We aren’t all born and bred to become recognizable artists. Few, if any of us, are destined for paintings in the Louvre, concerts at Madison Square Garden, books with a Pulitzer, or Emmys on our shelves. Yet we all were destined for a life of beauty. In fact, all followers of Jesus are called to work out being made in God’s image through the appreciation and creation of beauty.
Most of humanity is at least somewhat competent in appreciating beauty. We know it in sunsets, mountains, oceans, animals, flowers, and all the rest. But the creation part might stump you. You might think: “I am not the least bit creative, and I definitely can’t create beauty!” Maybe this is true, but if we expand our definition of beauty, if we reduce it down to its very essence, we will see the task of the Christian beauty-maker for what it is—obedience to Jesus.
Motivated by more than art
This is where the quiet and faithful life of a woman named Lilias Trotter comes to our aid. Trotter was a 19th-century artist-turned-missionary who gave up a promising career as a painter to bring the gospel to the nation of Algeria. When she left for Algeria, she did not abandon painting, but rather used this gift to share gospel truths and stories with the people she met. For 40 years, Trotter plodded along in the dry and unyielding land where the Muslim faith ruled. At times she felt discouraged, but she did not waiver. She emptied herself for the sake of others, and the Lord blessed her ministry.
Trotter was able to see beauty in the desert. Not just in the purple hues of sunset over the sandy dunes, but in the life that comes through dying. She came from a wealthy family and enjoyed all the comfort a young woman in the Victorian era could want, as well as the mentorship and encouragement of famed artist, John Ruskin. When she learned that people in North Africa had not heard of Jesus, she left all of this for their sake. Her hope and trust was this: “It is the poured-out life that God blesses – the life that heeds not itself, if only other souls may be won.”1I.R. Govan Stewart, The Love That Was Stronger: Lilias Trotter of Algiers, (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 15.
In the age of influencers and hunger for fame and recognition, it is rare to find a soul unmarked by envy, selfishness, or deceit. Even those who avoid the tangles of social media may stop short and care only for their own soul, while ignoring the thousands of souls who are headed straight for separation from God for all eternity. It can be easy for us to fall prey to the lie that to really live, we must make much of ourselves and get to others later.
Trotter had a deep love for flowers and plants and often used these to describe what she knew about the Lord. She says, “A flower that stops short at its flowering misses its purpose. We were created for more than our spiritual development; reproduction, not mere development, is the goal of matured being – reproduction in other lives.”2I. Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Cross, (Fort Myers: Oxvision Books, 2018), 29. It is in this reproduction of the Spirit in us to others that we see new life burst forth in weary hearts. Of course, not all of us are called to move overseas and serve until we die. But we are all called to a life of making disciples, helping others know the ways of Jesus however we can (Matt. 28:18-20).
This was what motivated Trotter to write of death often: Jesus’ life was marked by dying to himself and for others. “He grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him . . . But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds” (Isa. 53:2,4). Jesus’ outward beauty was not what made him beautiful, but his life.
Beauty is more than sight
Trotter understood this and that beauty is not less than what we see, but it is infinitely more than sight. Faith is where we find all the beauty we could fathom. In our obedience to God, in our faithfulness to his commands, in our discipleship and evangelism of others, we see true beauty. There is nothing more beautiful than knowing Jesus and giving all to him.
Christian, you may not have the mastery of the paintbrush as Trotter did. But because God is the perfect Creator, you too are called to live a beautiful life. “He needs the whole Church to manifest His whole character and accomplish His appointed ministry, and so the individual development must differ widely in everything but the common vital principle.”3I. Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Christ-Life, (Valde Books, 2009), 4.
Your beautiful life may involve art, but it may also involve engineering, technology, raising children, or teaching. Whatever your vocation, your life is worth living and it is a life of beauty. You need only to follow him with open hands.
Let the words of Lilias Trotter linger with you now: “All that matters is that our part should be done . . . Let the cry be on our hearts, as it was on the heart of Jesus, to ‘finish the work’ that the Father has given us. ‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.’ On He went with it, though it cost Him the strong crying and tears of Gethsemane to fight through to the end – to live on to the ‘It is finished’ of Calvary.”4Trotter, Parables of the Christ-Life, 19.
- 1I.R. Govan Stewart, The Love That Was Stronger: Lilias Trotter of Algiers, (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 15.
- 2I. Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Cross, (Fort Myers: Oxvision Books, 2018), 29.
- 3I. Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Christ-Life, (Valde Books, 2009), 4.
- 4Trotter, Parables of the Christ-Life, 19.