© 2016 Lynn Abbott
People often ask me where artists get inspiration for their paintings. I can’t answer for others, but I know that I often find glimmers of God’s grace in the world around me.
Of course, my life doesn’t always lend itself to painting “en plein air,” and so my camera has become a handy accessory.
Even so, I certainly don’t claim to be a photographer.
In fact, if pressed, I sheepishly admit that as of yet, I know very little about my extraordinary digital, Canon Rebel T3i. For this reason, even though I snap photos during my travels, I am invariably disappointed with the outcome of my efforts.
Most of the time, my photographs only shadow the real thing.
But back in my studio, I begin to imagine all that a photo may become.
I find that even the sloppiest of camera work may serve as an artistic “jumping off point,” the seed for a composition yet to be developed.
Experience has taught me that with brush, I can accentuate color, texture and elements that are not immediately perceived in my photos.
Call it artistic license… if you like.
I like to think of it as faith in what may yet be.
More often than not, my painting’s starting point isn’t grand or glorious. It is quite small, insignificant; its colors gray and ordinary.
Yet, my hopeful heart looks beyond the less than ideal image. I imagine the vibrancy that my paintbrush could evoke on canvas. And in such cases, the process of transformation brings me extraordinary delight…
Quite frankly, I can’t help but imagine that this is how God views me. At the very least, I believe it may be the key to Jacob’s life history.
I have often wondered what God saw in Jacob. Reading Genesis chapter 25, I simply see the birth of a problem child.
Rebekah’s concern begins even before her twins emerge from her womb. Scripture reports that the babies “jostled each other within her.”
Yup. The stage is set. And as we read further, we discover that these two boys clashed throughout their lives.
Of course, Esau possessed all the legal rights of the first-born. In ancient Israel as in many cultures throughout history, the elder inherited all. In addition. the eldest son was responsible for carrying on the family line.
Indeed, the eldest was expected to fulfill a vast number of expectations.
Yet, God chose Jacob, a move that flew in the face of cultural tradition and humanity’s established order. He promised that Esau would serve Jacob.
Although I certainly acknowledge God’s sovereign right to mix the order of things, God’s choice is a bit perplexing. Jacob, after all, was a scrappy, unscrupulous character.
From the beginning, Jacob challenged the natural order. During birth, Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel and so inaugurated the rivalry. Figuratively, “to grasp the heel” indicated that Jacob would deceive.
Evidently, Jacob would beat Machiavelli at his own game. Again and again, rather than waiting on God, Jacob took matters into his own hands.
Yet, God said in Malachi 1:2-3, “…I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated and I have turned his mountains in to a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
He certainly had few characteristics that appealed to the world at large. Scripture contrasts Jake’s appearance and character with Esau’s from the get go.
From birth, Esau possessed all the his culture’s preferred traits; he epitomized ideal masculinity. A rugged, mountain man type, his penchant for hunting curried his father’s favor. He was a true man’s man.
When his father asked for fresh game, he immediately left for the hunt. Yes, he met expectations and seemed the appropriate heir.
Jacob, on the other hand, makes modern reality television look tame. Conniving, selfishly ambitious, and deceitful, Jake dogged his brother’s heels. He was probably slight of frame by comparison and Scripture makes it evident that he was a so-called “mama’s boy.”
Maybe, that’s why Esau didn’t consider Jake a threat. After all, Esau had everything going for him.
Nevertheless, things may have come a little bit too easy for Esau. This would explain why he folded easily under pressure.
On one occasion, he returned from a hunt so tired and hungry that he couldn’t face making a meal.
But Jake happened to be cooking up an aromatic stew. Esau decided it was easier to beg from his unpopular brother than to cook at the end of an exhausting day.
Can’t say that I blame him for that.
Jacob obviously recognized his brother’s weakness, and took advantage of the situation. He demanded that his brother exchange the birthright for stew. Esau paid by far and away more than that stew was worth.
In order to satisfy his belly, Esau quite literally sold his soul.
Jacob, however, wasn’t satisfied.
He joined forces with his mother to complete the coups. While Esau was occupied with hunting game, Jacob pulled off the bait and switch of a lifetime in order to steal Isaac’s spiritual blessing from Esau, (Genesis 27) .
After Jake’s theft, Rebekah understandably feared for her younger son’s life. Esau’s ire knew no bounds.
For this reason, she persuaded Isaac to send Jacob to live with her brother. There, the deceiver would learn some tough life lessons.
That’s right. Jake spent a good portion of his life reaping what he sowed. For example, his Uncle Laban tricked Jake numerous times. Laban first took advantage of his nephew by offering to allow Jake to work for the hand of Laban’s youngest daughter and then switched the girls on the wedding night, (Genesis 29:23-25).
As a result, Jacob worked an additional seven years for his chosen bride. Later, when he later tried to return home, Laban waylaid Jake. When Rebekah’s youngest finally made the break, his beloved bride stole an idol from her father and lied about it.
Jacob attempts to control his circumstances rather than to trust God’s plan resulted in some pretty messy conflicts.
But the most significant of these came on the journey home. Although he had grown spiritually, Jacob still struggled with trusting God.
Genesis 32 records Jacob’s struggle with God (Genesis 32:24-32). Depending on his own strength, he wrestled with the angel of the Lord. He attempted to force God’s hand of blessing.
But God’s gifts are not the result of our works or negotiation. No amount of works, no amount of scheming, will curry God’s grace.
Jacob’s history actually demonstrates that God chooses to look beyond what is. God chose Jacob in spite of Jacob’s character, in spite of Jacob’s history.
Indeed. God’s favor is not a response to human cunning, ingenuity or works. God bestows good gifts because of His grace.
Sometimes I forget that, and I wrestle.
I know better. Yet, I attempt to bargain with God because in the midst of life’s clamor, I lose sight of my heavenly Father’s love and grace.
I rush out the door and into the world. I fail to place my faith in my heavenly Father’s love and omnipotence.
I frantically try to control my circumstances, to manipulate events to advantage. And like Jake, I am miserable.
At times like these, God uses dramatic circumstances to remind me once more that I am the clay and He is the potter.
Or as Steven Curtis Chapman so poignantly sings, “God is God and I am not.”
By grace, the Creator paints a beautiful composition on my life’s canvas.
God sees potential in you and me just as He did in Jacob.
As I read of Jacob’s later years, I come to understand God’s choice better. Jacob had obviously learned the importance of trusting God. After all, his son Joseph demonstrated deep love and trust in God. I think it’s likely that Jacob shared his own life-lessons with his son.
And Joseph lived a God-saturated life…
Although he found himself in terrible circumstances as a slave in Egypt, he did not attempt to manipulate his Egyptian master.
He did not use Potiphar’s wife as an ambitious stepping stone.
He did not seek revenge when his fellow prisoner, Pharaoh’s cupbearer, forgot to return a significant favor. He did not punish his brothers although he certainly had opportunity.
Instead, through all his difficulties, Joseph trusted God to orchestrate God’s magnificent vision for Joseph’s life.
Yes, sometimes the initial inspiration looks weak or even bleak. The original picture doesn’t always reveal its potential beauty.
But God is the God who sees beyond. Grace looks past what is to what will be.
Grace sees the big picture. It creates beauty from circumstances and even lives that might initially seem unimpressive.
And I believe Abba does the same for you and me.
While God patiently shapes our days, we often see little of any profound significance, color or vibrancy.
Actually, the longer I journey in this world the more it seems I gather dust from the path. Like Schultz’ classic character, Pigpen, the remnants of the world trail all of us.
Storm clouds like those trailing Tom Wilson’s Ziggy or Disney’s Eeyore frequently prevent us from seeing the green pastures that lie ahead of us.
On those hazy mornings, I often ask, “How can anything beautiful come from such?”
Just as Moses must have regretted his choices while tending sheep in a desert far from the celebrated courts of Pharaoh, I sometimes ponder the promise of my youth that has long ago been spent: I reflect upon my ill choices, life’s griefs and gray days.
Like Jacob, I believe I must redeem myself; that I must wrestle from God the promise of His favor.
Surely, I think, I may have started well, but the intervening events obviously have disqualified the image as inspiration for any of the Master’s significant creations. . .
Or have they?
If nothing else, Jacob’s life reveals a God who does not see as humanity sees. Fortunately for me, He sees beyond my imperfections to the glorious image that He has planned.
Nothing is impossible with God. No cause too lost. God’s grace, like sunshine, burns through the cloudy cover.
Our Savior, in fact, delights in painting masterpieces from lives that seem ill-suited to inspire.
If we read without presuppositions, it becomes clear that Jacob was not unusual. Actually, the broken down, the dusty, the gray, the lackluster, and the insignificant populate the genealogy of Christ and fill the pages of Biblical history with vibrant color.
The deceitful Jacob, the foreigner Ruth, the prostitute Rahab, the shepherd boy David, the laboring fisherman Peter, the embittered Saul of Tarsus, and the wash-out John Mark– all became a part of God’s magnificent composition.
Some found their way into the genealogy of Christ; others simply testified or wrote of Him. But God gloried in each, confounding the wisdom of this world by choosing the seemingly foolish.
In light of this, I recall the Gospel’s description of a more Mediterranean hillside many years ago where two small fish and a little bread fed 5000 men.
And so it is that I bring to Him my seemingly insignificant, brown paper, lunch bag. After all, Abba glories in painting Masterpieces from the mundane.
“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose,” Philippians 2:13 (NIV)
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…'” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world…” Matthew 5:14 (The Message)