For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10
Michelangelo’s David is one of the most famous works of art in the world. The massive 17-foot-tall Carrara marble statue depicts a youthful, but determined, David with a sling and stone ready to topple the giant Goliath. While you’re surely familiar with the larger-than-life masterpiece, you might not be as familiar with the story of how Michelangelo received the commission to sculpt it.
Michelangelo was not the first artist chosen to sculpt the statue, but rather the fourth. The three previous artists, who had begun the work decades earlier, had roughly hewn out David’s feet, legs, and torso. But for various reasons, each one had either been fired from the project, given up, or had died before the work was completed.
Without an artist, the 6-ton unfinished block of marble was relegated to the church junkyard and left exposed to the elements for 26 years.
In 1500, while taking an inventory of the cathedral workshop, the block was rediscovered, and the search to find an artist to complete it resumed. The marble was so badly damaged, no other artist (including Leonardo da Vinci) was interested in taking on the project. But Michelangelo saw a masterpiece waiting to emerge from the stone and accepted the challenge.
He took a ruined piece of marble and chiseled, hammered, and sanded away until a true masterpiece emerged. How did he use such an unforgiving medium and create such a beautiful work of art? He said, “I created a vision of David in my mind and simply carved away everything that was not David.”
Addition by Subtraction
Michelangelo removed marble until David emerged. In the same way, God chisels away at us until we reflect more of his image. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship.” The Greek word for workmanship is ‘poiema,’ from which we get the word ‘poem.’ What a beautiful thought! We are God’s poem, his creative masterpiece.
For Christians, our new life in Christ is an original, never-replicated, one-of-a-kind work in the Master’s hand. God looks at each one of our lives and sees us as a canvas on which he is producing a work of art that will bring everlasting praise to his name.
The Struggle to be Creative is Real
You and I were created in God’s image, to reflect his likeness (Genesis 1:26) and he gave us the ability to create. But creating is not as simple for us as it is for God. Instead, of speaking our creations into existence, we often feel like women in labor, groaning under the pains it takes to bring forth something new into this world. It requires all the things we often feel we lack; time, skill, patience, and resources.
Use ‘POIEMA’ for Your Own Works of Art
Michelangelo studied all the cracks and crevices of that unfinished block of marble for a month before ever picking up a tool. With his poiema fixed in his mind’s eye, he chipped away for four years at all that wasn’t David. The next time you stare at your blank canvas use the acronym POIEMA to ignite your creativity.
You were created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Your good works don’t save you but they should overflow from your life because of the saving work of Jesus. Therefore, take up your pen, your paintbrush, and your instrument, to create things that bless God and bless others.
Often our creativity hits a roadblock because we think that we must be ‘original.’ But the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Even Michelangelo said, “Only God creates. The rest of us just copy.” Since only God creates originals, our job is to observe the world around us, take notes, and gather inspiration.
Once you’ve made your observations imagine something new. This is a reverse-engineering project. Don’t copy the style, but consider the thinking behind the style. How can I change it to make it reflect me? What does the finished product look like? Can you see your “David” hewn out from all the rough-cut stone? Once you see it…pick up your chisel and get going.
Establish (and keep) a regular routine for your creative endeavors. This can be even more important than having a lot of time. Inertia kills creativity. Come rain or shine, you must stay in your established groove. Routines, lead to habits, which lead to a steady flow of creativity. In the words of Dory, “Just keep swimming!”
When thinking about what to write, the standard advice is to write what you know. But Austin Leon, author of Steal Like An Artist* disagrees. He said, “The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use-do the work you want to see done.” Your creative manifesto should fuel and energize your creativity.
No one can be in creation mode all the time. (Even God rested on the seventh day.) It’s important to take time to absorb what you’ve learned and rest. Don’t resist boredom, it leads to some really great ideas. Learn to unplug in order to recharge. Take walks. Get out into nature. Get some vitamin D. Be still.
Your New Identity
You may not feel like God’s masterpiece right now. Instead of a glistening statue, your life (and creative efforts) may feel like a half-started, tossed-out slab of marble, relegated to the church junkyard.
This is when you have to preach truth to yourself, and not let your feelings overrule your heart. The truth is you have a new identity as a masterpiece of God. Philippians 1:6 reminds us that God never leaves his masterpieces unfinished. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
You Are His Masterpiece
Tim Keller said it best.
“You see when Jesus gave Himself on the Cross, He didn’t say, “I’m going to die just so you know I love you.” He said, “I’m going to die, I’m going to bleed, for your splendor. I’m going to recreate you into something beautiful. I will turn you into something splendid, magnificent. I’m the Artist; you’re the art. I’m the Painter; you’re the canvas. I’m the Sculptor; you’re the marble. You don’t look like much there in the quarry, but I can see. Oh, I can see!”
In eternity past, the Master Artist took up the challenge to complete his masterpiece in your life. He saw your ruined life out in the junkyard and set his love upon you, chipping away at all the raw uncut material, until your new life in Christ started to emerge.
Friend, you also have the high privilege of modeling his creativity when you accept the challenge to take up your chosen tool. One day, the good work of your life and creative efforts will be complete. But until that day, he’s making you into something spectacular, a poiema, a true masterpiece.
Under construction with you,
P.S. The ideas of ‘poiema’ and holy leisure go hand in hand. Adopt a holy leisure mindset as you go about your own creative efforts. Download this free framework today.
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