Part Two of “The Spirit-Led Artist” presented the biblical concept of the Holy Spirit and the source of inspiration for a work of art for the Christian Artist. God speaks to us through dreams and visions just as the Prophet Joel prophesied and the Apostle Peter preached. Now we take the next step of artistic skill and understanding, also sourced in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Craft: Skill and Understanding
One of the most inspiring characters in the Exodus story is the craftsman, Bezalel. He learned his craft as a slave in Egypt. He experienced the Exodus: plagues, pestilence, and a plow through the sea. He and all the craftsmen came out of Egypt loaded with rich materials heaped on them by their oppressors before they were finally released from slavery.
He saw Moses go up into the Mountain of God and seem to be suspended there. He saw others of his guild build a golden calf with their skills and materials. Something in his heart kept him from joining them in the making of or the worshiping of the idol. He saw Moses’s terrible descent from the mountain, his face shining with glory, an inner fire emanating from the man of God. He saw the judgment of God on those who made and worshiped the idol.
Then Moses gave Bezalel a plan for God’s house, a design for the dwelling place of the Almighty. Jehovah would come down from the smoking mountain, burning with the glory that made Moses’s face shine, and He would take up residence in a tent in the midst of His chosen people. His glory would dwell over a box, the Ark of the Covenant. And Bezalel would build and decorate the box: a slave turned craftsman, turned freeman, turned worshiper.
The LORD also said to Moses, “Look, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, intelligence, and skill in all kinds of crafts. He is able to create beautiful objects from gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in cutting and setting gemstones and in carving wood. Yes, he is a master at every craft! (Ex 31:1-5, NLT).
The effect of the infilling of the Holy Spirit in Bezalel’s life on his work is spelled out for us: great wisdom, great intelligence, and great skill at all crafts. There were other craftsmen, but Bezalel was chosen for this special work: to build the dwelling place of Almighty God. This work was beyond the natural skills of any craftsman.
So with the call of God came the wisdom, intelligence, and skill of God, informing Bezalel’s mind and flowing through his fingers. With his skill shaped by the sojourn in Egypt, his materials, the wealth of his former masters, and with God’s plan written by the finger of God in stone, he went to work. The Holy Spirit assisted him at every juncture, guiding his trained mind and skillful hands.
Every Christian artist knows the voice of the Lord. Like the inner vision, an inner voice lets us “know” when some element of the piece is “right” so we include it. We also “know” when something else, however excellent it may be in its own right, is not “right” for the work, and we exclude it. How does a sculptor’s hand know how much pressure to apply to the hammer? How does the arranger know when he has the right harmonization or tonal structure? How does the composer know when the tune is right? The poet, how does he know when the word he has chosen is the right one? On and on could the questions could go. How can this be?
The Creator has made us to be creators as well. Madeliene L’Engle says that the creation of the universe is still going on and we have been called to do our part in it. “That is our calling: co-creation. Every single one of us, without exception, is called to co-create with God.” (And Is Was Good—Reflections on Beginnings.) In her wonderful book, Walking on Water, L’Engle goes into greater detail concerning the creative process, which she calls dreamlike, wherein the artist listens to the inner voice.
When we are writing, or painting or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions and opened to a wider world, where colours are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize (Walking on Water—Reflections on Faith and Art).
I recognize that state of being. An intense concentration comes from the heightened awareness of the Lord’s presence upon and His pleasure in the work I am creating. This process consumes hours without me realizing it. In this spiritual state of being, the link between prayer and poetry, adoration and art, becomes obvious to the creating Christian. When the Christian artist is creating, he is in a specialized state of prayer.
And art, like other forms of prayer, is an issue of the heart. Jesus called the heart a storehouse, and He warned that the contents of the heart would determine the content of our expressions.
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things (Matt 12:34-36, NKJV).
When I enter my creative state of consciousness, what have I given the Holy Spirit to bring to my work? If the artist has fed his heart on the garbage of this world’s entertainment systems, the discarded, distasteful dogmas of our secular society, or the crumbling, stale bread of modern philosophies, most of what he has in his hearts is “evil treasure.” His art will be filled with lies mingled with truths or half-truths—“evil things.”
On the other hand, if the artist attends regularly to the means of grace, feeding on the Lord Jesus, the Eternal Word, drinking Living Waters at the Fountain of Life, drawing strength from the fellowship of the family of God, obeying the commands of the Lord and thus shining as a bright light in this gloom-enshrouded world, his heart will be filled with “good treasure.” His art will then be filled with things useful to the Holy Spirit: truth, insight, passion, integrity, intelligence, and skill. God can then use the art of that artist to affect both time and eternity. We are co-creating with Almighty God!
This concept of Divine assistance in the craftsmanship stage of creation is also modeled in the Incarnation of Jesus. Jesus did not appear full-grown, walking among men as many angels have. There is no record in Scripture of the development of the three men who visited Abraham, the two who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, the Captain of the Hosts who appeared to Joshua, the fourth man in the fire with the three young Hebrew captives, or the one who stopped the mouths of the lions when Daniel was in their den.
These fellows just showed up in the fullness of the power of God, did their work, and then disappeared. Not so with Jesus. With the Lord, we see not just nine months of gestation before His birth but thirty years of training and formation before only three or so years of public ministry. Why?—because He had emptied Himself of the divine, somehow laying it aside to come to us to enter into our processes of formation.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8, NASU).
This is the essence and the mystery of the Incarnation: Jesus emptied Himself of the characteristics of Almighty God and then let Himself be formed into the likeness of man. We can be sure the same Holy Spirit who produced the conception of Jesus in Mary also guided His formation in the womb. If each of us has been “knit together” in our mother’s womb, Jesus certainly was. This gives this passage from the Psalms poignant meaning when we think of Jesus:
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. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Ps 139:13-16, NIV).
As the Spirit led the processes, Jesus was “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the secret place of Mary’s body and in the Hebrew school, in the carpenter shop, and in the business community of Nazareth. If our goal is to incarnate truth, to put the Word into flesh so all can experience truth and beauty, then we must welcome the processes God has prepared for us.
So, for the artist who wants to co-create with God, there is more process than performance, more time in the secret place, that dream-like, prayerful state L’Engle described than the public stage, more rehearsal time than stage time, more re-writing than writing: craft, craft and more craft!
In the opening moments of creation’s drama, we cannot know what the pre-creation universal chaos felt when the Dove spread His wings and brooded over it. But we know how it feels when the Spirit hovers over us. The currents of air stirred by the wings of the Dove move us and refresh us, inspiring us to bring cosmos out of the chaos as we co-create truth and beauty with the Almighty. He is, after all, the Spirit of Truth ( John 15:26-27).
Featured Image by Alex Jones
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!