Years ago at a Youth Specialties conference I saw the extraordinary work of the the “Jesus Painter” (Mike Lewis). I had never heard of him or seen his work. The stage was dark and David Crowder with his band was playing background music. A spotlight comes on and there is a large blank canvas on the stage with open paint cans sitting on tons of drop cloths spread way out. The “painter” never says a word the whole time he is up there. He started by writing the words “all my sins” on the top of canvas. Dipping his hands into the paint cans he uses them to sometimes hurl, sometimes rub paint on the canvas. Using a combination of his hands and brushes, he puts a lot paint on the canvas, and lot ends up on the drop cloths and his clothes. Messy. It only takes a few minutes but just as he finishes the face of Jesus on the cross comes out of the mess on the canvas. The last thing covered on the canvas are the words “all my sins”. It was awesome. Messy, but awesome.
Earlier this month Dallas Willard passed away. He was a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California
but he was best know for his books. He is best know for his writing on the subject he called, “spiritual formation” which he described as, “the process of establishing the character of Christ in the person”. I don’t know if he coined the phrase “spiritual formation”, be he was certainly responsible for popularizing.
And here is where Dallas Willard and using drop cloths when painting cross paths. Painting, whether in house or on a huge canvas using your hands as brushes is messy. Everyone who has bothered to open a can paint knows that no matter how careful you are – you’re gonna get paint in places where you didn’t intend for it to end up. But in order to get the change you desire (on a wall, cabinet or on a canvas) you gotta open the can. Likewise the process “of establishing the character of Christ” in yourself is messy. In order to get the change we need and desire is messy. But the only way to get the change is giving yourself over to God.
When describing the theme of Willard’s books, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. says, “His books all call out, in one way or another: Come on over. It’s going to be okay to die first. You have to do it, and you can do it. Not even Jesus got a resurrection without a death, and he’ll be at your side when you surrender your old life. Trust me on this. If you die with Jesus Christ, God will walk you out of your tomb into a life of incomparable joy and purpose inside his boundless and competent love.”
The Jesus Painters work is messy, but it’s a beautiful end product. To die to ourselves is messy, but it’s a beautiful end product.
Here are three outstanding Dallas Willard books:
For more on Dallas Willard’s life read: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/27.45.html?paging=off