The Preacher Says....  
  The Art of Living  
  This title, used on hundreds of brochures, books and pamphlets, supports the idea that the art of living is a vital subject. Books like Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking was (maybe still is) a best seller, touting a sort of simplified, egocentric way of living that bolsters a mindset that every day in every way, things are getting better. Because if you have a special goal to reach, certain ritualistic thoughts and actions can make it happen. This, of course, is not the case. In fact, my talk today concerns itself with an opposite view, because such books have a tendency to try to get us to think that living is a science, not an art. There is nothing scientific about living except the science of physiology of life itself. Living is an art where, for example, painters work on canvas, musicians create music on the diatonic scale, teachers impart world facts, or accountants juggle numbers on balance sheets. Art is the acquisition and application of individual skill within a given framework. We emphasize individual skill because, for example, within the framework of the art of painting, we find many artists of great skill, whose works are entirely different from one another, i.e. a Fragonard landscape with one of William Blake, both artists of the eighteenth century. If all paintings were the same, and artists used the same methods and preconceptions, their art would be a very dull thing indeed.

So it is with life. Each human being is or should be an artist, trying to develop skill in living within the framework of life itself. Life's general framework is that of mortality, which implies frailty and uncertainty. Within this framework all kinds of artists work: Christians, atheists, agnostics, and artists of every ideology and persuasion. Said a different way, artists work within an additional framework superimposed on the framework of bare life itself. By that I mean, the Christian rests on God and his word , the atheist on philosophers in general, the agnostics, self. It's important for the Christian artist to accept the discipline within which he has to work, or he is not likely to be an artist at all. The Christian framework also requires certain other disciplines upon the artist, faith and obedience to the Creator. If he is going to shape his life he must be willing to face up to the fact that all men are mortal and imperfect; and the details of life are unknowable. It takes some courage to work within that gloomy framework, but it is the framework that 20th century man for the most part works in. All the old standards, true or false, have been swept aside. So the world is presently producing some sleazy artists in the art of living: they are not developing skills. The blueprint is so frightening, they are not acting to carve out a life, but are reacting to fears about the structure itself. So we see all about us chaos, or to go from the analogy to actual art, bad painting, bad music, bad writing, bad movies.

So the naked framework just outlined is not conducive to making artists in the art of living. The mistake is that man thinks that's all there is to the arrangement or boundaries. Man can be a much better artist if he comes to realize (how so is another subject) that the structure has other members, for example, the hope for a better life. In a life of uncertainty, to learn there is a God who has promised a better life in a living hope demonstrated in Christ who, after his own uncertain life, attained perfection, immortal life, the framework grows to even greater proportion. What unpolished tools does the artist have to make his life a masterpiece within the Christian framework? His senses which receive impressions, and his mind which makes sense out of them. If these are the only tools, we'd be very insipid artists indeed. Actually, some Christians are very much like that, one dimensional. But we have two other tools: our emotions and our will. The quantity and quality of tools vary with individuals, so they are all very different from each other. It's important that the Christian artist accept this. Not different for its own sake,, but don't be afraid of being different or be critical of those who are . The Christian artist ought not to be afraid of emotions; many Christians are so afraid of emotions that they can't carve out any life at all. All emotions are good. Only when misused or misdirected do we mess up our lives. King Solomon attested to this: it's all right to love (eros and agape), all right to hate, all right to fear, all right to be ecstatic, all right to be sad. What we need to learn is timing and direction through exercise of will, strengthened by faith. Not a simple matter. So we see the artist struggling all his life with his tools (senses, mind, emotions, will and faith) to build a life that can be a memorial and an offering to his creator.

How we conduct the struggle is a very long story indeed. I'll give you three aspects of the struggle: One idea gleaned from C. S. Lewis, is an essay from God in the dock called Meditation in a toolshed where he finds himself looking at a beam of light coming through a crack in the door. Through the dust in the beam of light he sees through to the leaves in the garden. As he looks through the light of the sun over 90,000,000 miles away in space the prospect gives rise to the thought that there are two ways of seeing things. The point is that to understand life and the Christian life, you can't just look at it, you have to get into it. Critics who only look at it never get a true perspective. Some Christians are like that. But don't stay away from the fray, because in that element you will learn patience, longsuffering, perseverance, tenacity. It takes a lot of staying power. Secondly, the true artist is patient, because life is mostly about relationships with people. Therefore, be patient until the coming of the Lord, for the husbandman (God) waits for the precious fruit of the earth and has long patience for it. Remember, one day you will be known for your fruits. Finally, bring into the fray the supreme characteristic of love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion, with prayer, the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." It's significant that this is the only characteristic that Jesus requires of us in his model prayer. And how do we forgive? We forgive like God does. He forgives and He forgets. Else why this language?

Repent , therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the Lord. Like Paul, forget those things that are behind. He could blot them out. Wipe the slate clean. Baptism and prayer does this . At least it is the figure used. If somebody says he forgives, but if he can't forget, he hasn't truly forgiven. You really can forget although you say it's impossible. But you do forget. (Just try now after many years to solve a quadratic equation). God has given us a way to forget. You can tune out malicious thoughts when they first occur. Gradually you can tune out the thoughts before they arise. Psychologists have a name for it: suppression and repression, ever useful tools in the art of living. Seek to build within your character the kind of mercy that rejoices against judgment. I want to add humility to the mix, but remember, you can't be humble if you don't have some self respect. If you enter life zestfully, yet look at it objectively from time to time, and can be patient in adversity, can forgive, and not be easily offended, you will have come a long way towards beautifying and polishing your life into a lively stone fit to become a part of the temple of God. (Pet 2. 5)