A few weeks ago, I began writing a series of posts on jazz as a metaphor for the Christian life. The premise was that many think of the Christian life more as a marching band than a jazz ensemble. It is about marching together and staying in step and staying in line. It is structured and rigid. And though it can be beautiful and amazing, the lines are pretty clearly drawn and everybody knows when you get out of step. It is about making music as a unit and in a way that typically doesn't emphasize the individual.
There is nothing wrong with any of those things. But when they are applied to the Christian life (and many bring those attitudes into the Christian life), it can become stifling. I think there is a freedom - an improvisation - that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is discipline and there is structure, but there is also freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the Spirit. Many are missing that. I would encourage you to go back to posts from Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 for more details.
One of the reasons that I have postponed the series is because some of these thoughts were in a guest piece I wrote for a “blog-a-thon”. It ran last week on Faith on Campus. I would encourage you to check out the other pieces posted.
Before I write more about elements of jazz that apply to our spiritual lives – things like syncopation, improvisation, etc. – I want to lay a piece of Biblical groundwork.
“For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
As many who have been around our ministry would tell you, this is one of my favorite and most often quoted verses. I believe it sets the stage for a life of fruitful and joyful service to God and others.
We need to realize that God has re-created us through Jesus Christ to be works of art. The word translated “workmanship” is poiema, from which we derive our English word “poem.” We are God’s poem, God’s musical composition, God’s work of art carefully crafted by his own hands.
We live in a “paint by numbers” world where creativity and uniqueness is often discouraged. Our world – from schools to churches to corporations to athletic teams to families to friends – works hard to bring everyone into conformity and to keep everyone from straying too far from the accepted ways of thinking or living. But works of art are not mass produced. Each piece is unique and different from every other piece. We need to recognize, and help those around us recognize, the unique way that God has created us. We have the freedom to express that individuality as we are led by the Spirit. Of course, we need to cling to Scriptural truth and practice spiritual disciplines so that the work of art that God created maintains is unique beauty, but we must beware of “cookie-cutter” approaches that make Christians more like other Christians or our religious culture (or us) than the work of art God intended.
Works of art are also created for a purpose: To reflect the creator and his or her values and nature to the world in a unique way. Every painting, sculpture, poem, or musical piece says something about the one who created it. So, too, it is God’s desire that the works of art he has created in us reflect him accurately to our world – but in unique and creative ways. We were designed for something far greater than a paycheck – to be works of God that communicate the nature of God to the world.
I believe that it is interesting – and significant – that the only other time that a form of the Greek word “poiema” is used in the New Testament is in Romans 1:20. In this verse, God states that the purpose of the creation around us is to reflect God’s power and nature so that the world is without excuse. They should recognize that He exists from what He has created. We, as God’s new creations, are to make God’s nature and power known, as well.
The primary way that we do that is by getting involved in the “good work” which God has prepared for us. That is the reason that God has re-created us and made us into works of art – to fulfill his purpose. God has a job for you – one that takes advantage of your unique giftedness and reflects his nature. It is something that is good. It is something that honors Him. It is something that makes Him known to the world. God has prepared it for you. God has prepared you for it.
We need to quit acting like the Christian life is all about me – my enjoyment, my entertainment, my comfort, my needs. The Christian life, the life that is in step with the Spirit, is a life that is on a mission. It honors God by fulfilling the purpose for which it is designed.
Those of us in leadership need to remember that one of our major roles is to help those around us recognize the gifts and value they have as God’s re-creative works of art and to help them catch a vision for the unique and critical purpose to which God has called them. Then we help prepare them to respond to that calling as a part of Christ’s body and in a way that reflects their Creator and draws others to Him. When we do these things, they will experience the joy of a life lived in step with the Spirit and the truth of these words by Frederick Buechner:
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”