book Heart of the Artist again, specifically the chapter on the artist and sin. This is something every one of us creative types needs to grab a hold of. You see as creatives, our stock in trade is our imagination. It allows us to see what others cannot see. It allows us to conceive of things that do not yet exist. Next to God, imagination is everything. The thing is, imagination can also really mess us up.

From fantasizing things that take our thought life to places they should never go, to imagined slights and arguments and worries and fears, imagination can be our second worst enemy. It can create battles and conflict and fears and even trauma that exist nowhere but our minds. The danger of course is when we fail to separate the imagination from what is real and we start to do what creatives do best, bring imagination to reality. To be sure imagination can be misused and most of us are susceptible to this misuse.

How can we avoid this? We guard our hearts and we take our thoughts captive as Scripture says. At the first sign of a negative imagination, we need to look at that thought and recognize if for what it is, an attack. We need to say that never happened, it’s all in my mind and then we need to repent. “Repent?” you say, “but I haven’t done anything.” You’re right, you haven’t… yet. It’s not sin to have the thought, the sin comes when we begin to entertain it. Make no mistake about it. The enemy knows imagination is the “super-power” of every creative, and he wants nothing more than to corrupt it. So when (not if) negative imaginations come, the best thing we can do is hand them over to the Lord, right away.

Let’s use our imaginations in sanctified ways and throw everything else out. Anything not helpful is not worthy of the amazing gift God has given us.

Hi everyone,
Maybe it’s me, but I doubt it. I am looking at making a transition to a new role. I will give more on this at a later date, and have no fear my creative arts ministry and this website will be continuing regardless, but the new role will be more leadership than artistry. While I am thrilled and excited there is always this little part of me that wonders how well I will do at being both leader and artist. God’s providence and timing are absolutely uncanny as this morning while going through Rory Noland’s classic, Heart of the Artist, he wrote about experiencing the same struggle. As music director of one of the nations most influential churches he found himself in a struggle, making him ask the question should he quit leadership and be a full time artist, or quit his art and be a full time leader. God told him what I believe He is telling me and maybe you. He wants unto be both.

Here are excerpts from the chapter…
“Be a Full-Time Artist
1 Timothy 4:14 says, “Do not neglect your gift.” Don’t give up on your art. Don’t neglect your talent. Don’t worry about whether you’re talented enough. That’s not the point. Whether your gift attracts large crowds or no crowds at all, it’s not to be neglected. Be a full-time artist…”

“Be a Full-Time Leader
We desperately need leadership in church programming ministries these days. I see a lot of artists sharing back from leadership because they don’t see themselves to be the leader type. We may not fit the stereotype of the leader who runs a business or heads a company, but God hasn’t called us to lead a business, He’s called us to lead artists. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best person to lead artists is someone who’s an artist. Some of you are holding back from taking strong leadership because you’re waiting for someone else to come along and tell you it’s okay. Don’t wait for the pastor or someone else you respect to say, “You’re good at this. Do it.” Don’t wait for someone else to empower you. If you’ve been called to lead, Jesus hs given you the authority to lead. Stop waiting for someone else to validate you.”

Now of course the last part of this assumes you are in a leadership role in your church, but if you’re not, gather a group of creatives and work together. Create on your own and work toward getting your work to where it needs to be. Some will create for the church, others will create beyond the walls but if God is calling you to lead, start leading and as you lead, pray. If God has called, He will open the doors.

You can be both an artist and a leader. As a matter of fact, we need all the leaders we can get, because I am convinced that arts ministry is a move of God and Noland is right, the best person to lead artists is an artist.

Maybe it’s time to take the lead.

I am re-reading the quintessential art ministry book, Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland and he lays out a truth here that we all need to grab a hold of. If you have not yet read this book, grab it and read it. It’s fantastic.

“You are tremendously free, you are the most free, for you have a form on which to build your freedom, you know who you are, you know where your talent comes from, you know that you and your talent will live forever. You know that God has placed worth on you; you know creativity, unlike so many things in this fallen world, did not come from the fall, but was something there with God before He created, with him when he created and that he has given to man as His creature. It will be there in the new heavens and the new earth. Your creative talent, exercised and worked on in this life, is something you will take with you. Unlike money or Spiritual slogans, it is eternal.”

I guess you could say your gift of creativity is a gift of God that will keep on giving forever. What should we do with it?

“Produce, produce, produce. Create, create, create. Work, work, work. This is what we must do as Christians in the arts with or without the support of the church, we are to exercise our God-given talent, praise him through it, enjoy it, bear fruit in the age in which we live.”

This is true wisdom. Take it to heart.

(c) Balliol College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Balliol College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Temple was the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury, of the Church of England. He was a theologian and scholar and his definition of worship is one of the best I have ever seen. People seem to assume that worship is music, it isn’t. Music is a tool used in worship. It is an element of worship and it can be used to draw us into worship. I spend so much time calling this out, not because I dislike music. I love music, but I have seen so many churches splinter over style of worship and specifically style of music, that I feel the need to call this out. Worship is not about our preferences, it’s for an audience of One. Worship is for God. Yes it draws us to God. Yes there are styles that we enjoy more than others, but we should never let what we do for God to divide us. That strips away all the Worship in it and I believe breaks the heart of God. Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” There’s no room for worship wars in that.

Instead, we should see worship as Temple defined it. I broke it down into bullet points to help us absorb it.

  • Worship is the submission of all nature to God.
  • It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness;
  • the nourishment of mind with His truth;
  • the purifying of imagination by his holiness;
  • the opening of the heart to His love;
  • the surrender of will to His purpose—
  • and all of this gathered up in adoration,
  • the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable,
  • and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

Did you notice the final element of that related to self-centeredness? Demanding our preferences would qualify. Instead let’s return our focus to the true object of our worship. Matt Redman wrote a song called Heart of Worship about this very thing. Here is the background of the song.

By the way, this definition came from my reading of Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland

There once was an old patron of the arts who was leaving town for a while, so he gathered his little colony of artists together for a going away party. To one artist he gave five talents, to another he issued two talents, and to yet another he entrusted one talent. After they drove their benefactor to the airport, the artists all went their separate ways (as artists often do) Several months later, the old patron returned, all rested and suntanned. The artist who was given five talents eagerly met him at the gate. “Master, you entrusted me with five talents and look, I’ve gained five more talents,” he enthused.

“Well done,” said the patron. “I am full of joy. You were faithful and I will give you even more.”

The artist who was given two talents ran down the concourse shouting, “Master, you entrusted me with two talents, and look, I’ve gained two more talents.”

“Well done,” said the old man. “I am full of overjoyed. You were faithful and I will give you even more.”

The artist who was given one talent was waiting by the baggage claim. “Master,” he sheepishly started, “I didn’t want you to get mad at me. I’m pretty sensitive, you know, and I don’t handle rejection very well, and it’s so had being an artist in this cold, cruel world. I wasn’t really good enough to make it big-time, because you only gave me one talent, so I didn’t do anything with my talent. I hid it. Here, you can have it back.” The artist opened his hand and looked straight down at his shoes. The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.

The old man was silent. The he responded in a soft voice, “My dear friend, you have squandered a fortune. I gave you something that was meant to be used. The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.”

The previous story is Rory Noland’s adaptation of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) from his book, Heart of the Artist. When I read this, I knew I had to share it because it speaks to something I have noticed in many people, especially creatives. There is a very real temptation in us to compare ourselves with others, find ourselves lacking and give up. If we can’t be the best in the world, we don’t want to do anything. This is crazy. First of all there can only be one person who is best in the world at any given thing. Should the rest of us just give up? NO! Well, maybe, okay, yes, there is something we all need to give up. We need to give up comparing and start being faithful with what is in our hands. The very valuable gifts and talents God has given us. There are His tools for building His Kingdom and He has placed them in our hands. He’s not asking you to be the best in the world. He’s asking you to do the best you can.

At the end of the day, there is one thing that each of us can be the best in the world at being. It’s you. Think about it. You are a one of a kind masterpiece created by the greatest artist there has ever been, God Himself. Be the best you you can be in Him. Create what He has given you to create and give it your best, then put it out there for the world to see. No doubt someone will think your work is not that great. Go to any art museum in the world and you will see work that you don’t particularly like. Just remember, it’s still in the museum. It is there because someone thought it was beautiful, or important, or meaningful. It’s the same with your work. Some people will probably hate it. Ignore them. You are creating first for God and secondly for the people who will be touched by what you do. Those people will love you and your work and by the way they are worthy of your very best.

God has invested at least one extremely valuable talent in you.

Don’t squander your fortune!

I’ll just admit it. I’m a little frustrated. Not with my church, they are doing fine, great even. No I am frustrated by something I’m reading. You see I am re-reading Rory Noland’s classic book for artists in the church, Heart of the Artist. It’s a great book, but I find myself taking issue with a couple of the things he wrote. At the beginning of every chapter, Noland has an example—a story to illustrate the point of the chapter. They’ve been great, but the last two in a row have really aggravated me. He is using these examples to show where the artist in question is going wrong, and I have found myself saying, “Of course they’re ticked. The artist has been severely wronged, maybe even abused and the church or the other party is really, really, REALLY wrong!” Ironically enough, one of these chapters was on defensiveness, but I digress. As I calmed down, I began to remember something I often told the youth I used to minister to, “You have no control over what other people do, you can only control how you react, and what you do.” It’s absolutely true.

Early in my ministry, one of my mentors said something that I am sure I have quoted here before and something I have never forgotten. “Ministry is easy… except for the people.” It’s a funny statement, but it is absolutely true and if you stay in the church long enough (and you should) and especially if you use your creative gift to serve in the local church (and you should do that, too!) eventually you will be wronged. Someone will unleash something on you and it will be painful and aggravating and frustrating. You’ll be convinced that this behavior has no place in the body of Christ and you may even be right. Those things are out of your control. The question is, how will you deal with it? I have a few things that may help:

  1. Calm Down.Do not react in the spur of the moment. Take a few moments or hours or days to calm down and look at the situation objectively. Otherwise, it can be really easy to overreact and make things much, much worse. Through the process, you may want to take the following steps.
  2. Have a conversation. Matthew 18 is genius when it comes to dealing with conflict in the church. This is not surprising, it was taught by Jesus. The first thing Jesus says is, “If your brother (or sister) sins against you go to him, just between the two of you. If he listens you have won your brother (or sister) over.” God is all about relationships. He has been since the Garden of Eden (at least). Most of us have experienced turmoil that could have been easily resolved, with a conversation, but instead we left it to fester and become a major problem. Don’t do that.
  3. Check yourself. Is the problem really with the other person or is it with you? Sometimes it’s our own attitude that needs to change. Are you being defensive? Are you taking something personally that was meant to help?
  4. Ask yourself, “Is what you created appropriate for the venue for which it is created?” Sometimes what we created is just fine, maybe even wonderful, but we tried to put it in a place where it did not fit.
  5. Ask yourself, “Does the thing I am about to do glorify God?” Too often our response to this type of behavior is to withdraw, quit or even leave the church. It may feel right with every fiber of our being, but is it really what God would want or are we just acting out of our hurt? Regardless of how others act, our purpose in this world is to glorify God, to know Him and make Him known. Will your action move you closer to that goal or further away?

How we react in these situations is critical and make no mistake, people are watching. How our gifts are utilized in the future will be directly effected by our response to these situations. We need to honor God in all things…

even when we’ve been wronged…

even when it hurts.

I am re-reading Rory Noland’s classic creative ministry book, Heart of the Artist for a class I’m taking. It’s wonderful. I’m also coming off a great weekend of ministry at a wonderful church in Virginia. Tonight those two things are sort of colliding. You see, emblazoned across the top of the back cover of the book is something I hear quite often when I minister.

“I Wish I Had Your Gift!”

Nolan then follows it with a question. “How do you handle those words as a creative artist?” When I read that, I thought answering his question would make a superb blog post, so here goes.

The first thing I say is “Thank you.” or “I appreciate that.” Some may think this is a little shallow or that I am being some sort of glory hog, but nothing could be further from the truth. This person has gone out of their way to show me appreciation, and encouragement, and I thank them for it. I will then follow that with acknowledgement of the Lord. They’ve usually just heard me spend the better part of an hour tying my gifts and theirs to God’s glory, they don’t need another sermon, just a little gratitude.

The next thing, and to me the most important thing is to ask this question: “What do YOU do?” Envying my gift is not what this is ultimately about. I am glad they appreciate what I do, but I want them to see that they too are gifted and that their gift is of immense value. I want them to realize that what they do is special and they can bring great glory to God by doing what they were created to do. Quite often they do something immensely interesting, (Maybe even something I wish I could do) often something I could never do and I let them know that. What I do is cool, but what they do can be cool too and more than cool it could be a great blessing to someone else.

Lastly, if it turns out the person is a visual artist and they actually want to do what I do. I encourage them to practice and develop their gift. One of the thing I say is I can paint a painting is six minutes because I’ve been painting for 40 years or more. This is not to say that it will take them 40 years to reach where I am, many will catch or surpass me in far less time, but what I want them to remember is there is work and sacrifice involved in serving the Lord in most fields, especially art.

One other thing. I try really hard to no longer downplay my gift. I used to think that in order to practice proper humility, I had to minimize what I do. Here’s the thing, my gift comes from God. It’s the way He has chosen to bless me. It doesn’t honor Him to me to belittle His gift to me. Instead, I praise Him for blessing me and encourage them to live in His blessing.

I just started taking Jessie Nilo’s Art Ministry 101 class over at As part of the class, Rory Noland’s classic The Heart of the Artist is required reading. I’ve read it before, but it’s been a while so I am going through it again. On the very first page of the book, Noland shares a quote from Irving Stone that I think really sums up the artist’s life. I share it hear to provoke thought and discussion:

irving stone“But then no artist is normal, if he were, he wouldn’t be an artist. Normal men don’t create works of art. They eat, sleep, hold down routine jobs, and die. You are hypersensitive to life and nature; that’s why you are able to interpret for the rest of us. But if you are not careful, that very hypersensitiveness will lead you to your destruction. The strain of it breaks every artist in time.”

What say you? Has Irving Stone Hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head?