The First Step Of Creativity: It Isn't What You Think.
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
In his book Perennial Seller Ryan Holiday takes aim at the idea of the wistful creative. The image of an artist staring outside the window waiting for a brilliant idea to strike is just romance. In his own words,
“Creativity is not a divine act. It is not a lightning strike.”
His larger point is that creativity is a process. It is about iteration and failure and problem solving. People who want to be creative need to get off their tuchus and do something, not just wait around for the heavens to open and drop a fully formed idea into their laps.
It’s good advice. I think his book is great. If you are working on a creative project you should buy it. But he’s wrong about creativity not being a divine act. Allow me to explain. To do so we need to talk about how we start our day- or rather, when we start our day.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness He called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning- the first day.” Genesis 1:3-5
We think that we start our day in the morning, with coffee. But the Bible is explicit that the day begins and ends with the night. The Jews start and end their Sabbath at dusk. So what?
The night is not primarily about resting from the hard work we did during the previous day. It is about receiving from the Lord what we need for the next day. That sounds backwards, but it isn’t and I can prove it.
When the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness because of their lack of faith, God still provided for them:
“That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.” Exodus 16:13,14
God gave the Israelites what they would need for that day during the night. They couldn’t even save what they collected until the next morning or it would rot. God had them on a diet of receiving for forty years. It took that long for the nation to get out of a slavery mindset and believe they received from God and not men.
Everything in life is about receiving and giving. The order is important. God breathed life into Adam’s lungs. Then Adam exhaled. Adam received before he gave. When a child is born it does a lot of receiving before it does any giving. And the last breath any of us will take goes out at the end. Receiving, then giving.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights…” James 1:17
So creativity, like any other human endeavor, is a divine act, because it begins with receiving from the Lord.
This may seem trivial. It isn’t. It is crucial. The consequences of not receiving from the Lord are dire.
In the parable of the talents, the master gives each of his servants some of his property before he goes on a journey. To one he entrusts five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he departs.
After a long time he comes back to settle accounts with each servant.
“The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See I have gained five more.’”
“’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:19-21
The servant who received two talents did the same, and received the exact same congratulation. However, the man who received one talent said,
“”Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’”
“His master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant!’”...“’Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’” Matthew 25:24-26; 28,29
In our modern sense of justice, we would point the finger at the master and say, “Why didn’t he give each one the same amount of money? That’s not equitable.”
But the master wasn’t concerned with that, because it wasn’t about the number of talents. He even tells the servants he had given them a “few things”. He judged each servant on two criteria: gratitude and faithfulness.
Gratitude allows us to receive from God correctly. When we acknowledge that we receive from the Lord it allows us to do what the good servants did: utilize our gifts, take initiative, and build. That is what faithfulness is. The other half of the receiving equation is giving. Thankfulness allows us to receive with joy, use the resources God has given us, and make use of the gifts to give back to Him.
The wicked and lazy servant couldn’t even get past step one. He had received, but because of his beef with the master, he refused to accept it. He had no gratitude, and therefore no faithfulness, and nothing to show for himself.
When we don’t acknowledge what God has already given us, we shut down the process of giving and receiving. Without gratitude, our hearts get clogged with self-pity, envy, contempt, anger, unforgiveness, and entitlement. Not only does it stagnate us, it moves us backwards. It may seem harsh that the master would take from the man who had only one talent. But don't forget, the one-talent-servant could have received the same congratulation as the others. If he had the thankfulness to realize what he had received, things would have been different. That’s how much God values gratitude. It makes the whole cycle go.
It’s often been said that Satan can’t create anything. He can only corrupt God’s design. Everything Satan does is inside out, backward, and opposed to the nature of God. That’s because, in his pride, Satan cannot receive from God. He doesn’t want anything from God. He wants God’s throne. Satan can’t do thankfulness or faithfulness. So he can’t create. I guess what I’m saying is, “Don’t be like Satan.” (Good word right there.)
With Thanksgiving this week, it is an excellent opportunity to look around and think about all that God has given us. Lean into gratitude. That is the first step in creativity. But it’s not the end. There’s still faithfulness to talk about.
But that is for next week. Until then, have a full-of-gratitude Thanksgiving.