Along the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn Abbott© 2017 Lynn Abbott

She arrived at my studio door with sofa cushion and armchair cover in tow.  I greeted her with a smile although I inwardly cringed.

Obviously, this commissioned piece would prove to be a tricky one.  As an artist, I generally don’t work on commission.  But periodically, when an art collector returns to find that a painting of mine has sold that he or she wished to purchase,  I am so honored that I am more easily  persuaded to accept the collector’s commission.

This particular art patron had seen one of my paintings in a local gallery, and had fallen in love with it… or so she said.

“But,” she added, “I don’t want the color red in the painting. I need the colors of the painting to coordinate with my sofa and chair.”

I looked at the decor items that she had brought to show me, and yes, the colors were predominantly burgundy and purple.  The cherry red of the  English telephone booth that dominated my composition definitely clashed with her living room palette.

And so began a grand guessing game.

I suppose I looked puzzled because she explained, “I love the color of the old building in this painting.  I think it blends well with my decor.”

“Oh, I see,” I nodded and smiled.

“And would it be possible,” she continued,”paint the piece on a horizontal rather than a vertical?’

Inwardly, I gulped.  What she proposed was an entirely new painting and yet, she said that she wanted it to resemble my previous painting.

Along the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn AbbottYet, always eager to please, I accepted her commission  even though her plan ran contrary to my better judgment.

And so began a grand guessing game.  I did my best to design a piece that reflected the original and yet satisfied her specific requests.

I felt uneasy throughout the process:  Would she like it?  Did I fully understand what it was that she wished me to create?  And would the modifications undermine the essence and strength of the composition?

When I put the last mark of paint on canvas, I stood back to view it once more. Honestly?  I ‘d lost the strength of the original composition in the translation.

However, when the collector arrived, she pronounced the painting a huge success.

“It exceeds my expectations,” she said.

Relieved, I helped her carry the painting to her car.  But as she drove away, I did not feel successful.

Yes, my work pleased. But my painting did not express my heart.  It simply fulfilled a set of specified parameters.

In my desire to please my new patron, my painting lost its unique voice.

You betcha. There’s definitely a life parallel.  After all, people pleasing is kinda like that commission.  When I primarily work for the praise of other people, it tends to water down God’s masterpiece in me.

Quite frankly, the world seeks to conform us to its image…

Along the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn AbbottAnd in my effort to fulfill the vision that others have for me, I discover how easy it is to wander away from the Master’s plan.   When I read Hezekiah’s story in 2 Kings 18-20, I see a man who started well but eventually lost his way because he got caught up in people pleasing.

Yeah, I think we can all relate to Hezekiah’s journey.  When running the race, it’s sometimes difficult to tune out the crowd.  And all that noise frequently distracts or even side-track us.

Indeed, the shouts from the sidelines can either encourage or discourage us… Sometimes, its the subtle suggestions that ensnare us.

When I primarily work for the praise of other people, it tends to water down God’s masterpiece in me.

Hezekiah began his race well.  In fact, Scripture notes that with the exception of David, Hezekiah followed God more than any other Israeli king:

“He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done…He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him,”  (2 Kings 18:3, 5).

As a bold, twenty-five-year-old, Hezekiah shocked those who supported the status quo.  After all, his father Ahaz endorsed paganism, disrespected Yahweh’s temple and enthusiastically embraced even the most barbarous forms of idolatry, (2 Kings 16:3).

But Hezekiah did not follow his biological father.

Along the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn AbbottWe are also told, “For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses,” (2 Kings 18:6).

Hezekiah tore down all the pagan “high places.”  He destroyed the idols that Ahaz had encouraged; Hezekiah eliminated the pagan altar that Ahaz had commissioned in Ahaz’ efforts to please a powerful ally.

Hezekiah sought to correct his people-pleasing, father’s error.  Despite God’s warning against alliances with foreign, pagan nations, Ahaz partnered with the king of Assyria in exchange for support against Israel’s enemy, Syria.

But in seeking Assyria’s help, Ahaz simply exchanged one devil for another.   The Assyrian king later took captive Israel’s Northern Kingdom and required Judah to pay tribute.

Ahaz compromised his kingdom in order to please the Assyrian king.

Thus, Israel lost its way; the nation adopted the practices of its pagan neighbors.  The people exchanged their worship of the one true God for wooden and metal idols.  And in so doing, they served the whims of an indifferent and alien king.

Hezekiah obviously inherited a mess.  But unlike his father Ahaz,  Hezekiah did not  please people; He wholeheartedly served God.  He even dared to rebel against Assyria.

Scripture states, “And the LORD was with him; wherever he went he prospered…” (2 Kings18:7).

Yes, God always keeps His promises. And in Deuteronomy 17, God had promised  that a godly king would be blessed.

Hezekiah began his race well.

Having experienced firsthand the blessing of God, Hezekiah might seem impervious to the shouts from the sideline.   But since Eden, even the best of human nature falls short.   Even the best of us get side-tracked along the way.

As the prophet Isaiah, Hezekiah’s contemporary, wrote, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each ofAlong the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn Abbott us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6).

And Hezekiah was no exception. Although he was an outstanding king, he nevertheless stumbled.

In 2 Kings 20, the chapter  following the account of God’s victory over the Assyrians, Hezekiah faces a personal test of faith.

Having witnessed God’s stunning destruction of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, Hezekiah had good reason to entrust himself to God’s care.  Yet, trials often follow victories, and these frequently  reveal any cracks in our shield of faith.

In 2 Kings 19, Hezekiah faced opposition in the public arena but in chapter 20, he battled a personal demon.

The chapter begins with this succinct summary: “In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live,'” (2 Kings 20:1).

I imagine that fear and sorrow intermingled in the king’s heart.  The book of Kings reports that he turned his face to the wall and began to pray.  The account notes that he wept bitterly.

I get that. Yup, walk a little while on terra firma and you are bound to experience dark days.

It could be that you currently face overwhelming odds… Perhaps, it seems as though the enemy has sent his entire army to oppose you as you seek to obey God.

You may confront difficulties in your workplace, or on the home front.

People criticize or persecute you as a result of your commitment to God.

You face health or financial trials.

But in faith, like Hezekiah,  you turn to Abba.   After all, only Yahweh is powerful enough defeat humanity’s supreme enemy.  He certainly can calm any storm we may face.

Yet, trials often follow victories, and these frequently  reveal any cracks in our shield of faith.

God, however, doesn’t always answer the way we wish or expect. Even so, we can be sure that He will always accomplish our ultimate best.

Our Sovereign-Shepherd has promised, “For I know the plans that I have for you… plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope,” (Jeremiah 29:11).

God sees what we cannot.  And He loves us beyond all that we can imagine.

Along the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn AbbottFacing difficult circumstances?  Even when we don’t initially understand His plan, we can trust our Savior to lead us to safe–although at times, unexpected– pastures.

Hezekiah’s history demonstrates that getting what I want–even though it seems to be good– doesn’t always work out well.

God granted Hezekiah 15 more years of life and protection from Assyria.  Sounds like a happy ending, doesn’t it?

But although we might expect that Hezekiah walked even closer to God as a result of God’s grace, reality actually proved otherwise.

I don’t think Hezekiah loved God any less nor do I believe Hezekiah ungrateful.  But it’s likely that in a moment of spiritual and physical exhaustion, Hezekiah simply fell prey to flattery, and then, he allowed others to define him.

News of Hezekiah’s illness spread wide.  And Babylonian ambassadors soon arrived with a gift.  Understandably, Hezekiah was pleased… and perhaps, even a little flattered that the Babylonian king honored him.

Thus, Hezekiah succumbed to people pleasing.  Instead of heeding God’s warning regarding alliances with ungodly nations, Hezekiah let down his guard.

Eager to impress and please, Hezekiah gave the ambassadors a full tour of his palace and kingdom.  That’s right.  The Babylonians received a full, security clearance.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that Babylon later conquered Israel and removed young Israelis from their homeland.

When we follow our Creator, we walk out His best version of ourselves.  Our composition reaches its full potential.

At the end of his life, Hezekiah welcomed the wrong commission.  In a moment of weakness, the king sought to please people rather than his all-wise, all-powerful, and loving, Creator.

Yeah, it’s tempting to seek others’ approval.  Who doesn’t love to be appreciated?

But only in Christ, our Good Shepherd, do we find genuinely, perfect love:  Christ has no hidden agenda; our Savior always seeks our best;  His plans are for us and not against us;  He knows us like no other.  He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our heart’s desires…

And from the very beginning, our Creator planned for us to reflect His character: good, perfect, faithful, selfless, loving, merciful, compassionate, just, true and so much more.

Along the Appian Way_14x18Oil_Lynn AbbottThus, when we follow Him, we walk out His best version of ourselves.  Our composition reaches its full potential.

He promised that if we delight in Him, our lives will fully reflect all that we were created to be.   Hezekiah would have done well to remember David’s words in Psalm 37:4-6, “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.  And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your judgment as the noonday.”

While the temptation to please people rather than God is great,  if we trust God rather than fearing people, the great “I AM”  will champion our cause.

As I picked up my paintbrush this week in order to create my painting, “Walnut Farm,” I remembered the apostle Paul’s words, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,” (Colossians 3:23).

You betcha.  I no longer wanna be a “people-pleaser.”

Instead, I will choose to live for my Creator who not only loves me but champions the best in me.

“Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him,” ~2 Corinthians 5:9