Voice. Clarity. Dialogue. Character development. Hook. All of these, and so much more, are important for a strong book. But they’re not the most important. Not for a book written from a Christian worldview. So what is the most important element? Hope! Listen in to find out why your job as a writer is critical in this world.
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As writers, you’ve probably learned that there are many important elements in a good manuscript. Things like plot, character, conflict, a great hook, voice, authenticity, anecdotes, dialogue, arc, and so much more. But for a manuscript written from a Christian worldview, which element is the most important one? Is there one most important element?
Yes. There is, but it’s none of those mentioned. If you’re writing from a Christian perspective, the most important thing you have to bring to the world is hope. Why? Hope is the foundation of everything we believe as Christians, and everything we have to offer to the world.
What is hope?
What even is hope? How do we define it?
- Poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”
That feels good. It evokes a positive sensation. When readers finish a manuscript written from a Christian worldview, there should be a positive sensation. Even in the midst of something sorrowful.
But this definition is non-specific. We can’t try to foster something non-specific in a manuscript, right? Other than a positive sensation.
- Psychiatrist Neel Burton in an article in Psychology today defines hope like this: “…Hope is a desire for something combined with an anticipation of it happening. It is, in other words, the anticipation of something desired.”
If someone desires something, that implies that they don’t have everything they want right now, or that everything isn’t exactly perfect. That’s the world we live in.
- Counseling Psychologist Kim Bailey said in an interview with Erin that hope, on a more personal-improvement level, is the belief that, “I can gain ground this side of heaven.”
And we need to gain ground, don’t we? We don’t want to live our lives stuck in the same place.
But perhaps one of simplest ways for us as writers to think about hope is how a sociologist put it—a sociologist who happens to be Erin’s husband.
- Hope is: “How the future can be better than today.” Sociologist Alan Young
That evokes that positive sensation, but it’s a bit more specific in how. This is the kind of hope We’re talking about—how the future can be better than today.
Hope portrayed in fiction
How many of you listeners write fiction? What kind of fiction are readers interested in? The kind where the characters all have a great life with no pain, trials, or struggles?
No. Happy people in Happy Land is not interesting. Or real. Readers want to see characters struggle. And toil. And fight against all odds…and overcome!
Why? Readers experience that with the characters, the struggle the danger, the disasters, and then the victory. Readers live it vicariously.
What does it become inside that reader?
Hope. The future can be better than today.
Hope portrayed in nonfiction
How many of you listeners write nonfiction? You’re not writing memoirs that end in a place of despair and discouragement. That’s a therapeutic journal, and that’s good to do, but it’s not something you want to publish.
You write the book for readers when you find the key to overcoming the discouragement, when you’ve gained wisdom to share.
And you’re not writing prescriptive books that are like, “Yeah, I know the place you find yourself in stinks. Sorry, I don’t know how to fix that.”
That’s not prescriptive. Those are not the type of books hurting people are looking for.
You’re not writing how-to articles to keep people in ignorance. You’re not writing poetry to make people feel awful inside and never point the way out of that? No, even if we start by saying hard things, we want people to think and grow and change, and move toward some positive outcome.
We want readers to expand their minds and look at possibilities and be inspired that the future can be better than today.
As Christians, hope infuses us. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, he wrote this in the introduction to 1 & 2 Thessalonians:
“The Christian faith has always been characterized by a strong and focused sense of future, with belief in the second coming of Jesus as the most distinctive feature…The practical effect of this belief is to charge each moment of the present with hope.”
This is who we are and what we do. We’re Christian writers and we have an unswerving belief that the future will be better than today.
We portray this message over and over and over again in our novels, our memoirs, our how-to articles, our devotionals. We want people to grow and learn and move forward.
The big picture of hope
If a book is going to reflect a Christian worldview, it has to reflect the hope of God’s overall plan of redemption for humanity and all creation. Look at the big picture to see how hope is the underlying foundation. In the beginning, God created the universe and everything in it according to his perfectly ordered design. Everyone was in a right relationship with God and each other.
Then we sinned and broke everything. God told Adam, “…Cursed is the ground because of you. Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” Genesis 3:17
In God’s perfect time, Christ comes and changes everything. His life on this earth, his death on the cross, and his resurrection create reconciliation for us. This is where we live, reconciled, yet not having obtained the future perfection waiting for us in heaven.
For now, we’re still here dealing with the consequences of the fall. But we know God’s redemption plan is moving toward its ultimate fulfillment of the new heavens and new earth, where original perfection is restored.
That’s the hope. But we’re not there yet. We’re dealing with painful toil.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
Why? We persevere because of our hope. It’s not because we’re amazing and mighty people, but because we’re weak and dependent on the God who is Lord of all.
We persevere because God’s commitment to US is unwavering. He’s lifting us. He’s sustaining us. He’s giving us the life and breath to carry on.
He sees the grand design, the big picture. And he sees each individual component—every person, every tear, every heart break, every crushing wound.
And God does not waver in his commitment to us. He will not fail to sustain us. That is our hope.
And this is the message he gives us for the world: “The future can be better than today.”
Because we have a God who will make it so, who IS making it so.
With every word we write, we forge hope, because hope is at the core of everything we believe.
A world without hope
Do you know what happens when someone has no hope? Pastor and author Ray Johnston puts it like this. He writes:
“When people lose hope, they lose their ability to dream for the future. Despair replaces joy. Fear replaces faith. Anxiety replaces prayer. Insecurity replaces confidence. Tomorrow’s dreams are replaced by nightmares. It’s a lousy way to live.”
How many people are living like that right now?
Psychiatrist Neel Burton writes “…hopelessness is both a cause and a symptom of depression, and, within the context of depression, a strong predictor of suicide.”
Do you see what an important role you have? You’re hope-bringers. You’re truth-tellers.
Why is this truth, this hope that we as Christians have important? Because false hope is rampant in this world.
Scientology, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Islam, just to name a few. The Bible tells us these are false hopes that lead to hell.
Then just watch TV for ten minutes. You’ll find “hope” for sale. Beer. Toothpaste. Perfume. Pretty cars. Deodorant. Dating apps. Diamonds. They all promise a lifestyle of satisfied desires. Remember that hope can be the anticipation of something desired? But that’s ultimately false hope. It’s empty.
Why? Because none of those things can deliver what God has designed for him and him alone to be, to deliver, and to satisfy. Psalm 65:5 tells us that God is “the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”
God. Not shiny trinkets.
We’re not saying toothpaste and deodorant is bad, by the way. Please continue to use it. But that’s not going to take away the pain of a lost child, or heal the deep wound of rape or betrayal or abuse.
It won’t help anyone break the spiral of addiction or debt. It’s not going to inspire anyone to take a stand against human trafficking, oppression, or injustice, or any of the other great evils in this world. Take your pick, there are plenty to choose from.
False hope is rampant, so we as Christian writers cannot keep silent.
You guys, through your authentic words on the page, through your stories, Bible studies, articles, biographies, essays, poems, songs, and more—all those things that God puts in you are part of God’s master plan for you, for the body of Christ, AND for the whole world.
You have a purpose and a job. You’re heralds of hope. True hope.
You don’t have to have some character in your novel spelling out the four spiritual laws. You don’t have to have them preach. You don’t have to somehow turn your homeschooling article into a Bible study.
But you do have to understand what your bottom-line perspective is. Think of it as the overarching theme of your collective body of work. I love how author and editor Susan Bell defines theme. She says, “It’s an idea written in invisible ink on the back of your text.”
Hope is what’s written on our lives as Christians. Hope is what’s written across the pages of our manuscripts.
Hope is what you’re getting up at 5AM to write, or staying up late after the kids are in bed, or what you’re dictating during your coffee break, or on your exercise bike, or what you’re wrestling with on your commute.
And we do mean wrestling. We all know—or will find out soon enough—that this is not an easy job. It’s hard.
Learning the craft is hard. Facing rejection is hard. Being vulnerable on the page is hard. Dealing with disappointments and detours on your writing journey is hard.
Sometimes it’s so hard we’re in danger of losing hope ourselves. That’s when we go back to God and his unwavering commitment to us. To equip us for his purposes. To sustain us and carry us.
Remember the parallel storylines of redemption amidst the fall. We have hope. But we’ve got to preach the message to ourselves first and foremost. Then do not fear to walk through deep valleys with God. Don’t run when things get hard. Don’t try to hide, because your struggles refine you.
They prepare you. They give you purpose and understanding. God does all that through your trials.
You can acknowledge struggles and give them voice. You write about pain. You expose lies and write truth. Your insights help you both HAVE hope and SHOW hope through the characters in your novels overcoming. Through your how-to articles. Through your personal experience stories. Whatever you write.
But also through whatever you say. Whatever you do. Whoever you are.
Please understand that it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing for thousands or just for you and God. In your work, God works in you, and it is good. Your labor is never in vain.
Your writing turns you into a person who radiates hope. True hope for a world bombarded with false hope. A world that needs you doing what you’ve been gifted to do, being what you’ve been gifted to be.
Hope bringers. Truth tellers. Heralds.
We’ve probably all seen, heard, or read this verse before, but look at it again in the light of knowing that you are a hope bringer. God says to you:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Share that hope with your readers. Live that hope with everyone you know.
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WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Does being a hope bringer inspire hope in you?
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