Wherever You Go

The completed, second painting: “May in Normandy,” © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2017 Lynn Abbott

This past week, I faced down an artist’s nightmare.

After hours of work and frustration one evening, I finally went to bed.  I had worked into the wee hours, wrestling with a composition.  Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t identify it with my brush.

Its colors caught the eye.  And I did hope it would be the final piece for my upcoming, showcase exhibit.

But somehow, it just didn’t fit in with the other paintings that I had set aside for the show.  It stood there, a problem in an otherwise unified body of work.

Of course, time had not been on my side. My life’s itinerary filled more quickly than I had anticipated.  Because of other scheduled artistic endeavors, my studio work time for this particular show drew to a close.  I must soon move on to the next project.

And as is usually the case when I hurry to canvas having only put in the minimum of preparation, I quickly found myself knee deep in paint and aggravation.   Indeed, I struggled to capture that certain “je ne sais quoi” that defines my work as mine.

In desperation, I prayed.

Sounds like a good plan.  However, I have found that asking God to rescue me rather than seeking His direction at the outset never works out as well as I would like.

Nevertheless, when I climbed the stairs at 4 am and stumbled into bed, I felt that the painting at the very least demonstrated reasonable technical skill.  It would “do.”

When the sun prodded me in the morning, I reluctantly set my feet on the floor and pushed away from the warm, cozy comforter.  Too little sleep, but the day’s activities could not wait…

I had more work to do in the studio.

And I had a blog post to write.

My faithful labradoodle followed me into my studio, and looked to me for a sign that his breakfast would soon be served.

But I was preoccupied, eager to note whether or not the morning light would be kind to my late night work.

I pulled out a few of the paintings that I had already framed for the exhibit.  I leaned them against the easel beneath my latest work, and stepped back to consider the whole effect.

My newest  creation, albeit beautiful, didn’t quite complement the other paintings.  It clearly constituted the “odd man out.”

I puzzled.

I decided to get a cup of English Breakfast tea to drive the fog away from my weary head.  As I waited for the water to boil, I heard a terrible crash.

And a poor, terrified Bentley fled my studio.

He ran for cover.  I hurried to discover the cause of the commotion.

My heart sank as I saw my painting occupying studio, floor space.    I swiftly retrieved it, and examined it for any smears.  Having put the final touches on canvas only a few hours ago, the paint would still be wet.  I figured I could retouch any smudges.

However, what I found  constituted an artistic disaster.  Apparently, as it tumbled to the floor, the wet canvas hit one of the framed paintings.  And yes, my latest canvas had torn in not one but two places.

I groaned.

Then, I swiftly assessed my options.  Perhaps, I could apply a patch to the back of the canvas and repair it.

No bueno.  I couldn’t in good conscience sell a damaged canvas.  Time to accept my defeat,  retreat and begin anew.

But this time, I decided to approach the process differently. I’d learned my lesson.  In my eagerness to complete my tasks in my limited time-frame, I had overlooked the importance of asking God to direct my steps.

As a result, my work had not gone as well as I’d hoped.  In fact, it ended in “disaster.”  Thus, I prayed and planned before I put paintbrush to canvas once more.

Acknowledging God in all my ways, makes an extraordinary difference in every area of my life, (Proverbs 3:5,6).  And this was no exception.

Of course, I’m not the only one who rushes into things when time pressures crowd me.

Even Biblical saints sometimes found themselves in similar straits. I’m reminded of Joshua and the Ai fiasco.

The account isn’t as well-known as that of Jericho.  Yet, the victory at Jericho immediately precedes the Ai disaster.

Jericho had demonstrated the incredible things that God would do on behalf of His people when they submitted to His leadership and sovereignty.  Indeed, the years wandering in the desert had taught the people the importance of looking to Yahweh for direction.

In Numbers 9: 15-23, we read that Moses and the people did not break camp and move unless the cloud of God’s glory moved from the tabernacle.  If the cloud moved, they followed.  And when God’s glory hovered over the tabernacle, they set up camp in that place.

Thus, day-by-day, they depended on Yahweh for direction in their lives even in activities as basic as setting up and tearing down camp.  God had chosen them to be His particular people. With that came blessing but also responsibility.  They followed and obeyed Yahweh.

When Moses died, Joshua assumed the position of leadership.  As we know, his initial foray at Jericho proved highly successful.  He sought God’s direction and found miraculous success.

Undoubtedly, it required tremendous trust to follow God’s game plan. The people of Jericho taunted the Israeli soldiers from the walls of the city.  Yet, the army marched silently as God commanded.

And on the seventh day, at the trumpet blast and shout of the army, God caused the walls to miraculously fall down and the people of the city fled.  By faith as exhibited through their obedience, Israel won a great victory that day.

However, a man named Achan took his eyes off God.  I suspect he got swept up in the moment.  Despite God’s command to leave all the loot behind, Achan did not resist temptation.  He took some of the spoils from Jericho and hid them beneath his tent.

Yes, there was a problem in the camp.  Achan was the “odd man out.”

Fresh off the incredible victory at Jericho, though, Josh and the people did not anticipate any further problems in the “promised land.”  God had evidently blessed them.  The Canaanites didn’t stand a chance.

Or so God’s people thought.

Eager to capitalize on their recent victory, Josh sent a group of spies to assess the next target, Ai.  Obviously, spying had served Israel well in the case of Jericho, and Josh thus followed the successful formula.

I find no mention of prayer in the passage.  Simply a report by the spies that reflects the enthusiastic confidence of God’s people after Jericho.

“‘Not all the people will have to go up against Ai.  Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there,'” the spies recommended (Joshua 7:3).

Confident that God had promised the land, Josh  gave the “go-ahead.”

The effort ended in disaster.

In fact, the men of Ai routed Israel.  The Israeli army ran and in the chaos, Israel lost good men that day.

Scripture reports, “… At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.”

I can imagine how devastated Josh must have felt.   And yeah, lives lost certainly trumps the loss of a painting.  If anyone had a right to be discouraged, Josh did.

His example teaches me a lot about how to handle myself when my life work crumbles. Josh humbled himself before God, (Joshua 6:7).   And then, he poured his heart out.

Quite frankly, I don’t know why I rush into work without spending the necessary time praying and preparing.  I do know better. Time and time again, my hurry has resulted in devastation.  Yet, like Israel, I allow overconfidence and eagerness to drive me.

I say to myself, “I must work immediately while I’m on a roll.  I don’t have time to stop to pray or map out any complexities.  I just need to jump in and figure it out as I go…”

And at the very least, with such an outlook, I get bogged down by the work.  Sometimes, as was the case this morning, the project defeats me.

At times like these, God allows my circumstances to realign my perspective.  I began again.  I acknowledged Him in all my ways, and He directed my path. I recognized the problem…just as Josh did.

When Josh turned to Israel’s Sovereign Shepherd, the problem in the camp became clear.  Achan had disobeyed God’s command.   Had Josh prayed and sought God’s direction before battle, I’m sure God would have revealed Achan’s sin.  Josh could have avoided great agony.

Rushing to complete our work initially doesn’t seem like such a big deal, does it?  There’s a lot on the “to do” list.  We hurry to get started.

Yet, God longs for a close relationship with His people.  He invites us to partner with Him in His grand plan.

Amazing.  In His grace, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Creator-God invites you and I to work with Him to bring about His incredible plan for our lives as well as for humanity.

But such a partnership requires our cooperation.  We must depend on Him for direction if we are to witness His miraculous work in our lives.

Instead, I often wander off on my own, and do things my way.  Then, as if to add insult to injury, I cry out to my heavenly Father when I find myself in trouble.

I love that God didn’t ignore Joshua’s cry.  Despite Achan’s willful independence and the people’s overly self-confident approach to Ai, God offered grace.  In fact, God used the Ai fiasco to get Joshua’s attention and alert him to the problem in the camp, (Joshua 7:10-13).

Actually, when I stop to think about it, rushing in without acknowledging God doesn’t make a whole lotta sense.  If the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator longs to be a part of all that I do, I should be thrilled to follow His direction.  Talk about an outstanding mentor-ship program!

With God’s blessing and direction, Josh had experienced incredible success.  And the same is true as you and I lean on our Heavenly Father for guidance, wisdom and direction in all that we do.

Of course, Joshua hadn’t directly disobeyed as Achan had.  Josh had simply rushed ahead of God, and thus, had missed out on God’s protection and guidance.  And honestly, that’s bad enough.

Experience has taught me that much.

The disaster at Ai was a wake up call for Josh.

My torn canvas did the same for me.

There is a happy ending to both accounts.  Under God’s care and direction, we can uncover the problem in the “camp”  and start anew.

The next time, Josh and the Israeli men faced Ai, they did so with God’s plan.  Victory was swift and certain.

And my second attempt at my easel went smoothly.

Was it coincidence that my canvas fell?  I don’t think so.

Scripture warns, ” Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain,” (Psalm 127:1).

Abba loves His children so deeply that He will not allow us to wander for long.  Grace sometimes requires my facing life’s torn canvases.  In doing so, my overconfidence melts away.  I turn to Abba once more.

And He never fails.  He carries me to victory.

Indeed, Abba places the highest value on His daily communion with you and me.  And life’s “disasters” simply remind you and me to humbly seek Him and trust His plan.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight,” ~Proverbs 3:5,6

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go,” ~Joshua 1:8-9