What Matters

 In Art, Books, Community, Duty, Faith, Fred's Blog, Friendship, People, Scripture, Teaching, Vocation

I love the art of Andrew Wyeth and his family – father N.C. and son, Jamie. Last week I made my first visit to the Brandywine River Museum with friends and sitting in front of Jamie’s portrait of Shorty, a local railroad worker and hermit posed in an elegant wing chair, I started thinking about two sons of slaves who became great artists and builders – perhaps the most famous in the Bible.

The Lord chose Bezalel and Oholiab to build the Tabernacle and filled them “with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab the ability to teach others. He has filled them with the skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers – all of them skilled workers and designers.”

Like every artist, the source of their skill, ability, and knowledge was the Spirit of God. They were anointed for the work and it was something that came to them directly from God.

Pablo Casals said when asked about his talent: “I see no particular merit in the fact that I was an artist at the age of eleven. I was born with an ability, with music in me, that is all. No special credit was due me. The only credit we can claim is for the use we make of the talent we are given. That is why I urge young musicians: “Don’t be vain because you happen to have talent. You are not responsible for that; it was not of your doing. What you do with your talent is what matters. You must cherish this gift. Do not demean or waste what you have been given. Work — work constantly and nourish it.”

While their gifts came from being filled with the Spirit of God, they developed the talent. They became craftsmen. We were with Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit” last week in Philadelphia and in that book she writes, “There are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.”

They worked with a purpose outside themselves. It was not just the work on the tabernacle that motivated them to do their best but they were also given the ability to teach others. They were not simply first-rate artists producing works certain to make them well known. They were also given the gift of being able to teach others those skills. They had a purpose outside themselves that gave their work meaning.

Again, a quote from Angela Duckworth: “At its core, the idea of purpose is the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.”

Why do we like “Fixer Upper” with Chip and Joanna Gaines? Is it because they know how to take an ugly property and turn it into something beautiful? No, it is because they do it for someone else. All along the remodeling process they are thinking, “What would please the people who will be living here?” They have others in mind and what they do matters to them. While we love their skill and creativity that is not why we watch the show, I think. It is for the look on the faces of the people when they see their new home.

We had an experience years ago with Habitat for Humanity that underscored this for me. Habitat had recruited a local church to help the volunteers and the homeowners to build the house. As you know, the owner is responsible for the “sweat equity” in helping build their home. The mission of Habitat is not building houses but “building partnerships with God’s people.” However, the volunteers from the church were professional builders and on the first day of work, they told the volunteers and homeowners they could step aside as the church workers could do the job better and in half the time. They did but Habitat never invited them back. While they had extraordinary skills they had no interest in teaching others. Bezalel and Oholiah were just the opposite. God had gifted them to include others and pass along their skills.

Steve Jobs said, “Real artists ship” and that is true. But it is also true that real artists understand the source of their talent, the grit to develop it and the humility to teach others.

 

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 8 comments
  • Tom Ziglar
    Reply

    “Steve Jobs said, “Real artists ship” and that is true. But it is also true that real artists understand the source of their talent, the grit to develop it and the humility to teach others.”

    This quote sums up perfectly how to find the answer to “how do I know my purpose?”

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Tom. You were up early this morning!

  • David Smith
    Reply

    We appreciate great art, music, poetry etc from hundreds of years ago: they are thus influencing our society with “the fragrance of God”.. some of today’s artists will be similarly influencing the culture of future societies. As donors to Christian ministries, how do we determine the potential of today’s artists? how do we balance the needs of today with investing in the possible long term influence of cultures of the future?

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thanks, David. I’ve sent you some responses from a variety of people.

  • Tom Ziglar
    Reply

    One of the habits I caught from Dad is getting up early. I have read this article many times now and still powerful. I will mention it again today in one of my presentations.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Tom. Yes, getting up early has many benefits. I appreciate your comments.

  • Dave Collins
    Reply

    Awesome! Thanks for making a difference!!!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Dave. I appreciate your reading the blog.

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