Do you feel God calling you into something new? Have you determined that you’re willing to study to show yourself approved, but you’re feeling intimidated or tired out by the challenges of grasping a new skill? In this article, Carina Alanson shares 5 tips to encourage you to persevere (and even enjoy) learning and cultivating the skills and gifts God has planted within you.
I was standing in my friend’s guest bedroom when her 7-year-old daughter walked in and presented me with a gift. It was a bracelet, and I felt a little jolt when I saw the word emblazoned on the yellow wristband. “Artist.”
I have wanted to learn to draw and paint since I was a teenager, but as I dove into college and then a career as a professional counselor, I never felt that I had the time to pursue these interests.
Eventually, I felt God calling me to leave the mental health field and become a writer, and though I was still drawn to art, I was faced with the same problem: I had so much to learn about writing that I didn’t have the capacity to invest in drawing and painting as well.
Reigniting a Calling
But about a year and a half ago, something began to shift. Finally feeling more settled in my role as a writer, my art aspirations reemerged. At the same time, I was surprised but delighted to feel God speaking to me about art and creativity. I sensed Him revealing that art was an important part of who He created me to be, and it might sound silly, but when my friend’s daughter gave me that artist bracelet, I had the distinct impression that God was confirming that He was calling me to finally get serious about learning to draw and paint.
With this in mind, I pulled out my pencils and bought myself a paint set. As I began experimenting with watercolor, I felt the way I imagine a baby robin must feel after its first flight or the way a groundhog might feel after stepping into the sunshine after awakening from its long winter hibernation. I felt alive and full of joy, which I took as more confirmation that I was on the right track.
STUDY TO SHOW YOURSELF APPROVED
Today, I’m even more excited about painting than I was when I first started. But alongside those feelings of excitement has been a growing awareness that if I want to draw and paint the animals, landscapes, and flowers I dream of, I’m going to have to commit to some serious study and practice.
A choice is before me: Will I remain a dabbler, contenting myself with creating relaxing but rudimentary compositions? Or will I put in the hard work needed to develop real skill?
As I consider these options, I think of the apostle Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15b, MEV). The New Living Translation says it this way: “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.”
A God-Given Responsibility
Each of us has received a gift from God (1 Peter 4:10), but rarely do our gifts come fully formed. Rather, as Paul points out, it’s our responsibility to develop the skills—to do the work—necessary to express the gifts given to us.
So though it requires a lot of hard work and it often feels difficult and daunting, I’ve decided to devote myself to studying the arts of drawing and painting. I’m doing this, in part, because I know my work will eventually pay off and I’ll enjoy art even more than I do now. But more than that, I’m doing it because I feel God calling me to it, and I long to receive His approval and someday hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
5 TIPS TO PERSEVERING AS YOU LEARN A NEW SKILL
How about you? Do you feel God calling you into something new? Have you determined that you’re willing to study to show yourself approved, but you’re feeling intimidated or tired out by the challenges of grasping a new skill?
If your answer is yes, here are several things that have helped me persevere when learning new skills in the past and which I continue to rely on as I venture further into developing my skills as an artist. I hope you find them helpful too!
1. Remember That Your Contribution is Valuable
Each time I’ve started learning the skills necessary to express the gifts I believe God is calling me to share, I’ve been confronted with doubt about whether what I have to offer really matters.
I clearly remember wrestling with this doubt when I first started writing. I knew that writing could transform lives—I certainly had been positively impacted by other people’s devotions, articles, and books. But could ‘my’ writing make a difference? Could God really use my words to touch people’s hearts?
Now as a beginning artist, I’m confronted again with the same kind of questions about the value of what I have to offer. I know art is important—but sometimes I wonder: Does my art matter?
Does it Matter?
While having these thoughts isn’t unusual when we’re first starting out (or even well into our journey), if we dwell on our doubts and fears, we increase the chances that we’ll stall out and fail to develop our skills. We risk ending up like the third servant in the parable of the talents. Though he was entrusted with a fortune, he buried his talent. (The New English Translation commentary states that one talent—the amount the third servant was given—was equivalent to 6,000 denarii, with one denarius being the usual wage for one day of labor. That means this servant was given 6,000 days of wages—that’s about 19 years’ worth of earnings!)
There are likely multiple reasons why this servant hid his gift, but one possible reason is that he compared what he had to what the other two servants, who had been given five and three talents respectively, had. Even though he’d been given massive funds, I believe that after measuring his bag of money against the others’ bags of money, he decided that his lesser sum was insignificant and not worth investing.
Let’s not make the same mistake. If God has called you to learn a new skill, it matters—immensely. Your contribution, no matter how humble it may seem, is a valuable part of His plan. It is part of your effort to “Study to show yourself approved by God” (2 Timothy 2:15b, MEV). Accepting and remembering this truth can help you persevere when the going gets tough.
2. Lean Not on Your Own Understanding
If I’m upstairs in my house and I hear my husband call up from the first floor, “Can you come down here for a minute?” I’ll most likely respond by asking, “Why?”
Like many people, I don’t like doing things—even walking down the stairs—without a reason.
I’ve found that my fixation with knowing why has impacted my art journey. When I first started sensing that God was inviting me to delve into art, it didn’t make much sense. It didn’t seem to fit with the other things He’s called me to. I was reluctant to dedicate much time to it when I had so many other (seemingly) more pressing responsibilities.
But sometimes, God calls us to do things without giving us a clear reason. And I’ve come to see that art is something God does want me to take seriously, even though I don’t fully understand how it fits with His plan. He’s asking me to “lean not on [my] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5b) and, instead, trust that He knows what He’s doing.
If you feel God calling you to something but you’re struggling to move forward because it doesn’t seem to make sense, remembering that He sees the big picture can help you find the courage to carry on.
3. Find an Organized, Step-By-Step Approach to Learning Your Skill
Over the last year, my approach to learning to draw and paint has been pretty haphazard. While I have learned a lot from YouTube, I didn’t feel like I was gaining a coherent, organized understanding of the principles and techniques that make for good drawing and painting.
On top of that, I often feel overwhelmed by all I have to learn, and my hodgepodge approach didn’t help. Instead, it only added to the feeling that I was wandering aimlessly through an interesting but confusing forest, wanting to make it to the other side but clueless as to how to get there.
I realized that I needed to find an approach that would teach me in a systematic, step-by-step manner.
In response to this need for more structure, I bought a drawing book that contains 30 short lessons. Each lesson taught a skill necessary for drawing. I just started working through a similar, 30-lesson book for painting. And I also signed up for an online painting course.
The lessons in my books and in my course can all be completed in around 15 to 30 minutes. This organized, bite-sized approach has done a lot to ease my sense of overwhelm. I find it so much easier to start a lesson when I know it won’t take long to complete. Plus, focusing on one micro-skill at a time helps make what I’m learning feel less complicated and more accessible. Another benefit to this more ordered approach is that it helps me be more efficient. Instead of spending tons of time scrolling through YouTube, trying to decide which skill to learn next, the authors of my books have already decided for me.
If you’re feeling disorganized and overwhelmed by all you have to learn, try finding a way to break your skill into smaller, organized chunks. Take a class, find a book that will guide you step by step, or join a membership site that has lessons for you to follow. It’s much easier to press forward when the next step is a simple, clear-cut, 20-minute practice session.
4. Recognize That Persistence Pays Off—Possibly Much More Quickly Than You Might Expect
Have you ever heard that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill? If that enormous number makes you feel as overwhelmed as it does me, I have some good news. It’s true that becoming a master-level, world-class competitor does take years of practice, according to researcher and writer Josh Kaufman. But we can develop proficiency at a new skill in a fraction of that time.
In an interview published by Forbes.com, Kaufman states that “the early hours of trying something new are always challenging. But a little persistence can result in huge increases in skill. The human brain is optimized to pick up new skills extremely quickly. If you persist and practice in an intelligent way, you’ll always experience dramatic improvements in a very short period of time.” He goes on to say that “you can usually achieve the goals you set yourself in around 20 hours of deliberate practice.”
Day by Day
Twenty hours! That sounds a lot more doable than 10,000, doesn’t it?
While you definitely want to pursue excellence—to study to show yourself approved—it takes some pressure off to remember that, while you may eventually reach a master level, it’s okay if, at the moment, you’re an amateur. What matters most is that we do the best we can with what we have. And one of the best ways we can do that is simply practice, step by step, day by day. For me, knowing that consistent practice can yield good results in a relatively short amount of time motivates me to keep putting in the effort!
5. Relax and Enjoy the Process
I don’t know about you, but I’m prone to taking myself and my work a little too seriously. Sometimes to the point of stressing myself out and losing my joy in the journey. When that happens, I start to feel discouraged. And when that happens, it’s much harder to find the motivation to push on.
I have to remind myself that while honoring our callings and working hard to develop the skills necessary to express our gifts is important, working hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have fun.
Take a look at the words of Lady Wisdom found in Proverbs 8:30-31. “Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (NIV).
Enjoy Your Work
Here, Wisdom, who is a personification of God’s wisdom, or, some theologians say, a reference to Jesus Himself, describes being present as God created the world. And she wasn’t sitting off to the side, stoic and sterned faced as God formed the clouds and mountains and oceans. Rather, Wisdom was celebrating and exalting in the creation process. I’m convinced that God Himself rejoiced as He created. And I’m also convinced that He desires us to enjoy our work just as much as He did.
So, as you persist in learning your new skill, relax and enjoy the process. Play. Experiment. Work hard, certainly, but don’t let your dedication dampen your ability to have fun. We’ll get much farther in the long run if we work from a place of peace and joy rather than from duty and obligation. After all, God is a loving Father, not a taskmaster. He’s much more interested in His relationship with us than He is in our performance for Him.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Whether you’re learning to sculpt clay, use sign language, grow your own vegetables, play the guitar, manage a nonprofit, or drive a tractor-trailer, I hope these tips spur you on as you study to show yourself approved. Though learning a new skill can be hard, if God has called you and you’re committed to leaning on Him, You CAN do it because, with God, anything is possible!
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