Some lovely friends invited me to join them for a painting class on the theme of prophetic art or worship art. What a beautiful group of people! On this particular evening the instructor played worshipful music and asked us to paint the images -or the feelings- that came to mind when we thought of Holy Spirit. I’ve been trying to teach myself to hold a bigger brush more loosely and save sharply focused realism for photography. I did three very quick paintings in one sitting. Two were peaceful and sweet in soft, even feminine colours. Then, without too much thinking, I grabbed some colours and sloshed them on the canvas. This was the result.
Art is an experience between the work and the beholder and can have more than one interpretation. I sometimes see something the artist didn’t intend to say in a work, and sometimes people interpret my paintings differently as well, and I appreciate that. This time I found myself interpreting my own painting. What does this say to me? Tongues of fire are often associated with the arrival of Holy Spirit at Pentecost and many songs are written about wanting to be filled with the passionate fire of God. I’ve seen people laugh and sing and praise God when they encounter his goodness. It’s a joyful experience.
But I have learned that not all God-encounters are fun experiences.
Encountering God’s holiness leaves us stripped of any sense of self-righteousness. We cry out like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am a person of unclean lips and I come from a people of unclean lips.” We sing, “Purify my heart, let it be as gold, pure gold…” or “Consuming fire, fan into flame a passion for your name…” but we want Him to do this in soft, comforting, nurturing, happy, happy, joy, joy, soft kitty/warm kitty pastel colours.
Isaiah’s lips were symbolically purified when an angel touched them with a burning coal from the fire of God. Ouch!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
The end result is praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. The end result is joy unspeakable and full of glory. The end result is promotion to higher levels of intimacy with the Eternal.
But the process is not always painless. When we pass through the fires that test our faith all the false ideas we treasured are revealed for the mere counterfeit paper copies they are. Sometimes it means choosing, by faith, to lay the unreliable handholds of the past down on the altar before we have any firm handholds for the future. Without a theology that includes suffering we lack the motivation for perseverance that leads to mature character and true hope. Our sense of entitlement makes us avoid pain and equips us with a type of hope that is entirely too flammable. Without an understanding of the role of suffering we are blown away by adversity and crushed by disappointment.
True hope does not disappoint.
Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 Phillips)