The process starts with a blank canvas, or sometimes a piece of sheet rock, poster board… anything to paint on. In this case, I also had a rough image in my mind that I had seen in worship a week or two before. What I had seen was the cross wrapped in fire and water. I was probably somewhat influenced by the alter painting at New Life Church. As I processed it, I thought the cross, meant to put an end to God's work, instead caused an explosion of new life. I wasn't clear on how the actual painting would take shape. My initial thought was to paint with a vertical canvas, but I was asked for a horizontal painting. No problem. Nothing is fixed in place ahead of time.
Materials: something to paint on as described above. For paint I use inexpensive bottles of acrylic paint from Hobby Lobby. Those are in the mop pail on the floor. These are cheap so the color isn't terribly vibrant. To my left is a paint box on a stand. That contains more expensive artist quality acrylics. I usually order these from Utrecht online. I use the nicer paints to punch up the color in spots. In this case, I am using a borrowed easel, but easels are easy and inexpensive to build. I have a five gallon bucket with water for wetting paints and brushes and to drop the brushes in so the paint doesn't dry in them. I have been blessed with a donation of art supplies so I have a lot of expensive brushes. But for a large painting I like to paint with inexpensive chipping brushes. These are cheap natural hair brushes used for painting trim. You can buy them in big bags. I'll use the fancy brushes for the fussy details. Don't forget drop clothes, rags and so on. Soft charcoal sticks are useful for laying out an image.
I like to start with a blank canvas and let it flow from there. I have seen artists come with a sketch already laid in the background. I have even seen artists come with partially complete paintings. Start with what you are comfortable with. Then wait for the Spirit to begin to move. And when the Spirit shows up, paint.
Hebrews 12:29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Worship can be a stately and predictable affair, but to pierce the heavenlies and reach the throne we are not afraid to get ‘out there’ a little. That includes letting the kids rob the costumes from the nursery and bang on drums and dance like crazy. The adults like to bang on drums too. At the beginning things are little bit crazy. There I am painting flames.
I didn't think about the fact that there is a progression that the other worshipers are seeing until it was mentioned afterwards. Revival starts with fire. I started by painting the fire. Fire consumes. The fire of God purges all that is wood, hay or stubble. It makes way for healing. Often the biggest hindrance to a move of the Spirit is all the junk. Junk in our lives, junk in the church, junk in the atmosphere. When the fire shows up, things start to burn up.
After the fire, I began painting an outpouring of water. Like fire, water purges (Exodus 40:30), but it also heals. The waters that come from Jesus through the Holy Spirit are like water priming a pump, they are meant to start a constant flow that never stops. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). The end of the book finishes with this: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:17).
Are you a part of the church? If so you are the Bride. Stand with the Spirit and say “Come”. Come and take the waters of life. Come and be healed. Come and be clean, fully purged. Come and know peace in all circumstances. Come and know the joy of the Savior's embrace.
Luke 9:23-24 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
In the midst of blazing fire and rushing water rises the cross. This was the third thing I began painting. The cross is the sacrifice of Jesus on which history pivots. The cross makes the fire and the water freely available to all who will come. The Cross defies intellectual understanding. And yet there it is at the very center of the salvation message. The Cross, the emblem of a murderous death for God incarnate is displayed on alters, steeples, dominating the walls of churches everywhere. Because the Cross is life.
Oswald Chambers states it this way: “We are nowhere told to preach salvation or sanctification or divine healing; we are told to lift up Jesus who is the Redeemer, and He will produce His redemptive results in the souls of men. If I preach only the effects of the redemption, describe in persuasive speech what God has done for me, nothing will happen. It is only when I am humble enough and stupid enough to preach the Cross that the miracle of God takes place.” (Chambers, Conformed to His Image. 1950. Page 36).
The Cross is central. Jesus, though fully resurrected, continues to carry the marks of the crucifixion (John 20:27). John writes in the Book of Revelation, “among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Jesus stands not as a conquering hero, but a sacrificial lamb. In the book Heaven is for Real, four year old Colton describes Jesus as having “marks”. 2000 years later, Jesus is still identified by the mark of the crucifixion.
The Cross is an odd artifact until I embrace its meaning for history, for the Church and for me personally. The first step is repentance. I die to my old ways and embrace Jesus as a way of life. In many places this can be a costly embrace. Baptism, done either by emersion in water or by pouring water over the new convert symbolizes the death of the former life. In the early church the new convert was then clothed in fresh new clothes to signify that new life. The work of the Cross is accomplished when I am dead enough for the Holy Spirit to set to work. The Christian's heart is turned by the Holy Spirit as I lean into the things of God.
I believe that the most powerful and most productive way that the Spirit changes our heart is through our intercession. To quote Chambers again, “Intercession means that I strive earnestly to have my human soul moved by the attitude of my Lord to the particular person I am praying for.… Intercession means getting the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray; that is what it means to ‘fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.’ (Colossians 1:24); that is why there are so few intercessors.” (Chambers, 1950. Pages 33-34).
Jesus knew that he would die the horrific death of the cross. He chose to walk to that destiny. When he tells his disciples that they must take up their cross, the saying meant little to them. Only afterwards did they begin to realize how forcefully he moved towards the Cross and what it meant for us all. Happily most of us will not be asked to give such a high price, but all of us are asked to link ourselves to God closely enough that we begin to ache for God's desires and make sacrifices. We ask God for eyes to see, not in general, but to see specifically the beauty of the one we pray for, the one that God wants to free from pain, addiction, injustice, or destructive ignorance. When we see with the eyes of the Father, we pray earnestly for healing, for relief, for the wisdom of heaven.
Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Christianity isn't about martyrdom. Jesus wasn't a martyr. He walked with purpose to the place that God needed him to go, the Cross. God stopped Abraham at the last moment. But He did not stop the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That death was foretold, it was foreshadowed in Abraham, it was fully purposed. Sometimes Christians are martyred (Revelations 2:9). That is regrettable. But God assures us the Crown of Life (Revelations 2:10). Why? Because Jesus went to the Cross ahead of us.
The heart of following Christ is death to self, so that the newness of life is released. What that means is different for everyone. For one in might be no longer loosing sleep over what so-and-so thinks or said or did. For another it might be living a more humble life so that they might be a blessing to many. For another it might be giving up everything to go and do something radical, even dangerous, for Jesus. What comes out the other side is unpredictable. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8).
What is important, is that the world sees something different, something it has trouble comprehending. It is new life. You went down to be baptized one person, and came back another. I have people in my life who call me up when they are agitated because they know that I will calm them down. That is not my character. It is something that has been born in me. It is the character of Christ showing through. The more I quit trying to be or to do, and enjoy the being and doing that is placed before me, the more I accomplish and the more I am filled with the joy of seeing God move. The more I see God move, the more I want to see. You can't push the river. God works in me and through me when He is good and ready, which really boils down to when I am good and ready.
Luke 5:36-39 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”
While on a business trip to New Orleans I had a meal of soft shell crabs. Delicious. Later I was asked how they got soft shells. I figured by molting, which turned out to be the correct answer. When the crab gets too big for his breeches (his shell), he comes out of his shell and grows another. Our church had been having some issues related to change. Talking with others before a prayer session a few days later the subject of change came up. At that moment the Spirit tapped me on the shoulder saying, “soft shell crabs”. Huh? Then I realized that the prayer was that we need help coming out of our fixed church culture. Change is a little scary. It may even seem to distain tradition even to the point of sacrilege. But if the Holy Spirit leads, change is necessary. It will lead to growth, blessing and maturity.
Back to the painting. I was coming to the end and I looked at the painting and thought, “This is messy!” Almost immediately the still small voice repeated something from a book on revival, “Revival is Messy!” If I am recalling correctly it was Bonnie Chavda who was having an angelic visitation, this startling visitor questioned her on revival, and finished with his own answer, “Revival is Messy!” Revivals upset church culture. Revivals change the culture of whole communities. All sorts of things happen when revival breaks out. Most good, but not all things. Jonathan Edwards wrote two books following the Great Awakening. The better, and best known is generally titled “The Religious Affections”. He is reacting to some harsh criticism of the revival from within the church.
In Religious Affections, Edwards is both defending the emotional excitement of the revival, which in the American colonies was seen as somewhat un-Christian, as well as addressing some of the excesses. There were several small outbreaks of perverse church bodies, what we sometimes call ‘cults&lrquo;. And there was a lot of emotionalism that was not Holy Spirit driven, but merely for show. Edwards enumerates many good and bad outcomes of the Awakening, all of which seem to bear witness today. The bottom line was that a lot was happening that was not ‘church as usual’. Revival is messy. For Edwards the bottom line is for seasoned believers to help sort through things, to nurture the fire of the Holy Ghost, not stamp it out, and to help steer clear of the stuff that twisted the revivalists away from Jesus.
Neither the Pharisees or the Sadducees wanted to see the changes that Jesus offered. So God fearing men did the unthinkable, they murdered the Christ. The Church has not fared terribly much better when it comes to change. Every new move of the Spirit has been met by a drawing up of creeds, doctrinal confessions, accusations and stout resistance from within the Body of Christ. We get comfortable with church the way it is and we really don't want anything to change. How many churches have you walked into to see men and women dressed like their parents did in 1950? (This is not a pitch for flip-flops and halter tops in church).
When you become pliable and yielding to the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the culture of this world, magic happens. Fruit blossoms. People will find things in you that was never there before. Even better, the time comes when you become a part of changing the lives of people you love, people you barely know, and even total strangers. This happens, not by anything native to you, but by the Holy Spirit being pleased to work through you. When that you is a church body, revival happens. It cannot be stopped.