Andrew Peterson on Why Struggling Artists Must First Seek God’s Kingdom

A few years ago, I walked into Cason Cooley’s studio in East Nashville—a warm room strung with lights and jammed full of guitars and pianos and books—and sat down with my friends to start a new project. I looked around, thinking about all the other times I had done this very thing, marveling at how little I still knew about it. What do we do first? Do we sit around and play the songs for a day? Do we record scratch guitars? Do we pore over lyrics first?

In some ways, making art is like looking at a hoarder’s house and wondering where to begin the cleanup. It’s also like looking out at a fallow field, steeling your resolve to tame it, furrow it, and plant—but you know it’s littered with stones and it’s going to be harder than you think. I was a grownup. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I shouldn’t have felt that old fear, anxiety, or self-doubt, right? Then again, maybe I should have. As soon as you think you know what you’re doing, you’re in big trouble. So before we opened a single guitar case, we talked.

I told my collaborators that I felt awfully unprepared. I doubted the songs. I was nervous about the musical direction the record seemed to want to take. I wondered if I was up to the task. I told them about the themes that had arisen in many of the songs I was writing: loss of innocence, the grief of growing up, the ache for the coming kingdom, the sehnsucht I experience when I see my children on the cusp of the thousand joys and ten thousand heartaches of young-adulthood.

Then we prayed. We asked for help. If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials, “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, “Jesu Juva,” which is Latin for “Jesus, help!”

In one way or another, this process has repeated itself over the years, and in this process, I’ve discovered that seeking God’s kingdom is essential not only to the practice of faith but also to the practice of art. Here’s what I’ve found:

First, pray for help.

There’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure than “Jesus, help!” But you can also pray: Jesus, you’re the source of beauty. Help us make something beautiful. Jesus, you’re the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that made all creation. Give us words and be with us in the beginning of this creation. Jesus, you’re the light of the world. Light our way into this mystery. Jesus, you love perfectly and with perfect humility. Let this imperfect music bear your perfect love to every ear that hears it.

Write about your smallness, too.

Write about your sin, your heart, your inability to say anything worth saying. Watch what happens. And so, with a deep breath, you strum the chords again, quieting the inner taunts, the self-mockery. And you sing something that feels somehow like an echo of the music and the murky waters you’re wallowing in and the words you mumbled several days ago. Then, after hours and days of the same miserable slog, something happens that you cannot explain: You realize you have a song. Behold, there is something new under the sun.

Press into God’s kingdom.

So how do you start a career? Do you wait tables? Sure. Do you make the demo CD? Maybe, but don’t bother carrying it around. Do you work hard at your craft? Definitely. Do you move? Quit your day job? Marry the girl? Borrow the start-up funds? Sign the deal?

Here’s what I know in a nutshell: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).

Early on, I didn’t always seek God’s kingdom first, and Lord knows his righteousness was only on my mind for a minute or two a day max (I think I’m up to three, maybe four minutes now). That simple verse in Matthew draws into sharp focus the only thing that will satisfy us in our desperate seeking for what we think we want. We may want something harmless, but if it’s out of place, if it comes before the right thing, then what’s benign becomes malignant.

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Source: Christianity Today

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