“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

God is such a master artist that even his poetry becomes reality. Genesis chapter one is pure art, a brilliant artistic experience designed to draw us into God’s creative work. It firmly establishes God as the ultimate creator.

But I think we could insert an editorial bracket between verse one and two: “And this is how he did it.” In case you were wondering, this is how the earth came to be. Listen up, all you artists, writers, and creative types—we’re about to get a front row seat for a high concept course in divine creativity. If we open the billows of our soul to its truths, the creation narrative can also nourish and guide us as creative souls formed in God’s image. As we watch him work, we can draw inspiration and direction to guide our own creative process. This can be applied to writing term papers, innovative plumbing fixes, managing part-time staff, you name it. Throughout the next two posts I’m going to parallel God’s creative fiat with my own creative process as I painted this picture recently.

Let’s get started.

First, the invitation: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

While it’s true that God created “ex niliho,” or “out of nothing,” by the time this verse meanders in front of the camera, God has already created some raw materials to work with. He’s hovering over the empty canvas, as we so often do. God already knew what came next, but as finite human beings, this is where we’re looking for inspiration. A week ago my daughter Glory invited me to paint with her. I pulled out a square canvas, my brushes, my paint, and sat facing the beckoning blankness. This is where we ask, “What should I paint/sculpt/write/make?” Personally, I like to ask God to shine his light on me at this point, to breathe his creativity through my soul.

Next comes inspiration: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

Notice that God speaks light into a universe that will not enjoy the sun and stars until day four. He’s describing a kind of spiritual illumination. This is the ultimate light bulb moment “caught on film” for us to watch. In our creative process, this is when our idea first registers a spark in our mind’s eye. And there is power in a good idea. It will draw out our best work, our deepest passion, our most fervent effort. Most lifeless art comes from a less than inspiring idea.

At times, we may see the entire work, whole and complete, fully formed in our mind’s eye. Most times, though, all we receive is a tiny spark. A flash of insight, often barely enough to move on. It’s critical to move on what we have, though, or we may lose it. When I was painting with Glory, I remember this moment. I “saw” something in my imagination. A man surrounded by a living patchwork of color visually representing the kingdom of God. This is where a novelist might land on their big idea, or even just a compelling image or scene from which everything else will grow.

And always, affirmation: “God saw that the light was good…” I can’t express how profound this is. How many times have you started a project only to scrap it a few minutes later because it wasn’t taking shape the way you’d hoped it would? Like it or not, artists play two roles during their creation: The creator, and the commentator. God pauses after each stage to offer his commentary: “It’s good.” As we make, we comment on our own work, as God did.

I wish I could say “This is good” more often. With the kingdom painting, I started throwing down color, trying to capture the essence of what I was seeing in my mind’s eye. But it didn’t look like much. In fact, it looked terrible. I was tempted to bring a dark commentary to the work: “This sucks. It’s not working. I should scrap this stupid idea.” But I didn’t. I blessed what I saw, allowing it to be what it was: Genesis, not Revelation. Beginnings aren’t masterpieces. They’re raw, unshaped, unfinished. But a beginning can still be its own kind of beautiful. My idea shifted as I painted, retaining the essence while changing to reflect my ability to shape it. The man was replaced by the Trinity. Can you see them?

Speak life into your own work. Don’t speak words of death into it. The devil doesn’t need more advocates.

Tomorrow: Bringing life to shape, and shape to life