I hope I am not mistaken to assume that there are people out there like me, who are overtly self-aware as to when their selfish tendencies start to surface. As a musician and writer, I am well acquainted with the conflict between wanting to appear humble and wanting to appear productive. The consequence of this inner battle, for the longest time, resulted in plentiful output in songwriting, but stagnant exposure in song performing. I felt gifted to write, but too selfish to show anyone what I was working on. It felt like grade school all over again, vehemently shielding my unfinished drawing from those I assumed must be watching me intently. It was a hopeless struggle. I was searching for this unachievable level of self-detachment, where this precious thing I was inspired to create would somehow return back to God without a smudge of selfish pride still attached. On paper? Honorable. In practice? Sinful.
Let me clarify what I’m getting at here. By no means am I vying for an egotistical approach to creative practice. Humility still has a vital place at the heart of all we do, and it must be realized that any iota of this desire that overtakes us, to make something new that wasn’t there before, is wholly due to God’s kindness and ingenuity. We need humility to collaborate, to construct, and to tear down to make room for something better. However, there is such a thing as sinful humility, and it is just as dangerous as blatant pride. Where pride would take something God-given and use it for personal glory, sinful humility takes what God gives and, through passive inactivity, simply throws it away. It waits for the opportune moment when your flesh is unaware of your actions, and unsurprisingly, that moment never comes. Make no mistake, if you wait for your heart to be “right” before you introduce that song to your local congregation, or read your poetry in front of a crowd, that moment will never come and the gift will be wasted.
“Leaf by Niggle” is a tale from the pen of J.R.R. Tolkien that encapsulates the spirit of creative procrastination mixed with overly scrutinizing one’s own work. It’s a wonderful short story for any artist in need of comfort and inspiration, but for now, all the reader must know is that the main character, Niggle, spends his entire existence striving after an unachievable artistic goal (in this case, a grandiose painting). The busyness of daily life and his own slothful tendencies leave him with unfinished projects and unfulfilled longing. Though it is not an unhappy ending for Niggle, the story ends with his home and belongings being picked over after his death. This ending scene bears a line of dialogue that haunts me: “’Oh, poor little Niggle!’ said Perkins. ‘Never knew he painted!’”
With this story in mind, I wonder how many of us will go about our lives being artists unknown by the world. What glory is yet to be yielded to the Lord? What song, painting, or poem has yet to be revealed to a world desperate for beauty? What I had to realize about my inner struggle between humility and transparency was that I would never fulfill my calling if I waited on my flesh to catch up with my desire to serve. I’m reminded of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and the harsh rebuke directed at the servant who buried what he had. That is a fate worth fleeing from, and a call to everyone God equips to steward the gift well. So herein lies the invitation: that together, we would strive towards work that renders glory solely unto the Lord, as broken and as pride-tinged as those efforts may be. There is nothing more dangerous to the enemy than Spirit-empowered creativity unfettered by fear.
About the Author
Hunter Lynch is Worship and Youth Pastor of Highland Baptist in Vicksburg, MS, husband to Ellie and father to Laney and Emmalyn, and a songwriter for the church. He is also a graduate of Mississippi College (BA Christian Studies) and NOBTS (MDiv).
Photo Credit: “Crystal Leaf” by Henry Miller