Everyone knows Bob Ross. For a long time he did a PBS painting show called The Joy of Painting, where he would teach folks how to paint landscapes full of “happy little trees.” (Now you can watch every episode on YouTube). You know his soft, calm voice as he told you from under his permed afro, “It’s your world.” He explains the freedom of deciding where to put a cloud, a famously joyful, small tree, or a breaking wave. Phrases like, “Anywhere you want ’em” or “It’s your decision; it’s your world”, and a seemingly haphazard, “Maybe he lives right there” (referring to the beginnings of a snow-stacked evergreen).
But anyone who has watched Bob Ross paint knows the truth: this isn’t at all haphazrd or limitless. The freedom of decision-making and creativity in his painting, while very real, is constrained by the medium and necessities of making the paint on the canvas actually look like a cloud, or a tree, or a cresting wave. While in one sense, “It’s your world,” in another sense, it isn’t. In the wet-on-wet painting technique that Bob Ross practiced, the painter is only free within the boundaries of what colors and strokes are required to make water look like water and clouds look like clouds and mountains look like mountains.
The parallel pokes its head up pretty obviously at this point.
As we follow Jesus, we have a degree of (very real) creativity and freedom. We make decisions. We walk pathways. We mix colors and stroke our brushes across the canvas. But we are limited by the boundaries of Jesus’ covenant with us. We are not free simply to do an un-qualified “whatever we want to do.”
It isn’t our world. It’s the world and the kingdom of Jesus and his Father. Yet through spiritual adoption in union with Christ, we call his Father, “Our Father.” And Jesus then tells us, “your Father delights to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). They’re his canvas, his paint, and his brushes, but he loans them to us. He tells us, “The Father sent me to die and rise again so that you can brush out something creative, and free, and beautiful in the world he made.”
Constrained by his tools and techniques, everyone’s picture will be different and still everyone’s picture will have the unmistakable look of the Master’s.
So, what is God calling you to “paint” today?