There once was an old artist…
He lived in a small home in a setting that was picturesque: His property was wooded with a short hill that ran from his back door down into a vast, calm lake. Looking out over the water into the distance revealed a majestic mountain range. He had few human visitors, but enjoyed watching the fish jump and the ducks and geese gliding effortlessly across the surface of the water. It was not uncommon for him to be visited by squirrels, raccoons, and quite often, deer.
Every morning (weather permitting), the old artist would walk down the hill from his house to the small dock he had built years before on the lake. He would take his easel and a small box of drawing and painting utensils, and spend hours sitting on the dock, painting and sketching. Often, he would paint his beautiful surroundings — trees, water, the mountains, the woodland creatures — but every once in a while, he would paint images from his mind, and what the serenity of that place inspired in his imagination. He started off just hanging the pictures in his small home but over time, the lack of wall space and the encouragement of a friend inspired him to sell his paintings at a local store. Every once in a while, his art would inspire him to accompany the painting with a poem from his own experience, and although he rarely wrote such poems, they were always filled with beautiful imagery, witty humor, and profound wisdom.
There came a day when a man from a large city visited the area, and stopped by the store for some supplies. The man owned a large publishing company, and upon seeing the art on display, was intrigued. He read a couple of the poems, and was beyond impressed.
“Who is the author of these masterpieces?” he inquired.
The shop owner gave him the old artist’s address, and he hurried away to find the artist. When he arrived at his destination, the old artist was down on the dock, feeding some ducks a little dry bread left over from last evening’s dinner. The publisher proceeded to introduce himself, and compliment the artist on his craft — particularly his poetry. He passionately made the case that the old artist’s gift of poetry did not need to be hidden from the world, and that his work could reach thousands and millions of people if he would come to work for him. The publisher’s words made the old artist feel respected, needed, and guilty all at the same time. After a couple hours of persuasion, the publisher convinced the old artist to come to work for his company, and share his wonderful insights with the rest of the world. The old man agreed to a contract which required him to move to the city in which the publishing company was located.
For the first six months, his work was incredible. The publisher was overwhelmed by the beauty of the old artist’s eloquent and witty poems and stories. Furthermore, he was overjoyed by the public reception of the old artist — letters and correspondence praising the writings as masterful and insightful. Readership was up for the first time in a decade, with a corresponding rise in revenue. Everyone at the publishing company was happy.
Everyone, that is, except for the old artist.
Over time, sales plateaued and began to fall away. The new readers who at first seemed so excited began to disappear, the praise began to subside, and what little correspondence there was was less than flattering. “Dry”, “passionless”, and “formulaic” were words that critics began to use to describe the writing they once called “fresh”, “genius”, and “inspirational”. The publisher, concerned about not just his company’s bottom line, but having also grown quite fond of the old artist as a friend, decided to talk to the man.
Meeting one evening at the publisher’s home, the publisher asked the old artist if he was alright; had something happened to cause him to lose his inspiration?
The old man replied…
“You became interested in me and my work because of my poetry. You saw it as beautiful and unique, inspiring and insightful. But I’m not sure you understood where it came from. Honestly, until now, I’m not sure I did.
But I do now.
You see, the beautiful poetry you love was always a by-product of the hours I spent alone with my art. Almost every morning (weather permitting), I would go down to my dock — the place you found me feeding the ducks — and paint or sketch what I saw, not just with my eyes, but with my mind and my heart.
The thing is, that art came from a place as well.
That place I call home. That place I knew since I was a young boy. That place I shared with the love of my life — my other inspiration — until her time on this earth was done. That place where the wind sings to my spirit, that holds my memories, my laughter, my tears, my joys, and my sorrows. That place that inspired adventure in a young man, and soothed the broken heart of a grieving and lonely old man.
When you hired me and I left that place, I left behind the art and inspiration that gave my poetry its real meaning. You gained the writer, but left behind everything that made the artist.”
Friends, how many times have we done that?
How many times do we see someone for what they are, but we miss who they are? How many times have we — as friends, acquaintances, leaders, and employers — looked to someone to fill a role in our lives without considering what it is that makes them qualified or even necessary to fill that role? How many times have employers, for the sake of gaining an employee, forsaken an artist? We see how having the abilities of a person can benefit us, but what is that thing that inspires them, that makes them who they are, that makes them of benefit to everyone around them? While we may choose what a person’s assignment is, do we understand what their anointing is?
Well… God does.
He understood it when He told Jeremiah…
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations. ~ Jeremiah 1:5
His creative genius was clear to David, who wrote…
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. ~ Psalm 139:13-16
Paul recognized that God’s good and perfect gifts come without a return receipt…
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. ~ Romans 11:29
This Christmas season, I encourage you — actually, I invite you — as we celebrate the story of the Christ Child, to find out someone else’s story. Find out what makes them tick. Look beyond the temporal and temporary exterior and find out about their experiences, dreams, and aspirations.
Look beyond the assignment and find the anointing.
Look past the grit and find the gift.
Solomon recognized the value of God’s gifts when he said…
A man’s gift makes room for him,
And brings him before great men. ~ Proverbs 18:16
This next year, let’s commit ourselves to recognizing the gifts and callings in those around us, and help to clear the path for that anointing to find its way to greatness.