Illuminated "L" in Genesis

Art as Worship

Whether you consider yourself to be artistic or not, you can worship God through art. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, for God sees the heart: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).

Worship is an offering of ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1-2). It involves adoration, submission, proclamation, and service, all of which can be done through art.

Stained glass art as worship

Stained glass portraying Saint Luke | Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Art has played a significant part of Christian service: Consider Handel’s Messiah, the medieval illuminated manuscripts, Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, and the stained glass of the great cathedrals. Even culinary arts are represented during feasts that celebrate Christ’s birth and resurrection—particularly when lamb is served for Easter accompanied by an explanation of Jesus being the Lamb sacrificed for our sins.

Take a look at how the arts played a part in Israel’s worship of God. Here is just a sample.

Art as Worship in the Bible

Performing Art as Worship

Members of three choirs greeted worshipers at the temple’s gates, played music, and sang throughout the temple facility. Men and women alike wrote and sang songs commemorating God’s mighty works. All the people acted important historical events, such as Passover—where families dressed and feasted in the way the Israelites did on the night God freed them from Egyptian slavery—and the Feast of Tabernacles—where they lived in palm booths for a week to reenact the wilderness experience and the entrance to the Promised Land.

Literary Art as Worship

Moses, Miriam, and other men and women in the Bible wrote songs for others to sing so they would remember God’s instructions and mighty deeds. At least one shepherd boy (David) wrote psalms for use in personal worship. Later, worship leaders wrote psalms to be sung by the choirs and recited by the masses. Some wrote histories and testimonies to teach others about God. Church leaders wrote letters to encourage, admonish, and bless.

Culinary Art as Worship

Illuminated mss is art as worship

Illuminated manuscript (Genesis) | Wenceslas Bible, 1389, from freechristimages.org

Worship included feasts, the elements of which often symbolized an aspect of God’s care. For example, the spring Passover feast included lamb to represent the Passover Lamb slain that they might live, and unleavened bread signifying the haste with which the people fled Egypt. The summer Feast of Weeks included leavened bread in celebration of the grain harvest God provided in the Promised Land; to the early church it symbolized the falling of the Seed that produced the harvest of the church. The fall Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the year’s final harvest; it also symbolized the Last Day’s harvest of souls.

Visual Art as Worship

At homes, Scripture adorned doorposts and gates, providing teaching opportunities. But where the visual arts really stood out was at the temple. There wood carvings, gold inlays, intricate embroidery, and bronze statues reminded worshipers that this was the temple of the Creator of all in heaven and earth. He was holy and they drew near him through sacrifice. The artistry reminded people who God was so they could worship appropriately.

Why Attempt Art as Worship?

Many of us have enjoyed stained glass windows in cathedrals and Bible stories in plays or movies. But this level of art as worship is beyond the skills of most: We can enjoy it, but not do it.

Still, artistically expressing what we’re learning in Scripture has these benefits:

  • Deepens our involvement with the passage
  • Helps us remember the passage’s message
  • Gives us a means to easily and vibrantly share the passage with others
  • Is a part of loving the Lord with our whole being: heart, soul, mind, and strength
Art as worship deepens our involvement, helps us remember, & gives us a means to share Click To Tweet

Simple Ideas for Art as Worship

Art as worship: Psalm 1:3

“A tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3) | Art doesn’t have to be skillful to be meaningful–I enjoyed creating this and was blessed by the layers of meaning that came out

So what are some simple ways to use art as worship? Here are ideas based on Psalm 1, most of which could be used with any Scripture passage:

Performing Arts

  • Find a musical version of the psalm to play or sing (such as that of Kim Hill)
  • Act out the psalm as you read or recite it aloud to music (spoken word poetry)
  • Write music and lyrics based on the psalm

Literary Arts

  • Write a psalm similar to Psalm 1 based on a particular biblical instruction.
  • Form this psalm’s message into a poem of any type you like

Culinary Arts

  • For a picnic, gather chaff (papery seed covering) from plants that have gone to seed (or weeds if you can’t find chaff) and place it on a container. Prepare fresh fruit and place it on another container. Show children or friends the contents of the two containers. As you explain how chaff is good for nothing, toss it in the air and let the wind drive it away (or pour it into the trash if the day is windless). Serve the fruit as you explain how healthy and desirable it is. Explain what Psalm 1 says about our lives being like chaff or well-watered fruit trees.
Art as worship can be simple

Clockwise from top: 1. cross stitch in progress; 2. stamped tile; 3. bookmarks; 4. scale as reminder of justice.

Visual Arts

  • Create a container garden with a small plant pruned like a tree and tiny rocks suggesting a stream
  • Write part or all of the psalm in calligraphy
  • Create an art journal: sketch, paint, and affix photos and words from magazines
  • In a journaling Bible, pick one verse to illuminate in the wide margin
  • Overlay a verse on top of a photograph of a fruit tree by a river
  • Create a diorama or sculpture or piece of jewelry
  • Create fabric art using cross stitch, embroidery, or applique
  • Turn what you are learning into an artistic expression to encourage others: bookmarks, greeting cards, t-shirt, coaster
Art as worship in a laundry room

“‘A merry heart createth a cheerful countenance’ Proverb 15:13” | My MIL Rae disliked housework so she painted her laundry room in a way that would remind her that her service was worship.

My favorite ways of creating art as worship are writing new psalms based on other psalms, turning a passage into a story or poem, sketching passages, and fabric art. My husband, Clay, has written several encouraging psalms during difficult times. I have a friend who makes coasters from tiles, another who illuminates verses in a journaling Bible, one who made a container garden to illustrate the Parable of the Sower, and still another who makes bookmarks.

What ways have you used art in worship? What might you try?

Adapted from Discovering Hope in the Psalms (Harvest House, 2017)

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Posted in Encouragement, Psalms, Spiritual Practices and tagged , .

7 Comments

    • Thanks, Karla. Your blog has a lot of terrific inspirational art. Thanks for posting a link.

      • Readers, my plugins for adding images to comments aren’t working. I recommend you hop over to Karla’s site and take a look at her bookmarks and Bible art journaling.

    • Wow! What a lot of psalms Ian White has produced. Thanks for that, Rajni. (Readers: the link above won’t work, but just search for “Ian White Psalms” and you’ll find lots.)

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