© 2016 Lynn Abbott
When someone asks if my 21-year-old son is also an artist, I invariably grin.
But not for reasons you might suppose.
You see, while he finds art and art history fascinating, he does not express interest in pursuing an art career. And I have never pushed it.
The reason is quite simple.
As a pre-kindergartener, my son became frustrated by drawing. Quite frankly, my extremely analytical child wished to reproduce the world exactly as he saw it.
Stick figures did not satisfy him.
For this reason, he avoided drawing. Initially, his reticence perplexed me.
After all, had I not applauded all his efforts?
I delighted in his work. I never critiqued his art. I enthusiastically praised his pictures.
Yet, inexplicably, he shied away from the easel. Things reached a point of crisis when his teacher requested that each child bring a drawing for “show-and-tell.”
For this reason, one day after school, my son and I sat down to a kitchen table buried in every kind of crayon, marker and watercolor available to pre-kindergarteners.
I asked him what he would like to draw for his class. He answered, “Nothin’.”
He obviously intended to dig in.
I recognized the stubborn resistance that controlled those round cheeks. I’d seen that determined expression often.
I quickly assessed the situation. And decided to play a wild card.
I clearly understood that no amount of parental insistence would move that strong-willed, 5-year-old. In the past, we’d both climbed out on that precarious limb only to have it snap.
Yup. I’d regularly gone done that road …with little or no success.
But the Holy Spirit rescued me that day.
In a flash of personally uncharacteristic wisdom, I asked that stubborn little boy, “What is it about drawing that you don’t like?”
The Holy Spirit definitely whispered to me that day.
“My pictures don’t look right,” my five-year-old muttered.
“What do you mean?” I asked incredulously. “I love your drawings. They’re wonderful!”
“No,” he said. “I can’t draw things like in books.”
“But it doesn’t have to be exactly like the books to be wonderful,” I contested.
He shook his head.
Apparently, my task would not be easy.
For a moment, I sat quietly– stumped by the small person seated across from me. table. It seemed we’d reached an impasse.
“Well,” I began slowly. “What do you think of my paintings?”
Of course, it was a risky question. Evidently, my self-appointed art critique had high standards. Who knew if I would measure up?
“Oh, you are good, Mom,” he answered quickly.
Whew. At least, I’d passed muster.
“Okay, then,” I continued. “Would you like to see the photo that I used to paint the picture in our dining room?”
He shrugged and I eagerly interpreted his response as “yes.”
“Follow me,” I said.
I grabbed a photo album on the way to our dining room. I planned a little show-and-tell of my own that day.
As I pointed to one of my paintings, I asked, “What do you think of that? Do you think it is good?”
I drew a deep breath and waited for his monosyllabic answer.
Fortunately for me, he didn’t hesitate, “Yeah.”
“Would you like to see the photo I used as my inspiration?” He nodded.
Of course, even at five, he knew he had no choice. I would show him regardless.
I opened the album and pointed to the photo. “There now. Does my painting look exactly like the photo?”
“No,” he reluctantly admitted.
“And yet it is still good, right?”
“Yeah…” he trailed with the sudden realization that he had lost the argument.
“Your art doesn’t have to be exact or perfect to be good,” I concluded.
You betcha. By the end of the afternoon, my son had drawn a spaceship.
And while my son hasn’t pursued art, he undoubtedly taught me a valuable lesson that day: even if my efforts don’t produce an exact representation, my work still has value.
Yet, to be perfectly honest, I have to admit that I have empathized with that five-year-old more often than not.
Case in point: a dear friend recently asked if I might create a painting similar to one I had previously completed.
In order to fulfill her request, I needed to replicate my own work.
Can I create exact duplicates?
Nope. I’m just not that good. Xerox is not my middle name.
But that does not mean that my second “go-around” lacked value.
My son taught me this much all those years ago. There is a significant difference between self-critique and self-defeat.
Sure, appropriately evaluating one’s work can be tricky. Many of us swing between overconfidence and insecurity.
And the line between self-critique and self-defeat is fine. The distinction, however, is absolutely necessary to understand if we are to fully comprehend God’s grace.
My young son had looked intently at the external standard; he evaluated his own work by it. His conclusion? “I don’t measure up.”
And he gave up.
How common is this response! In fact, the enemy uses such comparisons to defeat you and me before we have even begun.
Satan points out our failings and he cackles. He reminds us of all our imperfections; he exalts in our shortcomings.
He eagerly reminds us that we do not live up to the example of Christ. “You are a hypocrite,” he accuses.
Like the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the enemy enters God’s camp and shouts, “There’s a traitor in your midst.”
Listening to such condemnation, I bow my head… I know I have failed again and again. My picture does not measure up to the external standard.
For this reason, I’m extremely grateful for the example and writings of Isaiah. Isaiah certainly had a “sane estimation” of himself, (Romans 12:16; Philippians 3:12-15).
But that wasn’t always the case.
Although Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Isaiah, we do catch a personal glimpse in Isaiah 6 through a vision given to the prophet after King Uzziah’s death.
Isaiah wrote that he saw the Lord sitting on His throne, “lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple,” (Isaiah 6:1).
In Isaiah’s vision God’s throne was surrounded by Seraphim–a type of angel– and those angels called out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
The vision’s power was further underscored by an earthquake and smoke. Understandably, the demonstration of God’s power and holiness shook Isaiah to his core.
In despair, he cried, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts,” (Isaiah 6: 5).
Isaiah saw the standard, God’s standard of holiness. And the future prophet recognized that he fell far short of God’s perfection. Indeed, Isaiah’s response to that revelation was particularly human.
Without God’s intervention, Isaiah likely would have spiraled in self-defeat. But Isaiah’s book reveals that God both recognizes and looks beyond our imperfections.
Yes, God sees our sin. He knows our hearts. Yet, in love and grace through His Son, God has provided for all that is lacking in us.
Our Savior replaces defeat with victory.
Isaiah experienced this great exchange. He discovered the essence of God’s Grace.
Even as Isaiah bemoaned his personal unworthiness, God sent a Seraphim to rescue the prophet.
In the vision, the Seraphim symbolically placed a burning coal on Isaiah’s mouth, and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven,” (Isaiah 6:7).
Although the prophet did not measure up to God’s standard of holiness, God made a way.
Imperfection threatened to prevent Isaiah’s success, but we take heart in this: the Grace of God overcame all obstacles.
Feeling as though you will never measure up? Do you wonder if you can effectively serve God? Do you think your gifts fall short of the standard?
You are not alone. Isaiah felt the same.
And he shows us that the first step of our journey requires recognition of our weaknesses–our failures and inadequacies.
Yet, if you and I go no further than this, we are defeated before we begin.
True, I fall short. But I’m thankful that that’s not the end of the story. Just as God provided for Isaiah, He gives us grace.
You and I belong to an awe-inspiring God… He is holy, but He also,
I am weak, but He is strong.
The key to a sane estimation of ourselves is not only in recognizing our weaknesses, but also in comprehending the enormity of God’s love and grace.
Isaiah saw his failures.
But God sent an angel to answer Isaiah’s cry with a merciful, “I’ve got this covered.”
God, then, asked, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?”
Was Isaiah the perfect ambassador? Hardly.
Even Isaiah knew he couldn’t measure up to God’s holy standard. However, he accepted God’s grace and stepped out in faith.
His response, in fact, demonstrates godly wisdom. Isaiah did not leave room for self-defeat.
The prophet understood his identity in light of Yahweh’s love and mercy.
In response, Isaiah called out, “Here am I! Send Me!”
After answering God’s call, life was not easy for Isaiah. He didn’t reflect God’s image perfectly. But by God’s grace, he still represented great beauty. His book, in fact, contains some of the most exquisite words of comfort in Scripture.
Who can forget the prophecy, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will e called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6)?
Or how about Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him”?
Of course, we all remember poetic promise in Isaiah 40:28-31: “…Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.”
And “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about your, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand'” (Isaiah 41:10).
Like all of us, Isaiah fell short of God’s holiness. Yet, God’s love and grace did not allow Isaiah’s shortcomings to disqualify the prophet. Imperfect, yes. Nevertheless, in his heavenly Father’s loving eyes, Isaiah’s life was beautiful.
God sees you and me in a similar way. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, mercy sees beyond all our imperfections, beyond our broken bits… to all that we will become.
And Abba celebrates the beauty in you and me.
The journey simply begins with a right assessment… an honest look at ourselves in light of the standard as well as our acceptance of God’s love and grace through Christ.
No exact copies…to be sure. Nevertheless, our Sovereign-Shepherd gives great grace and then, as with Isaiah, our Savior commissions us to paint a beautiful picture of His love for all the world.
“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies beyond and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” ~Philippians 3:12-14