February 16, 2008

He’s the hand—I’m only a glove

The teacher of a quilt design class asked us to do something I’ve never done before with any artwork—she had us formulate a purpose statement for the piece we designed. She called it a concept. She wanted us to think through why we were making it and what we wanted it to do for the people who looked at it. She said the difference between a regular piece of art (quilt or otherwise) and art that begins with a concept is how long the viewer stands in front of the piece. She suggested that a well-thought out and well-executed concept could make a greater impact than we could imagine.

I think of purpose statements each week when I write Bible study material for my Sunday class. Without one, the study and discussion could go all over the map and never come to any conclusions or even raise important questions. It helps me and the class stay focused.

Purpose statements are vital for Christians who want to make an impact for Christ on this world. While some might confuse their purpose with a profession or some sort of calling into a ministry, I don’t think this is the intent. A purpose statement is broader than being a pastor or going to Timbuktu to reach its natives.

Once, because my spiritual gift is teaching, I’d formulated a purpose statement in line with that: to learn all I can about God and His kingdom and teach others what God has taught me. I figured that I could do that in any setting, at least as long as I can read the Bible and speak! However, the speaker at last fall’s InScribe Christian Writers’ Conference challenged me. She said the Bible offers no other calling that we must love God and do what He says. I could be writing (or teaching) today, but tomorrow God could ask me to do something else.

While I’ve given my teaching its own purpose statement, I now have a broader statement for all of life based on God’s purpose for me. He wants me to become increasingly like His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:28-29 and 1 John 3:1-3 make this clear. Another way to say it is that He wants me to be a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Partaking in the nature of Christ is the same as living the way He lives. My likes, wants and goals are abandoned for Christ’s likes, wants and goals. No matter what I am doing, He wants me to see things the way He sees them. This is so much a part of Christian living that my devotional guide says that if a person does not display something that is like Jesus, no matter how loud his profession of faith, he is not yet a partaker of the divine nature. Christianity is not measured by words or even deeds, but by Jesus Christ. If I am not like Him, it doesn’t matter what I say or do.

The question is how? How can a person who is used to living according to their own desires and goals change that drastically? Believe me, no one can without the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. This is definitely a God-thing.

Yet I have a part in it. I need to cease from my own efforts and by faith let Christ work in me “to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). When I abandon my own wants and goals and leave myself in His hands, He actually keeps His promises and begins to motivate me with His wants and goals.

This is astounding. I cannot count the times that I have tried and tried to do what I thought God wanted me to do, yet failed and failed, and finally dropped all self-effort only to discover that Jesus was waiting for just that. When I put off that fleshy old nature (even though I seemed to have good intentions) and abandoned all my wants and efforts to Him, He became my life. My thoughts, words and actions changed. More often than not, that good thing that I really wanted to do suddenly was happening, but I knew it was not from my striving. Living in the power of Christ’s nature is utterly different from struggling in my own power.

The Bible says things like: “Put off the old man” and “put on the new man” (Colossians 3:9–10). It says I must reckon myself “dead unto sin and alive unto God” (Romans 6:11). These and other passages describe this idea of dropping my efforts, my own works, and realizing that even my daily life is all about Christ living in me. This is not about a ministry only, or a role only, or a ‘calling’ of some kind, but about learning how to love God and obey Him no matter what I am doing. Having that as a purpose statement has helped me to realize that the only way I can love and obey Him is to let my Savior, who lives in me, do it for me.

1 comment:

Lisa Ellis said...

Elsie, I am a Christian and an art quilter. Most of my work expresses my faith. I love both of your blogs. Thanks for sharing both your faith and your quilts. Lisa Ellis