Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 26: Slaying the Giant, One Harp at a Time

This Sunday I had the great privilege of hearing James Janzen speaking on Living in Spiritual Victory as an Artist; and I was delighted to discover, from his checklist of characteristics, that I might be one:
  • Wide mood swings
  • Misunderstandings
  • Tendency to question
  • Emotionalism
  • Sees time as flexible - the whole world can stop for the artist
  • Great need for feedback, even though the feedback itself is often not appreciated
  • Often weak in administration and organization*
Where are the characteristics that we more readily identify with being an artist, you ask? Oh. I just chose the ones off the list that matched my temperament, but maybe it's these that I should be looking at if I were to claim real artisticity:

  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Sensitivity
  • Intensity
  • Perfectionsim
  • A need to respond artistically
  • A great sense of freedom of expression*
So - on second thought, maybe I'm not quite the artist I would hope to be ... But what a wonderful essay on the greatest artist in the Bible!


Mr. Janzen said that there are 56 chapters about David in the Bible; and this doesn't count the Psalms he composed! Take those away, but also take away the impact David has had on church music down through the centuries, and the Christian life would be a lot bleaker.

Songs like the one we sang on Sunday morning, "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You."

Songs like "The King of love my Shepherd is," an old Irish hymn that paraphrases Psalm 23. As a matter of fact, how many riffs on just Psalm 23 are there? I flipped through a couple of the hymn books on the TH piano: "The Lord's my Shepherd; I'll not want"; "The Lord is my Shepherd, I'll walk with Him always"; "In God's green pastures feeding"; "Saviour, like a shepherd lead us"; "In shady green pastures so rich and so sweet"; "Safe in the Shepherd's care"; "Surely goodness and mercy".

Songs even like "Amazing Grace." John Newton, as we know, had been a slave trader until God drew him out of that horrific travesty of human life. And on New Year's Day in 1773 Newton preached a sermon whose title was "Faith's Review and Expectation" and whose text was I Chronicles 17:16-17. This passage is a prayer of David who cried out in wonder and gratitude to God for all He had done for David and for his people. Here are two translations of the verses that inspired John Newton to begin his new year, his new diary, with the wonderful words of that time-honoured hymn:

And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant's house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O LORD God. (KJV)

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God! (ESV)

From writing his sermon based on this text, he was inspired to write "Amazing Grace."

What if "Amazing Grace" had never been written?

It just goes to show, continued Mr. Janzen, how significant the role of an artist is in the Bible and, by extension, in the church itself.

Who was David? he asked.
  • A shepherd
  • A harpist
  • An actor
  • A brilliant administrator
  • A charismatic leader
  • A Warrior
  • A guerilla fighter and hero
  • A king
  • A seducer
  • A consummate politician
  • A statesman
  • An instrument maker
  • A worship leader
  • An artist*
And through the life of David we can see how the artist who is able to balance talent and temperament can be of enormous service and impact in a church.

But what an uphill climb that can be! Mr. Janzen gave a great example: he extended one arm straight out at his shoulder, like he was going to fly. He explained that this is what it's like for many artists; they have developed their artistic side to the exclusion of balance in their lives. As a result - and here he imitated a plane trying to fly with only one wing - the person will crash and burn. It is only when the artist can develop and exercise the other wing so that it can extend equally with the artistic wing that his or her life will achieve balance.

Mr. Janzen talked about a plane; but in my mind's eye I saw a bird with one strong wing and the other having been shattered or bound in some way to prevent it from helping to support the bird or to free it.

And my mind went to my friend Maynard, as it frequently does. In a couple of weeks Maynard would have celebrated his 49th birthday. He was my oldest friend.

Maynard was a gifted musician: he played the piano, cornet and drums with equal skill and passion. He was an actor, a writer, and he could draw. He was an accomplished sportsman - he won awards in football, cricket, track and field. He was a craftsman, designing and creating pieces of furniture and able to fix almost anything. He was charming and popular and enjoyed the spotlight.

In turn, he was needy and fragile and insecure. He could never stick to anything for too long. His habits and addictions were always beckoning to him from just out of sight. He lost sight of time, of place, of perspective.

In the end, he never managed to achieve the balance and the peace he craved. As he himself recalled it, he had led an imbalanced, disjointed life beginning at the age of 5. Eventually his strong wing was no longer able to bear him up and he crashed to the ground for the last time in July 2005.

However, with that crash came freedom from the constrictions of imbalance, of ultimate self-destruction. Although Maynard had accepted Christ and loved God when he could, he felt that the church had failed him and couldn't accept him. But I believe that God never stopped loving Maynard and that as he hurtled to the ground that last time, the Everlasting Arms were there to catch him, and that as he was lifted from this mortal, messy coil, he was finally able to fly.

David, too, crashed to the ground on several occasions. For one thing, he spent 13 years in the wilderness after God had called him out as the next king ... 13 YEARS! For one of his gifts and temperament, that would have been excruciating. But God used this time to mould him, and to give him balance. When Nathan the prophet came and rebuked him for his sins of adultery and murder, when David was held accountable to the standard of right and wrong, he could have turned his back on the reproof and carried on; after all, he was the king! But he took it to heart and repented, allowing God and those God put in his life to encourage him back to discipline and balance, to help craft him into the person who would - despite his sins and failings - forever be known as the man after God's own heart.

There is hope and value in David's story, both for artists who are struggling for that balance and for those of us who love them and want to help them achieve it. Mr Janzen gave us six lessons we can draw from it:

  • David's story helps us to see that the artistic temperament and the resulting artistic output is a great gift to the church
  • David's story shows us how much God values character
  • David's story reflects the priesthood of every believer and in this case the priesthood of the artist
  • David's story shows us the great challenges of the artistic nature and the devastating result of sin
  • David's story gives us hope. THe artist can be a man (or woman) after God's own heart.
  • David's story shows us that path of transformation and discipline*
I have other artists in my life whom I love dearly but don't always understand how to be present to them in ways that they need, in ways that will encourage them both to pursue their consuming passion and at the same time to live passionately a full, disciplined life. I have misinterpreted their questioning of life, of the point of the church, of God Himself - but as Mr. Janzen pointed out, "Confusion exists in the church concerning the place and value of the artist ... [Their questioning] doesn't mean they've lost their faith; they're desperately trying to hold on to it!" They need feedback, but in constructive ways. And their tendency to emotional swings is part of who they are. As he pointed out, "The complete story is often found in the opposites."

It says in Romans, "Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound" - extremes if there ever were any ...

What a revelation this message was on Sunday! How we should be nurturing and treasuring the artists in our churches. David has brought so much to the worship and the growth of the church not only because he was allowed to develop and exercise his gifts but because he was able to do this in conjunction with self-discipline, guidance and support. The comment that stood out to me above all others was this: "Leadership and congregation [in the church] do not know how to respond to the artistic temperament and how to disciple the artist."  Disciple. Not discipline. It is up to them to start releasing the power that discipline and structure can provide. Our job as those who want to build up the artists in our lives is to come alongside of them, to encourage them and uphold them and show them perspective. To give them an alternate view to frustration and despair.

And if you yourself are an artist, you have the greatest role model, apart from Jesus Himself, to give you hope and encouragement that your talents are desperately needed in our churches and society today. Maybe you sing, or sew, or paint, or dance, or write, or perform beat poetry. Perhaps you act, or play an instrument, or arrange flowers and scenes for the front of the church. I remember how Mum prevailed against the prevailing train of thought that flowers on Sunday mornings in the church were nothing but a waste of time and money. But every Saturday evening she would go to the flower market and every Saturday night she would spent hours arranging vases of fresh flowers for church the next day. Hours.  And as worshippers walked in the next morning, those flowers were a visible reminder of the beauty and the majesty of God. They were the outpouring of worship and praise from a woman who saw beauty in everything and wanted to offer what she could back to the Giver of it all.

Think of the woman who broke the alabaster box and poured the precious ointment onto Jesus' feet! Drama queen, some might have said. But it was her wordless act of worship, and it was so worthwhile that it was recorded as one of the treasures, the memorable moments, in the life and ministry of Jesus.

There's an artist by the stage name of Robinella who wrote a song that makes me think of Maynard whenever I hear it. Until I can figure out a way to attach it to my blog so that you can experience its plaintive, haunting melody, I will leave you with the words:

Whippin' Wind

They were children when they met.
But he is someone she can't forget.
They were young still when they parted ways;
Ushered on into life's grey haze.

She has always had the best of luck
But when there's rain and mud, he gets stuck
When there's rainbows she's at the end
But he gets caught in the whippin' wind.

Why does she fly? Why does he fall?
She gets gifts of gold and he gets coal.
Someday his broken wing will mend
For now he's caught in the whippin'wind.

Many years have passed since they were friends
No one knows where they've both been
But each of their own sin
One of them loses, one of them wins

She had always thought that he could fly
So when he'd fall, she would cry
And wonder where is grace divine
And never see a single sign.

Why does he fall? Why does she fly?
Oh, some birds will never reach the sky.
But someday his broken wing will mend
For now he's caught in the whippin' wind.

He found out about her success
Singing songs of her happiness.
She found out about his death.
And the family that he left.

Oh one man's right is another man's wrong
Oh one man's story is another man's song.
She wonders why he had to go
But with his death she knows.

He came far and she can fall
He gets the greatest gift of all
His broken wing did mend.
He's flown away in the whippin' wind.


*Taken directly from Mr. James Janzen's sermon notes, Living in Spiritual Victory as an Artist.  If you are an artist yourself, or if you have artists in your life or your church that you seek to understand and walk alongside of, I can't encourage you strongly enough to listen to his sermon, which can be found at http://www.prairietab.com/sermons.html - click on the link entitled "Living in Spiritual Victory as an Artist" (October 24, 2010).


  1. "They will mount up with wings as eagles ... their youth will be renewed as the eagle."
    In a prayer of Gumba's, Maynard is set free.
    I love you, Karyn.
    Love, revealed in photo and word, never fails.


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