Can we measure standing still as ‘right’? Do we have the luxury of doing nothing? When the Lord says, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, what is He calling us to do?
I read an old story about the Nokia CEO announcing that Microsoft had bought them out, crying, “We did nothing wrong, but somehow, we lost”, and the Lord highlighted it in that roundabout way that He does. “Is not wrong, right?” Can we be measured as ‘right’ if we stand still while the world fast-tracks around us? Nokia, once an innovative giant, was left behind in the technology race. Standing still for them meant being redundant, discarded, and learning a hard and expensive lesson. Were they sheep amongst wolves? And if I am meant to be wise as serpents, what does that even mean?
My takeaway from this sacred snippet of a conversation was quite convicting. I felt the Lord (gently) saying that I do not have the luxury of doing nothing with the gift He placed in my hands. Of course, I am not entertaining thoughts of not painting, but I paint by the grace of God so perhaps I am not entitled to grumble about other aspects of being a painter. I cannot disregard tech, new reels, the Metaverse, time zone challenges, and being both creator and marketer of my work. We are living in a world that embraces a virtual life. If I do not become wise, the most I could hope for is survival when I am called to flourish. If I do not become wise, I have not stewarded well the gifts He has given.
Two insights crossed my desk as I pondered these thoughts. Things I had not paid attention to previously, both in the commercial realm. When you speak of the commercial side of art, and especially in prophetic art, artists look at you as though you have a forked tongue! Selling is seen as evil. Yet without self-sustaining commercial and financial wisdom, all ministries would grind to a halt. So, if your mind instantly went to ‘commerce equals evil’, please bear with me. I’m not debating the concept of commercialism here, but I am sharing these two things connected with selling art that maybe you haven’t considered either.
But firstly, a word from Jesus. “Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” [Matt 10:16] In instructing His disciples to be innocent and wise at the same time, Jesus used examples from nature. I realised my concept of the serpent was negative, but the Lord did not create anything evil in nature. Jesus uses the serpent’s inherent abilities as an example of the desired conduct and attitude in ministry. The serpent is wise, shrewd, crafty, cunning, clever, or subtle (depending upon your Bible translation) and they utilise all their senses to their advantage. They assess their surroundings, remain calm, and keep a low profile but strike their target at accurate lightning speed when defence is needed.
Now if I urged prophetic artists to be like snakes, wouldn’t there be an uproar?! Jesus echoes only the positive character of the serpent. Selah. Perhaps it would be wise to consider the ‘positive’ of things I have held as ‘negative’. Wisdom comes from maturity. Maturity comes from a life lived in good conscience before God [Acts 23:1]. The Lord was showing me how much difference there is between ‘not wrong’ and ‘right’.
Now back to my desk. I subscribe to Kathryn Goldman’s eLetter from the Creative Law Center and her experience and wisdom are valuable. She wrote about creatives selling their work online, a practice that is on the increase. She outlined legally sound selling processes on online platforms. Pay attention. Every time you exchange a product or service, i.e. your artwork – whether you are paid or whether you donate – there are legally binding terms of that exchange.
Read more here, but in a nutshell, “strong contracts are one of the foundational elements of your creative practice”. The internet has created a different way of buying and selling, but basic contract law has not changed.
The ‘terms and conditions’ on your website (yes, that box we all click without reading them) should be enforceable and clearly understood, so there are no questions later. A poorly designed shop-cart page or a confusing set of terms and conditions can get you into a heap of trouble. There is wisdom in a website that complies with the best practices for forming legally binding online contracts. Does the process on your site measure up? Do your customers understand what they are agreeing to, what they are buying, and what the terms of sale are? For example, just because it is ‘common knowledge’ amongst artists that your work is automatically copyrighted and the rights to your work remain yours, does that mean your customer knows?
If someone commissions artwork from you, do they realise that all rights remain yours? Where is this written and readily understood? Even the practice of giving away your painting has the potential to backfire. There are legal consequences despite the avoidance of commercialism.
Here is a scenario: You’ve been inspired to paint an image similar to something you’ve seen before. Someone in your church falls in love with it, so you give it to them. They post photos of it all over their social media. The original creator of the image recognises it and attempts to sue for copyright violation.
Here is another scenario: You’ve painted a deeply inspiring message on your canvas during worship. Someone is moved to tears, so you give it to them. Innocently or ignorantly, they photograph it, change the title, and put it up for sale on Etsy. It is copied again, but now someone changes the elements and it no longer reflects a Christian message.
Why am I telling you these things? After all, we have no control over the actions of others, but even if we do nothing wrong, maybe it is still not right. There is wisdom in using the correct legal protections. It is not harmless when you are not wise. We associate innocence with a childlike wonder of the goodness of God, while Christ associates innocence with a wisdom that means no one has any legitimate basis to accuse you of injustice or illegality. By following best practices, you create credibility and trustworthiness and give your customers and followers the confidence they need.
The second thing that crossed my desk was someone’s sincere and intense struggle with marketing their work. Ethical self-promotion seems difficult for Christians. They even flounder to put an appropriate price on their work. They not only contend with their own opinions but also with the perceived opinions of others. It’s not always easy and never simple, because ethical self-promotion involves being your authentic true self and not following a script.
Every interaction you have is with another person. Selah. Breathe, be slow to react, listen, and meet people where they are. Don’t assume. Responding to my new friend’s struggle, I could have quoted platitude scriptures or entered the ‘debate’ of anti-commercialism, but I waited and listened to find the heart of her conflict. She desperately wished to honour God. Ahhh. I asked her, “Do you honour God when you accept, or reject, what you are worth?” That simple question broke the chains of her limiting self-belief.
This conversation brought me back to stewarding God’s gifts well. Stewarding includes carefully considering our worthiness from His perspective. No other voice is allowed to enter that conversation. When the catchcry of artists is ‘I just want to paint!’, they resent or dismiss marketing and virtual tech as something that is ‘someone else’s job’. Is this wrong? No, it is not wrong. We have a choice. God does not love us any less. There is no punishment if we hide our light. “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.” [1 Cor 10:23] In His kindness and faithfulness, He is not going to say, ‘You didn’t do it right’. We have the freedom to conduct our creative practices as we choose.
However, Christ urges us to be wise. For me, choosing to remain behind in today’s technology race feels like I have not placed a high enough value on the gift He placed in my hands. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” [1 Peter 4:10] Are you struggling with the tech of today’s virtual world? Ask the Lord for wisdom and grace. Grace is His empowering presence to do the task He has gifted you to do. Manifold grace is the multi-faceted diversity in the power He bestows upon each person to minister in the gifts they have received. He is not going to leave you stranded unable to keep pace with this world.