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  • Writer's pictureMartin Sanders

Painting God in the portrait of your life

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

In our early 20s, we had a family portrait done—Dianna and me and the four kids. A friend had a colleague who was getting started as a sketch artist who also did portraits. He took our picture and took it to the friend to have one done just of Dianna and me based on the family portrait. He was so excited to present it to us, and when we looked at it, we were speechless. We barely recognized ourselves. For some reason the artist accentuated unique facial features and Dianna’s eyes were more than slightly crossed and she looked very stiff. Somehow, my jaw was very pronounced, and we weren’t quite sure how to receive it, what to say, and especially where to put it. When I think back on that, I have learned a lot about how you view a picture, how you view portraits, how you view the realities of the portrait of your life.

In the older testament, there is an account that’s recorded in the histories of Joshua and the battles that were fought. In the 14th chapter of Joshua, there’s a fascinating narrative of his colleague, Caleb. Caleb recounts what it was like 40 years ago and all that’s happened since. Now as a man at 85 who still feels as strong to go into battle as he did then, he recounts the story and paints for us the portrait of a life—but especially where God is positioned in the portrait in your life, which makes a world of difference both in perspective and outcomes. In the narrative, he says after 40 years, the 12 spies had gone out into the land—they each saw the same thing, but they each brought back different reports. Ten of them accentuated how large and fortified the cities were. There seemed to be giants in the land. They painted a portrait very similar to the other two, except for one thing—they didn’t paint God in the portrait. The text tells us that their reports made the hearts of the people melt with fear. It’s a unique phraseology; it only occurs twice in the older testament. Just a few chapters earlier, it records that God was so present with the Israelites that it made the hearts of the Canaanites melt with fear. Now just a few chapters later, giving a report that’s filled with fear without God in it made the hearts of the Israelites melt with fear.

He stood and said, “It’s been 40 years. After 40 years, I have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” He uses a unique phrase, that he had a “different spirit”. He didn’t give into the culture of complaint; he maintained a clear focus. He was different; he had a different spirit. But one of the keys was that the portrait of his life had God in it front and center. He uses unique phrases like, “Just as He said;” at another time, “Just as God promised;” and “God helping me we can accomplish this, just as he said.”

Thinking this through over the years, I have made assumptions, like the portrait of our lives has God somehow large, front and center in the portrait. When you go through whatever challenges appear in life, you know where He is; you can locate him. There’s a look on his face and you see his eyes. You have a sense that He is there even when it feels as everything around you feels like you could be without hope. That was my assumption.

But for others, he just wasn’t in the picture or he was somehow much, much smaller, and even painted on the side. Then I began to hear others, especially emerging generations use phrases like “God seems very distant. He’s there in the portrait; He’s in the background; He’s unengaged”. Others have said, “It’s as if He has faded into the shadows; I can locate Him, but He doesn’t play any kind of an active role”, yet others have said “It seems as if He is looking away, like He’s not even noticing what’s going on”. As I have listened and record these, I continue to reflect on how significant it is - when you paint the portrait of your life, where is God in that portrait?

When Caleb is reporting the last paragraph of this narrative, he uses a unique phrase. He states, “You see that hill country? That is the land I have been promised. I am now 85 years old. It’s been 40 years, and I still want it.” I still want it. “God helping me, we can claim it just as he said.”

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