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Tiny Dots

Have you ever stood in front of a pointillism painting by someone like Georges Seurat? A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte stands over 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide and shows people strolling and resting along a riverside. Crisp parasols and pleated skirts are made up entirely of tiny, individual dots of paint. 

I think our Heavenly Father puts His kingdom together much in the same way Georges Seurat painted. He uses small, often contrasting people doing ordinary things and pulls them together to create a bigger picture. Seurat knew that what the eye perceives as “red” is actually a combination of many colors. He also knew that the contrast in colors, not the similarity, is what makes the red appear more brilliant. Just so, our Heavenly Father knows that what makes His bride shine brilliantly in the world around her is not her “similarities” but His ability to bring contrasting colors together for His design.

If you had the chance to join us at any point during this year’s Express Grace Conference, you heard our speaker, Ray Cortese, talk about the importance of being on God’s mission. This mission is to bring glory to Himself by redeeming hurting, broken sinners. As He paints the huge, beautiful story of His rescuing love, God uses ordinary individuals like Seurat used dots of paint. The big story is God’s glory and His redemptive plan for His people. The tiny dots of paint are you and me and the things we are privileged to do in the kingdom. Unfortunately we have the propensity to make the painting about us and our mission, thinking our dot, or our cluster of dots, is the whole picture. My personal tendency is to believe one of two things: either the painting is primarily about my comfort and security, or it is about my glory and honor. Neither of these is accurate.

When I believe the painting is about my comfort and security, then I seek out other people and places that make me feel safe and secure. I shy away from anything that threatens me mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically. Unlike my Savior, who “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant [... and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death,” (Phil. 2:7a, 8b) I am primarily concerned with self-preservation. My safety is more important than the safety of others around the world. My convenience is more important than the needs of my hurting neighbor. I gravitate to other Christians who affirm my beliefs - fearing rejection or controversy from anyone outside “my group.” I confuse God’s promise to work all things for the good to mean He works all things for my immediate comfort.

God’s mission is not my safety or my comfort. His mission is showing the world He is their glorious Savior and King. He is passionately committed to rescuing the hurting, lost, and broken, and He says that if I am His, then I will be about loving the lost as well. Imagine if Seurat’s red dots all got together and thought it would be best if they grouped in one spot on the painting because they felt comfortable there, rather than spreading out like the artist planned?  The painting wouldn’t work, would it? When I prioritize my comfort over the comfort of others, I, too, mar the painting. Instead of seeing a sacrificial love that reflects my sacrificing Savior, the world sees a self-preserving territorialism that prioritizes me over them.

When I believe the painting is about my glory, then I make much of myself rather than making much of my Savior. This belief is particularly insidious in the church, because it regularly masquerades as humility and servant-heartedness. It looks like being the consummate volunteer—the one who is everywhere doing everything. Sometimes I do this because I believe I am so valuable everyone needs me, and sometimes I do this because being busy for God feeds my ego. Imagine if Seurat’s paint dots decided to help him out. What if they thought, “We’ll spread out as far as we can so that He doesn’t have to use as much paint! This way we will get a little extra attention and we will be helping Seurat do a little less work.”

It wouldn’t help! The beauty of pointillism is the POINTS of paint, which are deep and vibrant, not thin and muted by being spread too far. While I feel sacrificial, involved, and “everywhere,” a hurting world experiences a “busy Christian,” “efficient help,” and “time-constrained love.” Instead of reflecting my personal, loving Savior, I am too busy showing others how far I can reach and how much I can juggle. But God is not interested in showing the world how much I can do; He wants them to see how much He has done! Instead of smearing myself all over town “serving my neighbor,” I ought to dive deep into a few, usually uncelebrated acts of love. The painting is not about me; it is about Him!

To join God in His mission is to abandon my self-serving busyness as well as my idol of personal comfort. It looks like having my neighbor over for dinner when I would rather just have family time. It also looks like saying “no,” even to good things, so that I have space to to let hurting people into my life. Maybe it looks like a successful businessman starting a business in a depressed area of town, rather than smearing himself onto the board of three foundations. Maybe it looks like a young family inviting another hurting family for regular dinners rather than volunteering for every opportunity at church. Wherever you are, the call to join God in His mission is often a call to fewer things with greater love, for His glory and not for ours. We reflect our Father’s love better when we remember that we are tiny dots in a much bigger picture.