I'm in the process of launching a new Content Management System for some of my clients who own websites. The control panel for my clients' websites gives them fine-tuned control not just over the appearance of the site, but also over how it appears in different devices (desktops, phones, etc).
It's exciting for me to be launching this software, but it's even more exciting to hear the positive feedback from web masters who are enjoying creating content for their websites. "This is fun," I heard from a couple clients, and one client is creating beautiful pages filled with images and nicely formatted text that looks great not only on a desktop computer, but also on tablets and phones.
I sent that client an e-mail, saying, "By the way, your site looks great -- you're really doing a great job of building your pages!"
His response was interesting: "Regarding the site, I appreciate the compliment, but it would be like God telling me that I'm doing a good job with His word. Can't really take any credit for it. I'm just utilizing a good creation."
An interesting comparison. But it got me thinking...
There is really a very strong sense of satisfaction for me in watching people make use of the software I created to make something beautiful. I guess you could say that I "delight" in seeing what people are doing with what I built.
In the same way, don't you suppose God takes a great deal of delight in watching as we make use of His creations in good and beautiful ways? When I pick up my guitar and improvise something new, I'm really just building on something God created in the first place. And it honors him, as the Creator, when I do so.
So be beautiful. Improvise. Make beautiful music, carve beautiful sculptures. Photograph beautiful rivers, sunsets, flowers and oceans. Stand at the top of a mountain at sunrise and belt out a verse of "This Is My Father's World." It's all just stuff that God made in the first place, but don't you think he loves our improvisations on his handiwork?
If you've been following the content of this site for very long, you've probably noticed by now some of my hobbies, because I do write about them from time to time. I like to play the violin and the guitar. I like to climb mountains. And I like to to paint.
Interestingly, each one of these hobbies has, in some way, changed the way I view the world.
Because I like to play music, whenever I hear music, I don't just sing along with it, I notice how it is structured. I notice the timing, the bass line, the percussion, and a lot of things that I never would have noticed before I started learning to play a musical instrument.
Because I like to climb mountains, I can't even drive down a country road without noticing every single mountain in the distance, and being amazed by their beauty. Strange...before I started climbing, I never even noticed those mountains.
And since I've started up painting again, I can't go anywhere without noticing the brilliant, vibrant colors all around me, and thinking things like, "What color paints would I mix together to get that particular shade of blue?" or "I wonder if this scene would make a good starting point for a painting?"
I think it's interesting that each of my hobbies has, in one way or another, heightened my awareness of the world around me. I didn't start climbing mountains because I always thought the mountains were so beautiful. Nor did I start painting because I noticed and understood color and structure and composition.
No, it was the other way around. My appreciation for mountains, my understanding of color, and of beauty -- these things came after a lot of hard work on my part. The work came first, and then the understanding and the appreciation.
You might not have realized it, but the Christian life is very much the same way. I occasionally hear Christians pray, "Reveal yourself to me," but really, that's sort of a lazy prayer, because Jesus already told us the circumstances under which He reveals Himself to us:
If we want to more deeply understand God, and the work He is doing in this world, it doesn't just happen. It happens because we have his commandments, and are doing them. And we are doing them because we love Him.
The work comes first, then the understanding. I never would have come to such a deep appreciation for mountains without first putting a backpack on my shoulders and doing some very hard work. I would never have understood music so well if I hadn't spent so many hours doing tedious scales and exercises.
Do you want to understand God? Do you want Him to reveal Himself to you? Don't just sit around waiting for it to happen. Put your nose to the grindstone and actually do his work, follow his commands. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it is sometimes discouraging, and yes, there are sometimes a thousand different things you would rather be doing. But do God's work with the same stubborn determination that a musician practices his scales, or a hiker keeps on climbing, no matter how tired he gets.
In the long run, the benefits are worth it, because bit by bit, God reveals Himself, His character, His love, and His work to us.
And that's more wonderful than the tallest mountain, the most beautiful song, or the most magnificent painting.
Just for fun, let's begin today with a short test of your eye-brain coordination. Ready?
Take a look at the image shown here, which is just a tiny snippet of a photograph I took recently. What do you think it is?
Keep thinking (and no fair scrolling down too far while you think!)
Okay. Did you guess that this is a close-up of a bit of sky? Or maybe the ocean? If you guessed either of those things, you were wrong.
Actually, that is a close-up of a snowy field. Amazing, isn't it? Who knew that snow was so dark, and so blue! A little bit later on I'll show you the actual photograph, so you can see it in context.
And really, context is the issue I wanted to talk about today. This year I picked up an old hobby that I left behind years ago...painting. (You can view some of my artwork here: Glimpses of Eden.) Because of that, I've been paying a lot more attention to light and color than I normally do. I've found that there's an interesting difference between what your eyes see, and what your brain interprets.
Here's the picture, so you'll have something to look at while you read:
When your eyes view the bottom of the picture, they see dark blue, but somehow between what your eyes are seeing, and what your brain interprets, you don't consciously think that you're looking at something that's grayish-blue; your brain says, "Oh! A white, snowy field!"
In fact, if you compare the color of the field (even the part that's not shadowed by a tree) to the color of the house, you will realize that there is nothing white about what you're seeing!
What a difference context makes. And context makes a huge difference in the way we read and understand scripture as well. This is why, as I've been traveling to churches this year, I've been encouraging people to read God's Word in such a way that they get the big picture -- the full context of what God is saying to us. When we only read it one verse at a time, we can easily be deceived into thinking it says something that it really doesn't, just as you might have been deceived by the little snippet of a photo at the top of the page.
When I start out painting, I need to understand the full context of the scene first, and then, after fully understanding what I'm looking at, I can then focus on the details of the colors and the shadows and the highlights.
In the same way, if you plan to study a book of the Bible verse by verse, be sure to take the time to read the whole book first -- maybe even a few times. Getting the big picture will help you understand what you're looking at, and it will help prevent you from misunderstanding and misinterpreting the smaller bits.