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Ever wished someone could give you guaranteed advice for your writing journey? Well, someone has. The Apostle Paul shared these gems of wisdom that are as effective now as when God inspired him to write them.
But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
The writing life can be hard. We have to be vulnerable on the page and then take critique like it doesn’t hurt. We have to learn the rules of the publishing industry, yet watch people break rules and succeed. We invest time, sweat, and dollars into honing our craft without ever knowing for sure if anyone will care enough to read the finished product. Let alone if it will affect anyone.
This is a setup for angst. More so because it’s not all a one-time deal. We have to keep learning our craft. keep paying attention and adapting to the turbulent publishing industry. And even if someone did read our last book, we have to keep putting words out there without knowing who will read the next book. There are no guarantees.
You guys know, if you listen to the podcast, that we preach obedience to God as the measure of success. If he’s asking us to put words out there, it doesn’t matter if people don’t read it. But we know that still doesn’t make it easy to keep going forward.
Advice for writers
Today we want to share 3 pieces of wisdom with you. Wisdom that will help you through these challenges. Wisdom that has stood the test of time. It comes from the Apostle Paul, and it’s in his first letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 5, verses 16-18.
You might be wondering what ancient Thessolanica has to do with the publishing industry. Well, here’s some background, and you can read more here if you’re interested.
One of the reasons Paul wrote to the Thessalonians was to restore their hope, because they experienced several unexpected deaths.
Writers experience unexpected deaths as well, only more often it’s a beloved character that your editor says must be written out. Or it’s the death of a promising publishing contract. Or the death of a book idea that you really loved but God is leading you to set it aside.
Or maybe it’s a manuscript that has too many fatal flaws and you just need to let it die and start from scratch. Or the death of your dream for an award or a bestsellers list or to quit your day job. Or even just to make money with your writing! Death happens. And it happened in Thessalonica too.
Another reason Paul wrote this letter was to help people understand that persecution is normal for Christians. People don’t always like you. When you write truth, there will be people who hate you. Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.
Things go wrong. Bad things happen. Publishing is not fair. Life is not fair. This is the way of things.
You have to get the backdrop of Paul’s letter to Thessolanica clear in your minds because it makes his wisdom all the more astounding and counterintuitive.
Are you ready? In the midst of death, suffering, persecution, and things going horribly wrong…
The first piece of advice or wisdom is: rejoice always. That’s right. In the midst of stuff dying all around us, rejoice. In the midst of persecution, rejoice. In the midst of hardship, rejoice.
Bear in mind that while we’re labeling this as advice, it is really a command. Paul’s inspired writing is the authoritative word of God. Paul says not just here, but also elsewhere (Philippians 4:4 for example) that God’s children are to rejoice. We might be writers, but first we’re God’s children. We need to follow what God commands his children to do.
What does it look like to “rejoice always”? Are we supposed to laugh when we learn of tragedy? Never be sad or depressed?
No. We’re allowed those emotions. We’re allowed to grieve and feel sad at times. Remember that Jesus himself wept when he stood at Lazarus’s tomb. We don’t ignore our pain, but in the midst of that pain, we can allow a deeper joy to still exist. Here are some ways we can do that:
1) Recognize and affirm that God is in control, that he is good, and that he’s going to work all things for his good purpose.
That does not mean we slap on a happy face. It means we hold on to truth in obedience. When bad things happen in our writing lives (and they will!), we have to hold on to God’s truth and trust him.
2) Continually invite and embrace the Holy Spirit’s work in us to give us the fruit of joy.
The gifts of the Spirit come from God. We don’t manufacture them. But we can make the choice to keep embracing, keep inviting, keep trusting that fruit of joy to grow.
3) Spend time in worship.
Remember what Job did when he learned that all his children died and all his wealth was carried off by raiders? Here’s what Job 1:20-21 says: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
He tore his robe, he shaved his head. Those are signs of his grief and distress. But in the midst, he still worships God.
When Paul and Silas were in prison, what did they do? They sang hymns. Paul knows what he’s talking about when he commands us to rejoice always. He’s lived through the challenges of doing it.
4) Don’t focus on negativity, on pessimism, because your thoughts affect your emotions.
It’s hard to rejoice when you continually think of your wounds, trials, aggravations, and so forth. Paul instructs the Philippians in his letter to them, which is full of the command to rejoice, to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. If you’re doing that, you can’t be focused on negativity.
Pray without ceasing
The second piece of advice—command, actually—is to pray without ceasing, but what does that mean?
Praying without ceasing is about our attitude. It’s about our normal posture of life being that of humble reliance on God. An article on the Gospel Coalition Website puts it this way: “[praying without ceasing] means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do.”
As we’re writing, we write in dependence on God. As we encounter the death of our manuscript, or character, or goal, or whatever, we walk through it in a state of humble reliance. As we suffer, we walk in a spirit of acknowledgement that God is our strength through it. He’s our justifier, our defender, and our helper.
Praying without ceasing means being ever mindful of our need and God’s constant supply. But it does not mean that we repeat the same prayer every second of our lives. But it does mean that we pray “repeatedly and often” as the article puts it. It goes on to say that our “default mental state should be: ‘O God, help.’”
Another thing “praying without ceasing” means is that we keep praying no matter what, and we don’t ever give up on prayer. As Christians and writers, giving up on prayer can be a temptation we don’t even know we’re facing. We simply get discouraged, tired, or burned out. We feel battered by the publishing machine, and we feel like God isn’t answering our prayers. And we just kind of…stop praying. Or we get angry and deliberately stop talking to God.
When we stop praying, that disrupts our connection to God. We’re isolated and a prime target for not just lies we tell ourselves, but the destructive things our enemy will tell us.
In everything give thanks
Paul’s third command is to give thanks in everything. Not just the good things. Not just the easy things. Not just the fun things. Everything. This means we have to give thanks for the hard things, too.
We all know the writing life is filled with setbacks, disappointments, and painful lessons. And certainly with unexpected detours. So sure, take a moment to collect your thoughts. To grieve. To lament. But underneath that, we still want to have a thankful heart. As an act of obedience we still need to walk in gratitude because God is sovereign and works everything for our good and his glory. We come back to that over and over because it’s the truth he’s given us. It’s the hope.
Also, let’s not neglect to give thanks for good things. Yes, it’s easier to give thanks for good things, but do we remember to actually do that? How often do we wake up in the morning and thank God that he’s putting breath our my mouths? That our hearts are beating? That he made the sun rise? That he’s holding the entire universe together even right this second.
We could spend every second of our lives thanking God for all the good things he does because there are so many! And again, if we’re focused on thanking God, it’s so much easier to rejoice, right?
So, Paul tells us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in everything. But look at the rest of the verse:
For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus
This is bonus wisdom, or maybe clarification. How many people struggle to know what God’s will is? Here it is: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks. This is what he wants us to do. When we’re faithful in these things, we ARE in God’s will.
Yes, sometimes we feel like we need answers to questions we have. Should I submit to this agent or that one? Should I go to this conference or that one, or any at all this year? Should I keep writing in this genre or switch to that one?
But too often we overemphasize our need to get answers and underemphasize time spent rejoicing in God’s presence, or thanking him, or resting in his presence, or letting him lead the conversation, or quietly adoring, or listening. All these actions are part of rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything. Doing that will help us find our way, because we’ll trust that God is in fact leading us in his way and his time and for his purposes. He has purposed our steps. God’s got this. Always!Ever wished someone could give you guaranteed advice for your writing journey? Well, someone has! #amwriting #ChristianWriter Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
In what ways do you find Paul’s commands challenging?
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Dear Karen and Erin,
Thank you so much for this podcast! Although it certainly applies to my writing life, I think God sent this especially for me today to apply directly to my whole life! I love how everything you have said is grounded in scripture – simple yet profound truth! Profound truth, yet simple to apply – just believe!
I have recently gone through a difficult patch with Covid, and since I am the primary caregiver for my mother, I had to cancel her long-awaited cataract surgery and arrange for others to meet her needs. Although others have been helping, I had to deal with the temptation to feel no one can do things like I can, as well as a tendency to feel sorry for myself – easy to do while feeling very sick both from the virus and also from the medication I was given.
For the first time in my life, however, despite what was going on, I felt as if there was this gentle undercurrent. I believe it was the the joy you were talking about. Despite everything, I had a sense that God was right here with me and He was saying, “all will be well, all will be well.” The very words, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” kept going through me!
I live in New Jersey and for the past few years, we have gone tubing on the Delaware River with friends. The first time, I was terrified, but our friends assured us that we would stick together by tying our tubes in a circle. They also carefully chose an area where the water is gentle and shallow, and a day where the weather was calm and inviting.
Floating on that river was so amazing and is the perfect illustration of that undercurrent that I have felt the past two weeks. Lying in that big tube is like surrounding myself with God’s word. Tying our tubes together is a reminder of being one with God’s people. Resting back in the tube and letting the current take us is peaceful, soothing, refreshing. That’s joy, isn’t it? Joy like the joy of the Lord.
I would love to have this feeling all of the time. Maybe not a feeling as much as that sense, that joyful grounding. Your words today really underscored this truth and I so appreciate it!
Anita, I love this! I can picture tubing down the river and what a precious time that would be! I’m glad this podcast hit at the perfect time for you. What a gracious God we serve!
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