I love it.

Worship music in the background, Bible open, and a software painting program running. I'm all set for a time of personal worship. I begin painting a pattern which starts out mostly red, develops white splodges, and then gradually, as I paint, ends up completely white. I didn't set out with this in mind - it's all happening in the moment. Here's how it developed:

Isaiah 1:18 pops to mind - "though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow." Suddenly, I find myself thanking God for the Cross, that my sins are covered. It's as if, as I'm painting, I'm visually acting out my prayer. I continue "... and I ask you to cleanse and heal the parts of my life that are still splodgy red. Please paint away some more splodges today, Father." Today, the visuals prompt a spoken prayer. Sometimes the creative act is the prayer.

Let's Get Personal
I've begun this article (and series) in the realm of personal worship quite deliberately. What we are before God will govern everything. A.W. Tozer said that "what a man is on his knees before God, that he is, no more, no less." Jesus said "When you pray, go into your room ..."

In a hyper-distracted culture our biggest battle can be to unhook ourselves from technology-fuelled addictions, and step into God's presence long enough to enjoy a meaningful relationship. When we overcome in this area, other battles are easier to fight, vision is clearer. Furthermore, when we enter corporate worship, it's more likely we will bring an offering with us.

When we start talking about technology in worship, what do you think of first? Big screens in church, presentation software, big events, or the stack of gear in the audiovisual booth? I've fallen into this trap far too often. It's too easy to make an idol of the technology itself. Cultivating a lifestyle of worship helps avoid this kind of danger.

So before we go any further ... let's take a moment.

Pause for Thought (1 minute):
Father, I'm here. Open my heart to receive your love. Open my ears to hear your voice.
Open my eyes to see your face. Open every part of me to love you.

Two Worlds, One Purpose
My main focus in these articles will be to seek connections between two worlds - the world of visual technology, and the world of worship. I love visuals. I love technology. I love God (not as much as I want to, but we're getting there). And I love what God is up to in his Body, the church, and in the nations. And he's put in me a growing passion to mix all those things together. For too long, these technologies have been disconnected from the Kingdom - I believe it's time to bring them back home.

Some definitions now. Visual technologies include such things as film & video, 3D (think Ratatouille or Wall-E), animation, visual effects (like Particle Illusion), digital painting, VJ-ing (think DJ but with visuals), Flash, illustration, gaming technology and any mixture of these. These are to Powerpoint as the Ferrari is to the Ford Fiesta, and we are already completely familiar with them in daily life.

"Pushing the Envelope"
I've been working with visual computer technologies for over fifteen years, and have seen many great advances in that time. It's amazing how much is now possible with an everyday computer. I got started with tools that came free with computer magazines and haven't looked back since. This computer canvas not belong to the geeks or the experts. This is for everyone. You can do this!

A vast range of visual technologies exist, and some of them are accessible, free and pretty easy to use (more later). The more I explore and play with them, I find I am increasingly asking two questions.

1. What can this technology do?
2. What use can we put it to?

The first question is about capability - exploring what we can create with the tools we have. This includes stretching them, and "bending" them to get results that the makers didn't intend.

The second question relates to application - what Kingdom purpose can we put this to? For example, discovered that the free Particle Illusion Viewer tool works pretty well as a live worship tool, for personal and corporate use. I've also used 3D rendering in an inner healing situation more than once. There is a great deal of scope, and a crying need for out-the-box thinking here - pushing the boundaries (or the envelope if you prefer).

Pause for Thought (1 minute):
What technologies do you spend most time with?
Ask God to fire your imagination with "out the box" Kingdom uses for that technology.

Technology in Corporate Worship
Having found creative technology to be a deep well for personal worship, I find I want to share it with others, with you, with the wider church, and a hurting world. Spend any length of time with God, and it starts to spill over.

So as I'm painting out splodges, in the example above, I begin to think of the people I know, the churches I know, the nations I know. "Lord, please remove the red splodges in them too, as you prepare your Bride for Jesus' return." My splodgy painting exercise becomes an act of intercession.

Why not do this in a group? Ask people to call out people or situations which need God's "desplodging" power, and then to come up and paint off some more splodges. Keep doing this until there are no splodges left. See how easy it is, how one flows into the other?

Pause for Thought (maybe pray this through with your worship team):
1. What creative things do you like to do? Could these play a bigger part in your personal worship?
2. How could the creative prayers from your personal worship spill out into corporate worship or mission?

There is vast creative potential locked up in visual technology. The God we worship is greater still. As we reach up for our wonderful, creative God, whose thoughts are endless (Ps 139), we can expect new creativity to flow, firstly in our own friendship with him, and from there to the wider church, the community, and to the ends of the earth.

Go create! And tell the people around you what you've discovered.

For You to Experiment
I'll be covering specific software tools in future articles, but if you can't wait to get going, try the following
1. Particle Illusion. The free viewer gives access to all the particle effect libraries. Visit http://www.wondertouch.com and follow the links for "Downloads | Free apps" from the top menu. Make sure you also download all the emitter libraries - visit "Downloads | Emitter Libraries" from the top menu. [Available for Mac and PC]
2. Apophysis. A free fractal generator tool. http://www.apophysis.org/. PC only.

Email Richard with any questions or thoughts - or comment below.