Missio on Strife: The Artistry of Work

Isenheim AltarpieceIn Alsace, France there is a sixteenth century painting, the Isenheim Altarpiece, which depicts the Crucifixion with John the Baptist and Mary on either side of Jesus.  Many details are noteworthy here, but what I love most is John’s finger.  He is pointing to Jesus.  While it may seem insignificant compared to other imagery in Biblical paintings, a quick Google search of ‘John the Baptist paintings’ will show that this simple motion is so important that many artists have chosen it to be the central story of their composition.

As the last prophet, John the Baptist held a very important transitional role in the redemption story.  He was well known for his ministry work and he could have easily chosen to exalt himself and not the Son of Man.  Instead, he chose to give the glory to God and stated, “I am not the Messiah.  I am only here to prepare the way for him…He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”  (John 3:28, 30; NLT)

While John the Baptist was not literally at the Crucifixion, he acted in such a way that, through a simple motion, he demonstrated humility and pointed to the Truth in his work. Abraham, another Biblical icon, also gives the glory to God, even though he could have exalted himself instead.  In Genesis 12-14, the characters and the drama is ever-changing, but one thing is continuous – Abram is consistently building altars to the Lord.

Wherever he goes and whatever is occurring around him, Abram is building altars.  He stops what he is doing and takes the time to honor God.  He honors God with his incredible faith, but he also creates physical landmarks to honor him.  Even though he is assured of having the honor of many descendants, has great wealth, and defeats kings, he, like John the Baptist, stops and points the glory to God.  Later, Joshua does this too, building a pile of stones to give God the glory and remember His faithfulness (Joshua 4:19-24.)  This got me thinking:  what, where, and how in my life have I ever stopped to honor God in such a physical sense?

Surely we know that altars and sacrifice do not hold the same place today as they did in Abram’s time.  I’m not suggesting that we build an altar exactly like Abram, but I am asking:  Is it possible for me to put this spirit in my work?  Can I create in such a way that people will stop to reflect and see God’s faithfulness?  A painting has a way in itself of making people stop and reflect, but maybe this is possible in other work too.  Like an artist, I want people to stop and appreciate at my work, but, more importantly, I want it to point to God.  It is really easy to take all the credit for our work and not honor God for making it possible.  He has given us the ability and has aligned everything for His purposes, so that it could be so and we deceive ourselves if we think it’s on our own power.

We throw around the phrase ‘to God be the glory,’ but are we actually doing that in our work?  I know I don’t give it enough thought.  It will look different in everyone’s work, but God has given us creativity like Him, and we are meant to create, as artists with our work.  I think it is worth my time to think through how I can do this at work, no matter what I’m doing.  Is it talking more about what work means to me to others in my workplace?  Is it focusing on creating an end product that God would find valuable, which others may see ResurrectionHim through?  Whether we point to Him with a simple motion or are able to physically create something, giving Him the glory is worth striving for.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the Isenheim Altarpiece is a panel that is not usually seen, as it is only opened on certain special days each year.  The panel shows The Resurrection, giving ultimate glory to God, with Roman guards lying scattered near the tomb.  He is triumphant in victory, demonstrating that His glory is forever, beyond human ability and worth immeasurably more than anything we can imagine.  I want to strive to point to God’s glory in my work because, if our work is in Christ, it is the best work, as it is everlasting.

 

 

Cara Brown works to develop training events for organizations in the not-for-profit world.  She is a member of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.

 

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