Part 1 of this series laid the biblical groundwork for this study. The goal is to consider various key aspects of art and the creative process from a biblical point of view. This is the premise: Creativity flows from the Creator.
Conception: Dreams and Vision
Each finished work of art, from a painting by Titian or a Pieta by Michelangelo to a Mahler Symphony or a Steven Spielberg film, began as an inner vision in the mind of the artist, a dream that only he could see until he incarnated it for the world to experience. The Old Testament prophecy of the ministry of the Holy Spirit promises such dreams and visions to believers. This word of prophecy was thrust into New Testament life when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. The people of Jerusalem asked the meaning of the Spirit-empowered utterance of the one hundred twenty disciples after they, fresh from their Upper Room meeting with God, had filled the city streets with praise.
…what you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God said, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit upon all my servants, men and women alike, and they will prophesy. And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below–blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon will turn bloodred, before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. And anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:16-21, NLT).
The force of this passage and the corresponding verses in Joel cannot be overstated. The Hebrew verb “prophesy” in the Joel passage is defined by Strong as:
naba’ (naw-baw’); a primitive root; to prophesy, i.e. speak (or sing) by inspiration (in prediction or simple discourse)…
While the word translated “dream” means exactly that, the word rendered as “vision” adds the concept of revelation. (Strong, OT:2384). Since we have the passage in Acts, let us look at the Greek word meanings (Strong):
“prophesy” – NT:4395 propheteuo (prof-ate-yoo’-o); from NT:4396; to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, exercise the prophetic office
“visions” – NT:3706 horasis (hor’-as-is); from NT:3708; the act of gazing, i.e. (external) an aspect or (intern.) an inspired appearance
“dream dreams” – NT:1797 enupniazomai (en-oop-nee-ad’-zom-ahee); middle voice from NT:1798; to dream
While these passages clearly speak to sleeping dreams and waking supernatural visions, it is also clear that, through an inner vision, the Holy Spirit speaks into the lives of believers to inspire them. When the songwriter gets an idea for a song, when the preacher gets an idea for a sermon, when the worship leader “sees” what songs and Scriptures to select for a worship service, what is really happening? The Holy Spirit is providing the artist with a prophetic inner vision of what He wants. Of all the things the artist might create, the Holy Spirit brings something specific to him. He “sees” it clearly and knows that he must bring it to life. In the next section, we will study how the Holy Spirit aids in the process, but now we must understand that the selection of the work to be done is the starting place for art that will be useful to the Holy Spirit.
Paul explained that each of us is God’s handiwork created so that we might create the works He has planned for us.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago (Eph 2:10, NLT).
The word translated “good things” is also rendered as “good works” in other versions and refers to specific deeds or works. To me, this promises a full life of creativity. As I walk in the Spirit, I can go from work to work, creating the very things I was created to create! Long ago, the Lord planned my life for me. He brought me into this world with just the genetic code required, just the right environment needed, and precisely the open doors to teachers and training I would need to accomplish the work and the works He has planned for me!
I have the option of straying from this path at any point. If I do, works designed for me to create during the days of my rebellion will never be created: songs, essays, poems never written, arrangements never done, plays never to be seen, sermons never to be heard, works of art never to be shared, truth and beauty never to be experienced by the people I was responsible to reach. No wonder the battle for my time, attention, and creative energy is so intense—the enemy knows how important my creative life is. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (NIV). Artists should be anointed oracles of the Divine flow of God’s life—The Holy Spirit! Each work begins in the artist’s heart as a dream or vision from the Holy Spirit.
This is modeled for us in the way the Virgin Mary became pregnant with the Lord Jesus. This literal conception was a work of the Holy Spirit. Hear the words of the angel Gabriel:
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35, NLT).
Jesus, the Word of God, was physically formed in Mary by the action of the Holy Spirit and not by any man. Likewise, the artist who walks in the Spirit of God can expect the Word of God to be seminal—like a seed planted deep in the heart, it will gestate until ready to emerge into the world. More than an isolated event, this is a lifestyle. As we follow the Lord, we are moving from grace to grace, from glory to glory, from work to satisfying work—things planned by the Lord Jesus for us from before time began! Each work will be filled with truth and/or beauty.
Fundamental to our understanding of art is this concept of art as an expression of truth and/or beauty from the artist. This distinguishes art from entertainment, which is usually focused on pleasing people. The artist’s drive is not primarily to please, though, of course; the Christian artist wants to be a blessing to others. But deeper than that, the artist wants to be a blessing by telling a truth he has discovered, which may or may not be beautiful. An interesting use of the “muse” concept is found in the word “amusement,” which literally means “without thought.” An entertainment work serves to suspend serious thought. A work of art serves to provoke serious thought and consideration of the artist’s beliefs. Art may be entertaining and entertainment may be artfully done, but these are two different forces in the world.
In the Church, the significance of this distinction is enormous. Because the intention of the art is so personal and so rooted in service and worship to God, the value of the art to the artist is extreme. When leaders fail to realize how important the artist’s work is to the artist and treat it as though it were only an entertainment, the offense to the artist runs deep. His response to the insult may be extreme and may then be classified as a godless ego when, actually, a life-blow has been dealt to him. In other words, artists take their art quite seriously, and it must be handled with care as one would handle the sacrifice of praise of another believer. Indeed, that is exactly what it is.
Featured Image by Tim Mossholder
This post was written by Collective Member Stephen Phifer. Full of passion for Jesus Christ, Stephen Phifer is a third-generation minister with more than three decades of experience as a pastoral artist, worship leader, and conductor. To read more of his pieces, be sure to check out his profile on Kingdom Winds here!