As artists, we all enjoy the times when inspiration gushes from the fountain, when everything flows easily and smoothly and we love what we’re doing. In those times, it’s easy to create art. But other times, you go to the well, you pump the handle until your arm aches, and all you get is a few drops in an empty bucket. It’s heartbreaking. What do you do?
I talk in “Sowing and Sabbath” (https://www.unitedadoration.com/sowing-and-sabbath/) about the importance of rest and rhythms of retreat. I compared it to a farmer letting the land rest and replenish so that a more bountiful crop may come next season. But sometimes you rest and release and the land is restored, and yet no crops grow. And in such a case, you do what every farmer knows must be done: you get out and you plant and plow and water and put in ten times the effort even if it means you get a tenth of what you normally would.
This may seem pointless. If an artist’s job is to create art, and all that work produces a scant, starved crop, doesn’t that just mean you’re failing as an artist? Why bother at that point? But that is a worldly perspective. Our culture values us by what we produce. But God looks at the heart. Does He not see your struggles? Does He not count your tears as you cry them? Certainly, He is worshiped by the fruit of your labor, but is He not worshiped even more when you work to praise Him even when your flesh fails you and your earthly mind tells you it’s accomplishing nothing? We artists cannot always achieve the results we strive for, but we can choose the effort we offer to God, and it is that choice that honors God most, not what happens as a result of it.
Furthermore, there is value in practice. A martial artist will practice his forms day after day, even when no enemy is present, so that when the battle comes, he is ready to strike. An athlete will train all year for an event that only lasts a single day, so that when the challenge arrives, they can win the prize. So also must an artist be diligent in practicing their art. A lack of inspiration makes this trying, but it also offers you a chance to practice your fundamentals and refine your technique. All artists receive inspiration. Those who practice faithfully will find their bodies and minds honed and prepared, ready to make full use of the inspiration they receive. Improvisational artists know this best. How do they get up on stage and spontaneously create art, working without a plan or pattern to copy? That extemporaneous freedom comes from years of diligent repetition where the basic movements of their art are so ingrained that they can effortlessly perform them as the inspiration flows through them. But know that such preparation has value for all artists, no matter how much or how little improvisation they use.
In all this, I picture Elijah on Mount Carmel. He has built an altar, set the wood, prepared the sacrifice, and gathered the people to see what his God can do. All that is left is for God to send the fire. Elijah has already done all he can do to make things ready for what God has in store next. So it is with artists. Our dedication in preparing is a sacrificial offering that is difficult and painful to make. And yet the sole act of preparing it honors our God. Our diligence in rehearsing prepares us as a living sacrifice, ready to be used according to God’s purposes. And there may be times when we are waiting for God to send the fire, and we continue to wait and wait. But when the fire comes, let the world beware, because nothing will stop or hinder it.
So if you are in the doldrums, where nothing is happening and all efforts seem wasted, do not be discouraged. Instead, prepare yourself for what God is doing next. Because it is coming. You will create wondrous things again.
And if you’re wondering how you’ll ever live up to what God has planned, know that it was never resting on you to begin with. When God sets out to accomplish His purposes, no force in heaven or earth will stop Him. But He loves you and wants to give you the opportunity to take part in what He’s doing. And the more you get ready, the bigger part you get to play when the time comes.
So practice! Make art even when you don’t feel like it. Condition your mind to imagine and your hands to create. And don’t give up, because God wastes nothing that is entrusted to His hands. As you are making yourself ready, He is getting excited about what He is going to place in your waiting hands.
~ Cameron Miller, writer
~ photo by Daniel Chekalov, Unsplash