Messy Spirituality

The spiritual journey of most people tends to look more like a messy masterpiece than a precise blueprint. This point recently became clear to me as I participated in a spiritual right of passage moment with a talented young man from my church. 

While reflecting on what I would say with the teen when it became my turn to share, the Holy Spirit gave me a picture. The process of making the image was as much the meaning as the finished product.

The young man came over to my house and he painted the image that I got in my head. I decided to use finger paints for this teaching demonstration because it gets messy kind of like life. While the student painted the image I had drawn, I narrated the different elements bringing in Scripture, quotes from famous people and stories from my own life. 

The image starts out with a dark black hole at the bottom. This was created by mixing three very bright colors – cyan, magenta and yellow. As these colors were mixed together, they became a dark greyish green. The changing colors reflect life which can have both good and bad times. Our troubles can become a black hole that suck the life out of our world. The black hole also represents the negative influences and voices in our lives. As the youth painted, I spoke some of those words around him just so that he would get the point. I said that these were lies and should not be trusted.    

Then, the young man painted the earth. Pretty simply, we live in a real place and time. God has called Christians to live in and impact our world. Although this may not be our final resting place, this is where we are now. The physical realm is where we impact the spiritual world and our eternal destiny. We shouldn’t be so fixed on the next world that we forfeit out opportunity to impact this one as God has comanded.

The next aspect was the blood covering the earth. I had a vision of wings of fire and blood that cover the earth, which illustrates the two aspects of grace – forgiveness of sin and power to live as God intended. The blood represents the blood of Christ that washes away our sin and makes us pure before God. The fire is meant to remind us of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the abillity to live a supernatural existence on this planet. The blood and the fire mix to cover the planet and even drips down to impact the parts of our lives that could become black holes of death.

Above the earth is the cross, the source of life, identity and redemption for a Christian. The cross reminds us that life will not always be easy although God has given us a perfect example of victory through trials in Jesus. The cross gives a Christian hope as well as a sense of identity that our lives stand for something more than just courselves. Whenever we lose our way, we look to the cross and Christ as our example. When we forget who we are, we see our real value and identity in what God says not what others say or what we might even think.

At the top of the picture is a crown, which represents the kingdom of God. All true Christians are part of this kingdom as we have been adopted into God’s family. That means we are princes and princesses in a divine kingdom. 

Crowns are a symbol of authority, fame and honor. As part of the royal family, we have a mission to complete and kingdom rule to establish. Unlike most earthly kingdoms, this is a rule known by its love and sacrifice for the greater good. We are under authority and in authority at the same time.

The painting creates a contrast between the black holes of life and the regal victory through Christ. The canvas is the earth and our very lives. I told the student that he is the canvas in God’s hands. Ultimately, God finishes the masterpiece that He starts in our lives. And at the same time, that young man is a painter too. He has been given by God the skill and mission to be creative and to paint a picture of heaven on earth by his daily interactions with others. We are created in God’s image to be creative and usher in His kingdom. We should think of our lives as an opportunity to paint a reality that we all dream is possible.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by our failures. But I encouraged the young man to see the possiblity before him and to determine to seek and serve God despite the mess that might be made in the process. And I told him that if he dedicates his days to God, his life will be a masterpiece in the end.

Mike Yaconelli set up the problem well in his book Messy Spirituality. Yac wrote, “My life is a mess. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continual presence of Jesus. I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus in to the arms of my own clutteredness…Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency.”

Yac also pointed to the solution. Yac wrote, “Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection.” God has saved you by grace through the work of Jesus on the cross.


It is really easy to walk into the ditch of condemnation or self righteousness. Both are mired in the same thing – looking at ourselves and not Christ. As a Christian I believe that we should never leave the foot of the cross because that is where our true identity and reason to live is found.

Here is what the picture looks like that the student painted. He did a much better job than I did when I tried to paint the image that I saw in my head.

Joel's Masterpiece


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