After flying nine hours from Italy, our plane neared New York so we could make our connecting flight to Atlanta. I leaned over Ron to see what his nudging elbow and pointing finger insisted I see. Skyscrapers stood at attention surrounded by a landscape of blazing fall color. I smiled knowing we had escaped the honking horns and the hustle and bustle of the crowds below. My tired eyes scanned the horizon eagerly hoping to get a glimpse of Lady Liberty. Soon enough, I spied her upraised hand there on Ellis Island. She stood tall and regal as she beckoned the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. No doubt, she is America’s most famous statue.
While my eyes remained fixed on her, my mind’s eye traveled back to the Accademia museum in Florence, Italy where the statues of Michelangelo stood tall. While his David is touted as the most famous sculpture in all the world, I was captivated by four of the artist’s unfinished statues. They, along with two others in the Louvre Museum in Paris, make up a collection called Michelangelo’s Prisoners or Slaves.
Our tour guide explained that Michelangelo believed a sculptor wasn’t a creator, but rather a revealer. After carefully choosing a block of marble, his job was to slowly and deliberately chip away all of the excess. Many believe that Michelangelo deliberately left his four “Prisoners” unfinished to represent man’s struggle to release the soul from the flesh.
Maybe I was drawn to these statues because I liked knowing someone else started something they couldn’t finish. Or perhaps it was that I could quickly see, compare, and appreciate the drastic difference between a raw, humble beginning and a gloriously perfected ending. While those things might be true, what drew me most to these unfinished works was the fact that the figures seemed stuck. I know how stuck feels. Maybe you do too.
Maybe you’ve been stuck in past circumstances, hurts, and mistakes; or pressed by toxic relationships; or bogged down in religion; or buried underneath a load of grief; or crushed by depression. Maybe you can’t chisel your way out of the worry and stress weighing you down. But, there IS hope! It begins with a change in perspective.
Even before God made the world, He loved you and chose you. (Ephesians 1:4) You are a unique piece of marble specially created and chosen by the Great Sculptor to become a magnificent masterpiece. God sees the perfection of Jesus living inside you just waiting to be released. But, let me say this as tenderly as I can, you are NOT the sculptor. You were NOT created to release yourself!
God placed His hammer and chisel in the hand of the Holy Spirit to slowly and deliberately chip away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus. Thump by thump, it’s the hand of the Spirit that cracks open your past to remove everything unworthy of perfection. With every well-timed tap, the Spirit loosens the hold of bad relationships. At just the right time, He lands a shattering blow to legalism, blows away the dust of grief, and knocks a chunk out of worry and stress. He smashes depression to smithereens.
So, why do we still feel stuck? It all boils down to surrender. We so want to keep the chisel and hammer in our own hands. We want to control the speed and timing of the freedom process. If a necessary blow strikes too deep, we stop and rub the hurt. When the chips fly too fast, we slow things down. We think we know what’s best, when in reality we have exchanged the chisel for a caulking gun. Rather than exposing the Jesus inside our lives, we cover Him over with the things of this world.
Yet, when we let the Spirit control the speed of our transformation, no matter the level of discomfort, we begin to have the mind of Christ. As His hands wrap around our hearts of stone, they transform into hearts of flesh that beat with the love of Jesus. We begin to see others the way Jesus sees them, and our hands and feet become those of Jesus.
Michelangelo may have been content to let his sculptures remain imprisoned, but God is not. We were made to be free! None of us will be made completely perfect until Jesus comes back. However, if we continue our yearning to breathe free and stay in constant communication with the Spirit, God will not allow Him to stop working in and through us. Let’s put the hammer and chisel back into the Spirit’s hand so the Jesus within us can be set free!
“You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God.” (Romans 8:9b-10 NLT)