After a childhood he described as “gloomy and cold and sterile,” he began his adult life with the desire to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a minister. He wanted to “sow the words of the Bible” to the poor and working-class people. So he pursued a theological education but was denied because he was a little strange and didn’t work well with the establishment.
Nevertheless, he was assigned a position as a lay minister to a mining community in Belgium. There, he humbly served the poor in the best way he knew how. In a departure from the norm among other pastors, this man chose to live among the miners, share in their poverty—he even ventured into the mines and breathed the same black dust as them.
Eventually, he began painting portraits of them. In fact, the poor and marginalized became frequent subjects of his paintings.
His abilities as a painter enabled him to begin his work as an evangelist. After entering a village, he set up his paints and easel and shared the gospel while he painted.
Nevertheless, his overly zealous personality and inability to work with the people in authority resulted in the termination of his position.
So, at 27 years of age, Vincent van Gogh began his career as a full-time artist. It soon became apparent that van Gogh’s strangeness was really a mental illness. He suffered from various types of epilepsy, psychotic attacks, and delusions. This period of his life was marked by constant rejection from women he loved and the people he was close to.
And as his inner battles intensified, his paintings intensified, too. The deeper and darker his world became, the deeper the brush strokes on his canvas became as well.
His ongoing inner turmoil drove Vincent van Gogh to take his life. And so at the age of 37, the master painter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, relatively unknown and unaware of the impact he would make on the world around him.
I would venture to say that the agony and the pain transformed this talented painter into one of the greatest painters of all time. Not coincidentally, most of his best-known works were produced during his final two agonizing years.
God is painting a masterpiece of your life as well. Please join us in our daily Bible conversation and learn how!
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Isaiah 8:1-11:16. Today’s reading prophesies the birth of Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
And later, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).
Between these feel-good passages, God takes on Israel and then Assyria. What strikes me is God’s anger over the oppression of the poor, widows, and fatherless. Notice that God blames “those who make unjust laws” and “those who issue oppressive decrees”(10:1). Caring for the poor isn’t a personal responsibility but also a governmental responsibility.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Paul finally reaches the high point of his book. His detractors have pummeled his character, accentuating his many weaknesses. But rather than cover them up, Paul agrees with them.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations,” he writes, “there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
We don’t know the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but after reading about his many sufferings, I wonder if he was referring to his life of constant hardship and pain.
Nevertheless, despite the prayers of this powerful man of God, Jesus spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Instead of removing the pain, Jesus promised to give Paul the grace to endure it. Why? Because the power of Jesus is most evident in us when we’re fully aware and unashamed of our weaknesses. And what does that power look like? Grace. Beauty.
Like van Gogh’s great works of art, there seems to be a relationship between beauty and pain.
How often do we pursue lives that are free of pain, free of frustration, free of challenge, free of stress. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like death to me!
But the life that reflects ultimate beauty, divine beauty, God’s power isn’t lived in our strength, but it’s forged out of our weakness. The most beautiful story is really Jesus’ story lived through you.
When you experience pain, don’t ignore it or conceal it. Allow Jesus to use it to paint something beautiful.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- What beautiful creations has Jesus painted from your pain?
- How have you experienced Jesus’ power in weakness?
- What are the advantages of coming to grips with out weakness?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.