Every year at my church, we celebrate Advent as we count down to Christmas Day. We focus on Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Usually, volunteers paint pictures and families share testimonies of God’s faithfulness. It’s a beautiful tradition to strengthen our faith and encourage others.
I’ve been on stage sharing my story and painted two paintings on Hope and Joy. I had a clear image of what I want to paint, and it was a nice and easy job. This year, I was asked to make a painting on Joy, again, and I accepted gladly. I love painting it’s brings me joy… but not this time.
I stared at the blank canvas. I am a very visual person and I can “see” in my imagination the end result. I do that with all of my paintings. But this time, it was blank. I asked God for ideas and He gave me one. I got excited, did some research, and I sketched my image nice and easy.
My signature colours for Advent paintings are black, red and white. Black is for sin, red is for blood of Jesus, and white is for Salvation. The idea that came into my mind was hands holding the bible and a cross with the words Joy and Lord, shining into the black sinful world, sin trying to get to us but while we are holding on to the Word of God it won’t prevail.
I wanted to give colour to my hands. Thinking of it I thought, “How I can do this and not offend anyone?” I heard God saying to me, “As a Christian, you don’t have a race or colour. You are all washed with the blood of Jesus.” So, metaphorically speaking, we’re all red.
In between the letters of word JOY was so much space and it didn’t look right. I said to my daughter, “There are no mistakes in painting, only opportunities.” We brainstormed ideas and decided to draw crown of thorns beside J and kinds crown beside Y. My daughter said, “Because Jesus took the crown of thorns, and You have a crown of royalty!”
It was beautiful collaboration until she said, “Mom, it looks… it looks like the cross is reading the bible…” I looked at it and realized that if she thinks this way, church folks might see this way as well. I wanted to please her and not be judged by the people… so I erased the cross.
In no way do I blame anyone. The decision to change my design was completely mine, but the result was that I didn’t see the end picture anymore. I invested hours and applied tons of paint on this canvas, and it wasn’t right! I stared at this painting, doubting myself and my abilities to produce a finished product. I was frustrated and sometimes really angry.
My daily life had struggles. God kept saying to me, “Joy of the Lord is your strength”. (Nehemiah 8-10) What does it mean? I kept asking. I had no joy, I prayed and read my bible and I asked everyone around me, even my children, what they think it meant… I still couldn’t obtain it and couldn’t understand it.
Exhausted, I prayed to God to give me another vision and He said, “I gave you one! You choose not to listen.” Sheepishly, I put the cross back into my painting, and it all became clear again. Throughout this turmoil, I had faith that God wouldn’t leave me in this mess and when I finished my painting, I wept because of God’s faithfulness to me. Hours and amounts of layered paint created a beautiful texture on the canvas that wouldn’t be possible any other way, beauty from ashes is God’s specialty. A great analogy for life’s struggle.
That morning, I had big argument and came to online bible study upset. We were talking about Ephesians 6-12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.”
A bible study book by Susan J. Heck is an amazing tool to dive deeper into the Word. That morning, I read it and understood why this is happening. Paraphrasing: “One of the ways the enemy deceives us is he tries to undermine present victory by creating trouble that makes life difficult, thereby tempting us to forsake obedience to God’s standard and calling.”
After my bible study, I received this message from my friend saying, “I saw you come into our meeting today with heavy heart. By the end, you had joy. That look on your face puts joy in my heart. How amazing that we serve a God who meets us where we are and uses our everyday life to teach us His ways”.
There you go. I couldn’t learn, understand or explain JOY, but I experienced it. Although faith I have always, joy will fluctuate, not because it’s not available to me through Christ, but because I have a lesson to learn and to grow. It’s a reward for persevering through difficulties and being obedient to God, even though I might displease people. I am so glad that I’ve been asked to do this painting. I am so glad Jesus continue His good works in me. I am so glad to celebrate the Advent of Joy.
Stay healthy, stay safe, my friends. Love&BLoved.