Monday, September 22, 2014

So Why Do You Create?

Has anyone ever asked you that question before? Have you ever thought about how you would answer? Certainly, there are many people who would do what they do because they enjoy it. Many of them would do it every day with or without getting paid for it. I certainly have, and maybe you've done the same. In fact, if a normal day starts for you with excitement, since you can't wait to jump into a creative project once you get out of bed, then there's a high probability that you're pursuing God's design for your life: You were created to create.

But that still doesn't answer the question of why we create. Sure, we may create because we want to, but what about those days when we don't feel like it? Is it possible to still give God our best on those days? I believe we can and we should. Some will say that creating for them is a form of therapy, helping them cope with difficult things. I know I've been there, and maybe you can also relate to that.

But let's see if we can take this beyond the immediate, personal benefits of creating, and the satisfaction that can bring. When it comes to what drives our need to create, there are certainly things that can be involved, and some of those are not always God's best for us. Sometimes we create in order to compete with other creative people. Sometimes we create in order to get attention or to be approved and popular. 

I'm going to challenge your thinking with this next part. You and I were made in the image of the Creator–not just any creator, but THE Creator. So if we're made in his image, then it should be no surprise that we want to create things. But you and I need to be in that place where we aren't moved by the applause of people or the lack of it. We need to be moved by the things that get God's applause in our lives. 

Why? Because If I have to get man's applause in order to be fulfilled, then eventually I'll do whatever it takes to get that applause. And that kind of mindset will almost always lead to compromise. I think we've all seen how desperately some child stars will strive for that kind of applause as they become adults. Sometimes that turns out very badly, depending on how fans respond.

But you and I don't have to go that route with our creativity. We can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Not only can he guide our creative efforts, but he can be the source and motivation of our creativity. I encourage you today to invite him into your creative time, and allow him to help you make any adjustments necessary. Reminding ourselves that we create in a way that pleases our Savior can help us keep our creative efforts in the right place.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
–Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Creativity is Not a Liability

     As creative people, sometimes we can be confused about some things. Sometimes we think we're being spontaneous, when in fact, we're simply being irresponsible. We may think that in order to create freely, we can't be constrained by schedules, rules, or any kind of limitation. When I was younger, I had this kind of attitude when it came time to create. I didn't always say it out loud, but it went something like this: Hey, don't tell me how to create. I already know that part. And don't limit my creativity. Give me some space. Whatever you do, don't fence me in.
     But things started to change. As I began to get paid to create, I often ran into a new kind of writer's block. I call this type of problem "infinite options", since having too many options can become its own burden. I quickly found that if I gave myself some parameters for a given project, then I was fencing myself in, but in a good way.
     For example, in my early days of writing music for a publisher, when a new assignment came in, I was always excited but also a little scared. But eventually I realized that most of these projects were not actually overwhelming, as I had first thought. In reality, the publisher was asking me to come up with music that only needed to last a couple of minutes. After all, I wasn't being asked to write an entire movie's worth of original music. Then, I later realized that my publications would be more successful if I wrote the music in keys that were more appropriate for young musicians. I think you get my point here. Some limitations are actually helpful when we sit down to create.
     But beyond setting proper boundaries for our creativity, let's look at part of the bigger picture. Is it possible that being known as a creative person has some built-in stigmas or stereotypes that you and I must overcome? In other words, have others fenced us in without us knowing it? Do some people on the outside of our world of creativity see us negatively? In short, yes. Some assume that because we are creative, then we must also be unreliable and not trustworthy, among other things.
    Is that fair? Probably not, but let's get some historical perspective. Before being named Israel, his name was Jacob. He was known as a deceiver. He was always up to something, running schemes and playing people. So it was a surprise to many when God changed him from this kind of person into the person of Israel. God transformed a man's reputation, taking him from a life of trickery to a life that allowed him to play a part in the creation of the twelve tribes of Israel.
     Now my question to you: when people think of you and how you're stewarding & managing your creativity, are they reminded more of Jacob, or more of Israel? Do people think twice before they put the offer in front of you? Sure, they know you have the ability to create amazing success. But are they hesitant to involve you because they've gotten burned before? Could you have actually done or said something that might now give them pause?
     If this is true of you, then be encouraged that things can change for the better. I should know, I found out the hard way. I was one of those who showed great promise early on, but I also burned lots of bridges. Sure, it was fun when I got applauded as a kid while performing music, and all the attention I got was kind of nice. But things didn't stay all that fun, mainly because I didn't know how to manage myself once I was older. In fact, it seemed that the more creativity filled my life, the more chaotic things became.
     Things got so bad that my musician friends started to adjust their plans because of me. This happened in a way I didn't catch at first. But eventually I realized what was going on. My pattern of being late all the time had caught up with me. Since I was reliably unreliable, my friends figured out a workable plan. If the music gig was to start at 7:30, I was told it started at 7:00. That way, when I showed up thirty minutes late, I was actually on time. Pretty smart, right? Yes, they were, but once I realized what was going on, I didn't like facing the reality of how I was handling my life and creativity. 
     Over time, I matured and made some positive changes in my life. In some cases I had the opportunity to go back and redeem myself with people and I got a second chance. Understandably, some were past working with me again, and had no interest. But in that season of my life, I also experienced the benefit of starting over in another zip code, with fresh opportunities and relationships.
    But though a fresh start was helpful, I wasn't quite done with my old tendencies. Finally one day a friend confronted me, and that allowed me to see a painful truth about myself. He said, "Tim, you've got a lot of horsepower. But the problem is that you have no steering wheel." From that point on I began to see myself a little more the way other people did, and honestly, I didn't like what I was seeing.
     We hear so often that God loves us just the way we are. I believe that to be true, but I'm also glad God cares too much to leave us in that condition. And this is the good news for Christians who also create: We have options.
     You and I have the chance to break out of the negative expectations and stereotypes. And we can overcome our own past mistakes. We can go a different way with our lives, talent and creativity. Scripture says that Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith. This means your story in life isn't over yet! Your creativity doesn't have to be a liability. 
     Further, as you and I keep our eyes on God and our trust in His direction in our lives, we allow Him to help us better navigate forward. When we manage our creative gifts the right way, we can begin to see our talent not as a liability, but as the asset God intended.

So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
–Matthew 25:20-21 (NKJV)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Expect Great Talent. Demand Great Character.

     Sometimes the reactions amaze me. The judges on those talent show TV series always seem surprised when an unknown person from an unknown place shows up and displays jaw-dropping talent. Yet the truth is that there are people with tremendous gifts and talents in every part of the world. Some just happen to get discovered while some don't. 
     But a different reaction usually happens when interacting with people outside our circles of creativity and talent. It's not so much surprise but more of an assured smile with a pat on the back. I'm talking about the people who seek us out to do what it is we do: use our talent in a way that impacts other people, while at the same time making it look easy. To people on the outside, it may make no sense how we do it, but that's not important. The important thing is that our talent can give us the opportunity to be invited into some very special places.
     But here's where it can get tricky. Your talent may get the door of opportunity to open, but it will be your character that keeps you on the scene. There are plenty of people out in the world who have great talent, but who also have little or no personal integrity or standards in their personal lives. Yet we as talented believers are supposed to be different from that and set apart.
     Why aren't gifts and talents enough? Think of someone who has great spiritual maturity and has had a positive, even inspirational influence on other people. Whether this person is famous or not, he or she likely already has your respect, and for good reason. Now imagine how tragic it would be if this person fell into a moral failure. From that perspective, once the mistake had become known, would you still see this person in the same light? Sure, God forgives when we ask, and people should do the same. But would it ever be the same for you when this person's name pops up in the future?
     To clarify this, would it matter that much to you if this person was still a talented vocalist or a gifted poet? At that point being talented can only make up for so much when it comes to how we view others. Secular culture spends so much time lifting up the talents and special qualities of stars that it's easier to overlook personal flaws and failures. But it should be different for those of us who follow Christ and serve Him with our abilities. We should never fall into the trap of thinking that our gifts and talents are a substitute for living a life of integrity and purity.
     Since the secular culture is often going in a different direction than where we're going as believers in Jesus Christ, it helps to be reminded how we're supposed to be different. Here are 4 realities to consider: 

Reality 1. Your gift is special, but it's not enough to save you. Only Jesus can do that. You and I have to make sure that our gifts and talents don't become idols in our own lives, coming between us and God. No matter how special the talent, we must remember that it belongs to God and He has loaned to it to us. 

Reality 2. Your ability impresses others, and will bring good things with it. But lack of character will cause you to burn bridges, damage relationships and miss important opportunities. Think of this season as an audition for the next season. How you handle today will determine which doors open for you tomorrow. Talent is wonderful, but it's not everything. Even the most impressive sports car is worthless without a steering wheel. 

Reality 3. Some are jealous of your gift, and don't enjoy your success as much as you do. Some of those jealous people are watching and waiting for you to slip up, so that you can be dismissed from the scene. This is another good reason why character is so important. It preserves us. 

Reality 4. Some may be so impressed with your gift that they treat you as a special citizen, requiring nothing more from you than showing up and being impressive. This is where character really matters, because it is here where you must find accountability. Otherwise, you can soon find yourself untouchable. You may graduate from school, but you're never supposed to graduate from accountability, since that's a dangerous place for any Christian to be.

     Why is it dangerous? You see, when you're not accountable, no one can confront your flaws. For some this gap could be due to their standing in the community. But for others it could happen because they are close to top leaders, providing built-in protection from criticism or consequences. Regardless of how you arrive in this place, the results are not healthy: how do you ever grow or stay on track if you're never held accountable? Understand that God will never promote you beyond accountability, but imperfect people often do just that. Don't let others' omissions in your life keep you from seeking and keeping the covering, accountability and vital relationships we all need.
     We all need accountability because, without it, we tend to overlook the issues in our own lives that keep us from succeeding with integrity. This is true for all of us, from the new believer to the seasoned person of faith. Further, when we make those inevitable mistakes, it is those who care enough to hold us accountable who help us get back up and keep going. This can make all the difference between occasional stumbles in life versus accepting a lifestyle of constant compromise. 
     If you've never thought much about keeping the personal standards in your life at the same high level as your talent, then it's time to see yourself in a new light. Or, if you're the person who has had to step down because of private or public failure, then be encouraged that God is not through with you or your story in this life.
     It is very possible to have the kind of character that can keep up with your great talent and ability. No one is asking for you to be perfect. We're all human, after all. But imperfect people can still aim higher in life, and there's no better role model for us that Jesus Himself. Purpose today to stay connected and submitted under the leaders in your church or ministry organization. Allow the important others in your life to help you make the most of your talent, and the most of your character.

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
–Titus 2:7-8 (NIV)


(Join us on Facebook and for free podcasts on iTunes at Living The Creative Life with Dr. Tim Waters.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's OK To Be Talented

     Have you ever wondered why being talented doesn't always lead to the same place? Some people are very talented and also popular. It seems that everyone wants to be their friend. But for some people it seems that their talent tends to drive other people away. Next I'm going to say something that might be hard to accept, but I have to go there. 
     Here's my point: Talent is kind of like money–both tend to amplify whatever was already there. If you're the kind of person who tends to attract people into your world, then having money or being gifted in some area will probably enhance that. On the other hand, if you're a person who is difficult to be around, then being wealthy and/or talented will likely help people keep their distance.
     I know, you're probably already thinking about certain people who are popular or in demand, and it seems that their money or talent help to make their issues invisible to the people around them. Sure, there will always be exceptions. But for now I'd like to focus in on how you and I can improve in some personal areas, and along the way possibly see some new perspectives about our own talents and gifts.
     Depending on the field or arena you're in, it may be common to have only a few friends there. For where you are, this may be perfectly normal. But sometimes there are other factors at work. Some people in your world may withhold their friendship from you, since they may resent your talent. And yet other people are overly competitive and don't have many friends either. 
     But there's a hidden trap here that I'd like to help you avoid. Sometimes when people withhold things like approval or friendship, we try harder and achieve more in order to try and win that love and approval. But sadly, this only makes things worse with some of those people. If they had a problem with your talent and success in the first place, why would they like you more as you begin to succeed even more?
     There will always be various people in your world. Some will celebrate you. Some will merely tolerate you. And some will have nothing to do with you. Some of this is to be expected in life. 
     However, if you have outstanding talents and abilities, then that can push tolerators and enemies even farther away from you. When you have obvious talents and gifts then there are those people who are already looking for an excuse to not like you or give you a chance. You may never win those people over, but that's ok. Not everyone was happy with Jesus, so today we can't expect everyone to celebrate us either.
     But before you completely write off those people in your life who keep their distance from you, try to get some perspective about things. Some may never tell you personally, but they would give anything to have the kind of talent and success you've already had in life. If those people see themselves as inadequate or even as losers in life, then being around you may feel like having their noses rubbed in it. 
     I'm not saying this is all your fault. I'm just saying that sometimes that's just how it is. And while it might feel natural sometimes to reward their rejection with your rejection back toward them, can you see how a reaction like this can only make a bad situation worse?
     As hard as it may be at times, remember that Jesus showed us how to love those around us who may never accept or celebrate us. He also showed us that giving up on our dreams and life's purpose in order to ease the tension around us is not a healthy option. God gave you the talent you have for a reason, and it's your job to make the most of it.
     Let me wrap this up with a couple of encouraging thoughts:
1. Realize it's ok to be the package of gifts and talents God made you to be. 
2. It may be time to find some friends outside your area and to enjoy friendships that are less likely to be competitive.
     There's a healthy balance in all this. On one hand, you don't need to apologize for your talent or ability. After all, that came from God anyway. Sure, you and I can develop those natural gifts, but we all know that some things can't be faked. But while you don't want to apologize for what you're good at, you also want to avoid rubbing other people's noses in your success, intentionally or otherwise. You may have to spend some time praying and sharing with others about all this, but I believe it's very possible to find a way to be gracious around all types of people, regardless of how they feel about you and your gifts.
     Bottom line, it's ok to be talented, gifted and special. But if you're also hard to be around, then you're pushing people away from you, and you may need some of those people to stay connected with your life in order to reach your ultimate success. So finding a way to build and keep as many bridges as possible is always helpful.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
–2 Cor. 9:8 NKJV


(Join us on Facebook and for free podcasts on iTunes at Living The Creative Life with Dr. Tim Waters.)