Ep. 196: The Art of Everyday Worship
In the midst of ordinary people, places, sights, and sounds, how do you worship? Can we still worship in the everyday moments of life? On this week’s episode of indoubt, Ruth Chou Simons joins us to discuss the art of everyday worship. It’s so easy for us to take for granted the things that we see around us each day, but Ruth and Daniel encourage us to linger longer on the beauty that surrounds us. Whether you’re cooking, decorating your home, working, or creating, you can use those things to ultimately glorify God. The question is how will we direct our eyes, hearts, minds, and hands in the everyday?
Welcome to the indoubt Podcast where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s Word. For more info on indoubt, visit indoubt.ca.
Hey everyone, this is Kourtney. On this week’s episode of indoubt, we’re talking with author, speaker, and artist, Ruth Chou Simons. Her new book Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship was just recently released, and it so brilliantly combines beautiful artwork with a biblical message of worship. In the very beginning of the book, Ruth quotes Charles Spurgeon saying, “Nearness to God brings likeness to God. The more you see God, the more of God will be seen in you.” And I think that’s really important for us to be thinking about before we go into this conversation. So, I hope that you find encouragement and enjoy this episode with Daniel and Ruth Chou Simons.
Hey, welcome to the indoubt Podcast. My name’s Daniel Markin and I’m joined today by our guest, all the way from Colorado, her name is Ruth Chou Simons. She is an author and a speaker and we’re excited to have on. How’s it going, Ruth?
Oh, thanks so much for having me, Daniel. It’s great to be here.
So Ruth, good to have you here. Can you just tell us a little bit as we’re beginning here about who you are and what your ministry is?
Sure, sure. I’m Ruth Chou Simons. I am the founder of GraceLaced.com, a website that began as a blog 13 years ago and now is a website in which I get to share my artwork and my words through products and prints and canvases and stationery and lifestyle products that we ship around the world. I never knew years ago that God would give me an opportunity to use my giftings in painting, and to encourage and build up the body of Christ. So now GraceLaced is a brand that is in multiple continents, and in major Christian bookstores around the country.
My first book, GraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart came out in 2017. I have a new book called Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship that releases September 10th of this year. I guess I didn’t mention right at the start that I am a mom of six young boys. My oldest is 17 and my youngest is six. My husband Troy and I have been married 21 years, and in other seasons of life we’ve been in full time ministry. He was a teaching preaching pastor, church planter and we were school founders of a classical Christian school in which he head-mastered for almost eight years.
So, we’ve seen the opportunity to minister both locally and online, and right now we are currently full time with GraceLaced and really grateful to work with a small but mighty team that gets to carry the message of the gospel and the beauty of turning our gaze to Him through this website that we get to share these products through.
You have a book coming out-
And your book’s called Beholding and Becoming. You have an interesting style because you incorporate a lot of art into your writing. Are you the one who does all the illustrations in your book?
I am. I am. And you know it’s interesting because when I think about your audience here, I think, okay, what was I thinking when I was in their stage of life? When I was graduating from college, kind of exploring new grounds like, what am I going to do with my giftings? I never thought in a million years that my interest in art and my degree in art would turn into an opportunity a decade and a half later, two decades later to become a published author, and in a genre that really didn’t exist very much in Christian publishing.
Most of Christian publishing is either gift books or fully like content, word-focused books. But I really wanted to marry the two and say, “You know what? We don’t need to sacrifice beauty to have really good content.” And I really think that we are the social media, visually driven generation. I mean, you’re in a younger generation than me, but overall, we are living in a time where everything is driven by the experience, the eye, like Instagram is so key in all social media right now because it’s visually driven. It’s curated images, and so I thought, you know, being that writing, and painting are both giftings for me, why would I need to necessarily choose one and not the other? Why not bring that experience to the reader in two ways so that we could linger longer and wrestle with the content in multiple ways, because God really pursues us in multiple ways as well.
Absolutely. I think you’re right. I think also that often in the church and as I just reflect on, I mean my past, we can just view the fact that like no church has to be this way. We don’t want to have anything distracting us from worship or like in worship, but also, I think we forget that using art and other visual symbols, for example, actually will fuel us in our worship. Like it gives us a new way of encountering the Lord and maybe symbols and images can really speak to us in that way.
Well, and you know, it’s interesting, the Bible came to us through a very verbal culture. It was a culture that passed the stories down verbally as well as so pictorial, right? The Eastern cultures are so pictorial. I’m Chinese, and so I completely come from a cultural background where even the language is written in pictorial characters. And so I think one aspect of it is that in the West we kind of get so cerebral about things and we forget that our God not only wants to have our minds, He wants to have our hearts and our senses and He pursues us, like I said, in various ways, in so many more ways than we realize.
One of the goals of this book ultimately is to turn our attention to the ways in which God is actually worthy of worship and calling us to that intimate relationship in the very, not so remarkable, not so exciting daily moments of our lives. And when we kind of turn our gaze to even the sunrise in the morning and the sunset at night and realize that God doesn’t have to paint those colors across the sky, but He does.
And so what does that mean? What does it ultimately mean that He chooses to talk about His covenant with Abraham in the picture of stars strewn across the sky? Why did He have to use that picture to describe Himself and describe His promises? So ultimately, you know, it’s much more than we can even tackle right here, but I just think that we are missing out on one aspect of how God is revealing himself to us if we’re not opening our eyes and seeing the beauty of His creation, the way in which He orchestrates the world around us in a way for us to experience both with our eyes and our hands and our senses.
Yeah. I completely agree, and I would add onto that, that made in the image of God, with God being a creator, we also bear creativity. I’m not like enormously artistic, as far as painting, but I know that for people who have that mind, and have that gifting, that’s a way they can actually worship God. I mean, if you think back to Genesis, right, where God places Adam and Eve in the garden, He says to Adam, He says, “I want you to cultivate this garden,” right? “Take care of the garden.” And if you tease that idea out, the idea that we are cultivating in any area of life that we are, and I think that part of that is creating beauty.
And I think we tend to get hung up on the idea, like people will say, “Oh, I’m not creative because I don’t paint or don’t scrapbook or can’t sing or can’t dance.” But the reality is those are a particular manifestation of a creative gifting, right? That’s a particular skill set, but the reality is, like you said, we are all created as image bearers and we are the ones who are reflecting the creativity and the glory of God, just like the wildflowers are really a reflection of God’s handiwork. And so, the pressure’s off for you, for me, for our listener here. Like the pressure’s off. We don’t need to be the most creative, the most talented, or have some amazing skill to serve our purpose as image bearers. We already have everything we need to uniquely, uniquely proclaim and be the conduits of what the gospel is all about through our own lives.
He’s uniquely created each one of us to tell that story in a way that no one else can. And I think that, you know, at a time where… So I kind of came out with my writing career and my business at a time when Etsy was blowing up and Pinterest and all these creative outlets, and I think that suddenly there was this picture of incredible DIY, handmade, artisan crafted, and I think sometimes if we’re creative, we feel a lot of energy there, but we’re not terribly creative with certain artistic mediums. We think, “Well, where’s my place in this?” And I would just say your place is ultimately to allow the Word of God to overflow in your heart and in your life and the way it comes out. Whether it’s through you cooking for your neighbour or with the way you decorate your home, or maybe it’s the way you work in the medical field and you have a specific creative way in which you talk to your patients. See how all of those things can really be creative reflections of our Creator, God, and it doesn’t really involve scissors and construction paper or paints, you know?
Yeah. There are so many different ways that we can be a faithful presence with our creativity in our culture, which it’s not talked about often, but our workplace is such an important place for that, and so being creative in the ways that we engage our colleagues too is important. Also being creative in the way you can care for people, like bringing someone a coffee and trying to be thoughtful, I would say is creative in that sense.
I guess I want to transition this into the idea of when you pursue your creativity or when you go and write, what does that look like for you?
Yeah, so you know, I think in an ideal world, everybody hopes that, you know, you’ve got the perfect music going and you’ve got this gorgeous latte sitting next to you, and you know, the room smells and feels perfect and you can just have 12 hours to yourself to be super creative, intensely focused. And that’s just not real life.
When I was given an opportunity to grow my career and to be a traditionally published author, it came at a time when I had, and I still do, I still have six kids. I was a full-blown mom of a teenager, mom of little ones. My oldest is 17 and my youngest is six, so if you can imagine that span there, it’s not like my house was quiet, and it’s not like I really could get away for weeks at a time and just have this immensely fruitful, quiet, focused time.
I share that to say sometimes our most creative work comes through unlikely contexts, unlikely circumstances. Maybe you don’t have the perfect studio space that would inspire creativity. Maybe you’re going through a life season where financially you’re strapped, and time-wise you’re strapped, and it may not mean that it all comes easily, but I think when God gives you an opportunity to do something that you’re giving back to Him, then you just faithfully take the next step.
I even love the way you just said it earlier, you know about a faithful presence? I think it is that: choosing to just be present with what is right in front of you. And so, for me, it actually looks like living the words that I want to write first. For me that really looks like I can’t sit down and just be like, “What is it that I really want to tell people? Let me focus and just start writing.” Sometimes I can do that, but most of the time I have to go and interact and work through those things, talk it out with somebody I care about, speak those words to my husband or my kids, and work through whether or not I’m really living those things, if I really believe it, and see it worked out in my life.
I think as an artist sometimes it’s easy to create the finished product, and you have to actually go through the process before you can create the product, just like in art, and so for me it is a going back and forth between having that time where I sit down and for sure, yeah, sometimes I say, “Hey guys, I got to put in my earphones and I’m going to go write for the next four hours,” but I’m just like everybody else where whether it’s painting or writing, I hit writer’s block. I mean, I will definitely hit that moment where I go, “Nothing creative is going to come out of me. I have no new ideas.”
And you know, the very best thing for me, this is personally for me, but I would say for anybody, is if you feel like you are getting stuck, it’s usually a perspective issue. It’s usually a satisfaction issue because you can just try harder to construct another perfect sentence, but it probably won’t come out. You could try harder to paint something glorious, but unless you’re inspired and overflowing, it’s probably not going to be that inspiring. And so one of the best ways for me to return and produce good work is to actually step away from that work and learn to rest, and learn to be filled up and be satisfied, not in success and in my work, but be filled up and satisfied in things that are really worthy of being satisfied in, namely the Word of God, and reminding myself of the gospel, and taking a good long walk where I can see with my eyes and think with my mind and take in with my heart that God is in control and I’m not.
That actually helps me come back to the desk, come back to the studio and go, “Okay, now that I’ve got that figured out, and now that I’m thinking along those lines again and not thinking that I’m the Lord of everything in my own life, oh, now I have an overflow.” Like I feel charged up and filled up to be able to paint or write in a more creative way.
Totally. I think at every moment, every Christian is fighting this battle between pride and humility, and humility in the sense of being humbled, right? So, we can approach things and be like, “Wow, look how great I’m doing at my job.” And then things don’t go so great and, and you’re like, you feel crushed by it.
I like what you say about returning again to the Word of God and saying, “Lord, I need you.” And that’s something that He’s just been impressing on me in the last, like I’ve been learning that from the Lord a lot, just on a personal level. It’s just how much I need Him. Because, you know, I like to think I’m a self-made person and like to think that I’m successful in my own right. But you know, I just find myself over and over again thinking like, and just reminding myself, or being reminded, being humbled and saying that, “You’re not in control here,” and so returning back to Him and returning to the Word and just trying to drink from the Word. That’s an encouraging side of it.
So, you are a mother, and you are involved with social media, but as you’ve watched your children grow up and you’re trying to disciple them into the image of Christ and seeing all this stuff, there’s a lot of good things with social media, but what are some concerns that you have surrounding it that you could give to our young adults? Like, as you know, young adults are looking for a lot of answers and a lot of mentorship and guidance, especially in the area of social media. What would be some areas that you could help?
Well, so first of all, I think that what we’re going to find is that, you know, there’s this great desire we’re more connected than we’ve ever been before, but people are not experiencing true fellowship, true community. Sometimes they’re not even leaving their homes. And so teenagers who only connect through Snapchat and Instagram and any other form of social media, is ultimately missing out on that real tangible relationship where you live life with somebody.
And so for us, my 17-year-old is starting his freshman year in college and he’s actually going to stay close to home because he’s a young college student and he never desired to be on social media, in part because his mom worked on social media essentially, and I talked to him a lot about what I love about it, and what I don’t love about it. But once he did start his Instagram account, he knew his primary reason for beginning an Instagram account was not to keep in touch. I think that that’s kind of something that I think will help frame some thoughts around what we want to use social media for, and what we don’t want to use it for.
Now, obviously sometimes we move across the country and we want to keep in touch with somebody, and that’s an easy way to see their family pictures. I totally get it. It’s not like I don’t use it for that, but I think if we think of social media as a primary way in which we will keep in touch with somebody else’s life, and kind of just keep watching and be a participant, and seeing what they’re saying then we’re basically saying, “I just really want to only receive what you want to put out there for other people to see,” rather than “I’m going to do the work of friendship. I’m going to ask you out to lunch. I’m going to call you. I’m going to ask you some hard questions. Please ask me some hard questions.” Those are things that can’t happen directly through social media.
So my encouragement to the people I love is always write a mission statement for yourself before you ever get on. Know for yourself why you’re there, because if you know for sure why you’re there, what you will post and what you will not post, what are your own personal, pun intended, filters, right? I don’t mean visual filters, but what are your filters for yourself?
Like for example, one of my own filters and you know, these are not like rules. I don’t have it written down in some big formal way, but one of the things I ask myself every single time when I post is what is the desired response that I have for my reader? So, if somebody goes to Instagram, follows Ruth Chou Simons, and they read one of my posts, what is the… And I say this to my teen as well, I’ll go, “So what are you hoping that somebody will feel, or what could they respond with?” Because if the only response is, “Oh, you’re so pretty,” or, “Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky.” Then you know, I’m intentionally making that teenage-ness about it, because all the teenagers are like absolutely commenting, like, “Oh girl, you’re so, you make me sick. You’re so amazing.” You know, I read those kinds of hilarious comments like, “You’re on fire.” You know? That’s great. I mean, I’m kind of an old lady I guess, but you know, it’s great and all, but that’s what causes us to end up needing that response over and over.
But if I can post so that the response ends up being one where the eyes are taken off of me and I just become a springboard to a larger conversation, to greater thought, to something that they want to look at in their own lives, then that for me is my personal filter. My personal filter is by the end of the post, even if I post a beautiful picture, even if I post a piece of my own artwork, even if I’m asking you to potentially purchase something or invest in something because I run a business, even if that’s one of my goals in that post is to promote something, the ultimate goal when you walk away isn’t, Ruth just wants me to buy something or Ruth just wants me to be like her. That can’t be the goal. The goal ultimately needs to be a benefit to the reader.
And so that doesn’t mean that everybody on Instagram needs to teach something. That’s not what I mean. I told my 17-year-old, “You’re 17. You’re not going to sit there and like teach people a bunch of stuff on Instagram, but provide something in a generous way where somebody leaves your Instagram feed perhaps a little bit more encouraged, a little bit more inspired, or just has some experience beyond stalking your life or thinking that you ate a good dinner or that you had so much fun.” You know what I mean? I think that’s a really difficult thing to nail down.
So you almost have to, and that’s why I say something like a mission statement helps because it causes you to stop and say, “Okay, before I even do anything, this helps me know what I’m about and what I’m not about.” And so, at the end of the day, if I really love my hair today, well for me personally, I don’t really want to post about my hair. And at the end of the day I’ve asked people to join me at my social media because I don’t want it to be all about myself.
Now, if somebody who runs a whole Instagram based on really great beauty tips, then that’s a different mission statement for them, right? But I’m just saying for each person you have to determine why you’re there because if you don’t determine that ahead of time, then the pace and the distraction of it will change your mind as you go. And I will say, I did have my entire GraceLaced team and my family read Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.
Yeah, I have that one. I haven’t read it yet, but I think I read the introduction. I was, like, blown away.
Yeah, yeah. And my most important thing to say here is it’s really one of the best books I’ve read on the topic, but don’t treat it like a formula. He’s not going to tell you what to do or what not to do, how many minutes you should be on social media, what apps you should or should not use. You still have to take that as a personal discernment, you know, exercise between you and the Lord, but it does help you think through why am I there? What am I using it for? What am I trying to gain out of this?
Totally. That’s really helpful. Thank you. That was like a lot of wisdom for myself as well. I like what you say about making it about something else. I think it’s a great way, and again, I brought this up earlier, faithful presence. It’s a way to practice faithful presence.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a great way to describe. And really, if you think about it, our social media, I sometimes think about my Instagram feed almost being kind of like inviting people into my living room and it’s not the same, right? It’s not the same as really opening my door and like making dinner for a neighbour, but I want to accomplish the same thing, in the same way that I wouldn’t open my front door, invite somebody in and not really encourage or speak to them or find out what would serve that visitor well. I wouldn’t invite anybody over and be like, “I don’t care how I’m going to serve you well. I just want you to look at my house. Just look at my house. You know, marvel at how pretty my decor is and fluff up my pillows, because, you know, please keep telling me how pretty my pillows are. Yup. Aren’t you so impressed?” I would never do that.
So when somebody comes over, I pour them up a glass of iced tea and say, “Hey, talk to me. What kind of week are you having? What’s going on? How can I serve you better?” And while I can’t do that for 130,000 people or whatever, I can ultimately say, “I will, by God’s grace, do my best to serve this community in some way here.” So, it’s kind of like hospitality.
Yeah. No, I think that’s huge. Hospitality’s a gift as well. You know, we see that, and people have that spiritual gift of being hospitable and making people feel welcomed. Yeah, I like that image of, yeah, you wouldn’t invite someone in your home just to tell you how great your home is. The relationship’s about… It’s deeper than that.
We can choose to use social media. I mean, there’s limitations to every single platform and every tool that we have access to, there are limitations for sure.
But at the end of the day, we have an opportunity to steward everything to, and for, the glory of God.
Yeah. With everything, there’s pros and cons, and yeah, making those little decisions in everything we do. Well, let me just ask you real briefly here about, again, just bring it back to the beginning, your new book, Beholding and Becoming. What kind of things can we expect to see in there?
You know, ultimately this book is not just for artists and it’s not just for women. It is chock full of beautiful artwork, but my goal in having beautiful artwork in here is ultimately to slow us down and help us to linger long with the Word of God. You can read it like a devotional. You can read it as a meditation. You can read it as a family. You can lay it out on your coffee table and make it a welcome piece when people come over, or you can give it as a gift, but it’s set up in a way where, in terms of visually and beauty-wise, it’s set up in a way where you cannot flip through it fast.
You stop and you linger long. You take in each piece, and hopefully my prayer is that it would turn your eyes to noticing and staying awake in your everyday life, because most of us are rushing through life. We’re kind of just getting onto the next thing, checking off our list, making it to the finish line of each day going, “Oh, I’m so tired. Let me reward myself with a Netflix marathon.” And that’s kind of the way we live our lives, and we’re just like eating on-the-go, carrying around a little Tupperware tub of leftovers and eating it, and then we’re watching a show, and then we’re answering emails and then we fall in bed and we’re like, “Okay, I made it.”
But what if what God is really doing in our lives is that he’s saying, “24 hours in a day, everybody gets 24 hours in each day.” Every day you wait is another day He’s given you to live and breathe and worship Him. And worshiping isn’t just that thing you do when you turn on a praise song or the worship band with a smoke behind them is amazing, and you’re in a church or you’re in a stadium or you’re on a mission field. It’s not just in those grand moments.
What if God is pursuing you and drawing your eyes to Himself in the everyday, in the moments where you have to just deal with the traffic, deal with family issues, deal with things that don’t turn out in your favour and feel kind of unfair. And so, I write about these different scenarios, not just for moms, not just for married or single. It really is the Christian life. It’s really for us to say and wrestle with the fact that if we know that God is who He says He is, and what He says about us is true, then how do we apply that? How do we apply the gospel and see the transformation?
And the big word for transformation is ultimately sanctification. How do we see sanctification happen in our everyday lives, in the places where we kind of think, “Wait, You’re going to change me and sanctify me while I’m doing dishes, while I’m just going through the repetitive process of my day to day?” And I’m simply saying, “Please let’s stay awake for that because He’s pursuing you right now.”
Oh, I love that. That sounds exciting. I’m excited for all the people who will be, you know, reading that and enjoying not only the words but the art. And I think what you say about that, the slowing down is huge, because we are rush, rush, rush. I’ve got to read my Bible quick, but you know, we should enjoy reading our Bible and enjoy reading scripture, so I’m happy that there’s integration with that.
Well, Ruth, thank you for your time, and thank you for joining us on indoubt.
Hey, thanks so much. I appreciate it.
Thanks for joining us for this episode. Ruth gave us some really great things to talk about, and I’m really thankful for the opportunity that we had to talk with her. If you’d like to find out more information about her or her ministry, GraceLaced, you can go to www.GraceLaced.com. Ruth’s new book Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship is available in stores now, and you can check out her website, RuthChouSimons.com. That’s R-U-T-H-C-H-O-U-S-I-M-O-N-S.com.
We also want to hear from our listeners, and we want to keep the communication lines open. If you have a question about anything that we’ve said, or if you’d like to dig deeper into something that you heard, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send us a message on social media.
Thanks for listening to this episode and I hope you join us again next week where we’ll have guest Anne Miranda, who’s the Women’s Director at Village Church talking to Isaac about what it means to be a leader in a younger generation.
Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more, subscribe on iTunes and Spotify or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media, so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.