Adrian Johnston Gods creature skilled in painting.
Interviewer: j. harms
harms: Adrian, what has God taught you about yourself and the difference between you and Him through your artistic labors?
johnston: Wow...He is fully excellent in every measure... I am created life, and He is life, the creator. I am a process in the midst of a process, and He is completion, beginning and end. He says: I AM, and I say... I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine!
harms: What have you learned about trusting God for your every provision and satisfaction?
johnston: I have learned that I do not trust to the extent he calls me to. Trust is such a deep deep pool, and the depths of intimacy God invites us to makes me tremble as much as the thought of the unknown depths of the ocean beneath my dangling feet in the waves where I float. What happens if I dive deep? What's down there, and can I hold my breath that long? What happens if I can't come back up for air? Jesus makes such a broad, generous promise to free us to totally & absolutely trust. "Your Father in heaven knows you need these things!" The war between the desires of the flesh, the eyes, and pride in possessions, and the spirit (living by every word that God speaks) is so clearly illustrated here...faith is such a rush of bliss; having waited on God to the brink, and receiving the sweetness of His will even in this world. Why would we so often reason this pleasure away?
God has never let me lack. I have often been foolish, and God knows my folly (Ps.69) but His faithfulness to His own word overflows all my weakness, and He never hesitates to hearken to the fulfillment of what He has promised. And yet faithful decisions are never easy ones, so that God's mercy will always remain precious to us.
I believe that as an artist, as a servant, no, as a friend of Jesus, He brings our work, our bread and our joy into one beautiful unity, even in this corrupt world. This is my longing and hope, that my yoke is His design, and that He will provide my work, and all the power that I need to do it, growing up into the man of God He calls me to be. Why should He set in me the longing to make things? I don't know.... Why should He provide paint and brushes for me? Because His love knows us deeply. Why would He call His son to lay down His tools, and walk to the cross? Because His wisdom is so high...because He loves me, and to show me that His mercy endures forever!
harms: It seems then that you have seen some benefits to being in need. So when you are in the actual season of neediness, how do you fight against the temptation to despair?
johnston: When He provides for me it makes me rejoice, because I know He hears my prayer, and my experience echoes the psalmist...I see my life written in the word. However, my need equally confirms my place in His will, for if I can learn to be in need and focus my hunger upon God, then I receive my reward.
In times of transition between jobs, or living situations, etc., I am often challenged by a voice that calls to me all my folly, and adds weight to my doubts. But His word to Abraham, Joshua, and to Daniel has carried me day to day, among friends and enemies, like a living suit of armor: "After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great" (Genesis 15:1). "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). "And he said, O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage. And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me" (Daniel 10:19).
harms: What pleasures do you know from God that are uniquely or especially known when you are laboring in your artwork?
johnston: One pleasure that I love is the absence of time. I do not usually experience time when I paint; I only feel an intense urgency to create.
harms: When I saw your painting of Elijah and the ravens, I saw so much to take encouragement from in Elijah's faithfulness and God's faithfulness as it pertains to my portion in the arts. Could you tell us about your wrestlings with God that were put to image in the painting Provision for the Cost?
johnston: In this painting I see a broken man, in absolute need of his God. A man hemmed in, pushed to the edges, alone by a brook on the border of Israel's inheritance. He is trapped by God's word, yet sustained by it. We see a man whose journey is mapped out by the duration of God's provision for him in every place. He sees the long days from sunrise to the darkness of night as he waits...the distance of his lips to the ravens which bring his food, and the place of desolation in which He is promised sustenance, while the word of the Lord works to fulfillment. Does he fret, or consider where this road of faith will lead? Does he forage for food, or does he simply wait by the dwindling brook in the time between the dawn and twilight ravens?
I painted this in the spring of 2004, in a small city in southwest China. In the end of 2002, I had begged leave of God from my employment in America. My heart was on trial before Abraham's faith, and like Jacob, I begged His provision for the months of preparation before He provided an open door to "Go." I was hasty, and after an exhausting first semester of teaching in China, I spent the winter break begging him for the provision of time to paint and study language and travel. He blessed me richly in all I asked of him, and though not without struggles and mistakes, many paintings and relationships were the fruit of that season. "I want to do your will at any cost." I was awed to read of a martyr who once prayed like this. Elijah experiences the cost: estranged from his king and people; his land suffering from drought for seven years because of the word of faith that he spoke; the bitter rebuke of a bereaved widow; the feeling of being forsaken in the wilderness by Horeb. We are taught to pray to a God who hears, honors, and answers prayer. We are taught to desire God's will above all. But not often do we say, "At any cost" ...the prayer of those who prize God Himself above all other things. Nonetheless, Elijah's cleaving to God's will is testimony to us of God's intimate understanding of what Elijah needed, whether provided by raven, widow, angel, or voice of revelation. Remember when Elijah awoke in the wilderness, forlorn and exhausted, and there by him a cruse of water, and bread, and the angel who says, "Arise, eat, for the journey is too great for you." Merciful God! He knows! It is because the cost is so great that God marks our journey with heavenly provisions, to sustain body, soul, and spirit, and to bring us home.
There are so many of God's direct and specific words to Elijah, and God's direct and specific provision for his bodily needs. For example, in 1 Kings 17, Elijah, by the word of the Lord, has told Ahab that there will be no rain on the land until he says so. The Lord tells Elijah to go east to a brook, where he dwells until the water dries, according to the prayer he prayed, "It will not rain." And during this time, God commands ravens to provide for him bread and flesh, morning and evening. (How strange, the Lord God, who through angels gave the laws of cleanliness to Moses, would command a carrion bird to carry flesh to His servant! What God makes clean, let us not call unclean!) When his water is depleted, it follows that through a widow in Zarephath the Lord chooses to sustain Elijah. I cannot imagine that Elijah did not feel burdensome to her, but the substance of this relationship is one of unfailing provision for both Elijah and the widow's family, even to the end of the famine, though it is fraught with sickness and death. But the relationship culminates in a way that hearkens forward to Jesus' word in John 11, concerning the death of Lazarus. The widow sees her son raised, and glorifies God.Jesus commands his disciples: "Count the cost." Does this mean that we must earn our standing with him? No. Does it mean that he tallies our mistakes against us? No. What brings us to friendship with God through Christ is free because it was earned already by what Jesus did, and it is true that we cannot add to it by sacrifice. There is nothing we can choose to forsake that will merit us salvation, or the peace that comes from friendship with God. If the price of faith demanded the sacrifice of any thing we could give, it would not be grace but would render instead an increasingly weighty burden of sin. But after we receive that free gift through faith in Jesus, the yoke of slavery to sin is broken in the flood of joy that washes away the enemy and leaves the son. Then the high price we saw Jesus demonstrate on the cross becomes the windowpane through which we see a greater place of joy. Because Jesus knew His Father, and knew that He was the Son, He prized the free gift most highly--let what He called sweet become our sweetness. Elijah, who was "very jealous for the Lord God of hosts," (1 Kings 19.10) chose to desire God's will being done, and obeyed throughout all the consequences of his obedience.
The widow of Zarephath spoke: "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word in your mouth is truth." What if she had said, "Despite all the difficulties attached to your choices, I know that God made you an artist, and I can see that what you create is a true reflection of His glory!" Are you willing that what you hold true be true indeed? But what if the proof of truth through your life costs you your artwork, your tools, your instrument, your manuscript, your computer and all its conveniences and organization, or your body parts and their working functions, or your reputation, or your life, or the life of a loved one? Is it worth it? God's word through Jesus is securely planted, and has been proved through the trials when nothing is more precious to us than God Himself, and Him having His way. We release all these things willfully, and surrender our possessorship to His management. The light of life floods in, and we become who we are. He may exact the price of all we thought was ours, but not without the display of His glory for an everlasting testimony. And this is the painting, the song, the poem; the architecture that will last. We trust that He sees us with merciful eyes, and will hold us true to Him, for His own name's sake. He does not bruise spitefully, or forgetfully, or randomly, but in order to replenish and heal. Look how our bodies send blood to a wound that knits itself into a scab, in order to heal damaged flesh. We expect that when we are hurt, our bodies heal involuntarily, given the right conditions. Death however, is not natural for us, but remains awful. Therefore, our Lord, who wept before Lazarus' tomb, demonstrates that He is the matrix of the pattern of all true nature, and says, "I will raise them up at the last day." Death is temporary; healing is eternal. He does not bruise except that it should follow its natural course: to mend. He was wounded that we may be healed. And He Himself is the word of truth in our mouths, faithful though we may be faithless. "By the fruit of the lips is a man satisfied."
Dear Artists, this is for us: who struggle with the source of our life and work, and the final validation of the worth of our life's work; who struggle for means to eat and for our reputation; who struggle to provide for our loved ones; who struggle to stay true. And because the cost is so high, this is for those who find that our provision for the journey is Jesus. Who has strength and faith to recognize that nothing about us is our own? That all ought to be offered openhandedly back to God from whence it came? Better the wounds that lead to life than the stagnancy of sin that bears only death. The cost of knowing Christ is high, but the provision is sure! "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" "Lazarus, come forth!"
Adrian Johnston can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and www.kmov.org
The artwork used on www.thegaiusproject.org is a grace to us from God through the hand and wrestlings of Adrian Johnston.
© 2007 The Gaius Project