Author: Karen Ball

212 – The Writer’s Path to Holiness with Guest Karen Stiller

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The Writer's Path to Holiness with Karen Stiller on Write from the Deep Podcast

Holiness. It’s one of those BIG words for Christians. So how do we, as Christian writers, develop holiness and bring it into play in our writing? Guest Karen Stiller shares her journey toward holiness and how God has blessed and challenged her.

About Karen Stiller

Karen Stiller is an award-winning writer, a senior editor, and host of the Faith Today podcast. She’s written about being a pastor’s wife, and her newest book, Holiness Here, offers practical and inspiring ways to transform your life by helping you see the holiness within your ordinary, everyday life. You can find out more about her at Karenstiller.com. 

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Erin Young:  Welcome, listeners! We’re delighted that you are here with us today. We have a guest. Yay!

Karen Ball: Yes, we do! Karen Stiller is the author of The Minister’s Wife, A memoir of Faith, doubt, friendships, loneliness, forgiveness, and More. And the co-author of Craft Cost and Call, how to Build a Life as a Christian Writer. She’s an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, the Walrus, Extasis. Christianity Today and many other publications.

She’s a senior editor of the Canadian Magazine, Faith Today, and hosts the Faith Today Podcast, where she has interviewed wonderful thinkers, leaders, and writers like Phillip Yancy and Ann Voskamp.

Karen’s work has taken her to the South Sudan, Uganda, Senegal, Cambodia, and across North America. She’s also moderated the Religion and Society series at the University of Toronto, a debate between leading atheists and theologians. Karen loves to teach writing and coach writers on their journey.

Welcome, Karen Stiller!

Karen Stiller: Thank you so much, and I just love the way you two talk and introduce the show. That lilt in your voices, it just lifts a person’s spirit. So I always enjoy that. 

Karen Ball: Oh, thank you. Our hope is always to encourage and to, in a way, be chaplains to writers. To let writers know that they’re not alone and that God’s got them. 

Karen Stiller: That’s beautiful. Chaplains to writers. Love it. 

Erin Young: So, Karen, what does the deep mean to you? 

Karen Stiller: That is such a deep and challenging question. My answer today is probably different from the answer I gave a couple of years ago when I was on your podcast for the first time.

When I think about the deep right now, I think about the place from which we experience our deepest longing and yearning, pain and hope, and the place of our deepest honesty and transparency. And hopefully, because of all that, the place  we write from. 

Erin Young: Amen. How can we write without transparency? One of the cool things that’s happened recently for Karen Stiller is she has a new book out called Holiness Here: Searching for God in the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life.

This is a quote from the book, “Holiness is a search that marks the life of a Christian.” So, Karen, how might that look specifically our search for holiness as writers?

Karen Stiller: I know and I understand theologically that we are holy because God has made us holy and that our our holiness as believers comes from the fact that God is holy and has said that we are too through our relationship with Jesus Christ.

And we may wonder, what does it mean that I’m holy? I’ve seen this through my years as a minister’s wife. It seems to be common that we actually don’t think we’re holy and we reject that title or that word because it feels awkward. I mean, no one wants to be quote unquote holier than thou.

And also it feels so other from how we know ourselves to be on the inside. So I’ll just preface my answer in that way. As a writer who is perhaps trying to write spiritual things––and not every Christian writer has to be writing Christian fiction or spiritual formation books––we want to make sure that we are writing in honesty, that transparency.

We want to honor God, and be true to ourselves and what we know of God in our lives. For me, it really is about the honesty piece. I feel that my vocation is to write as honestly as possible in the Christian space.

That is very much a part of how we are holy as writers. Of course, there are some individual elements to how we live and what we are called to write about. But yeah. Let’s start there. 

Karen Ball: It’s also important for us to recognize that holiness is not something, in essence, we can attain. Holiness comes to us by Christ’s blood covering us. It’s His holiness that the Father sees, not our holiness as individuals.

We can seek to live “holy lives” as we emulate and follow what Christ has told us to do. And again, it’s His holiness. But trying to attain true holiness on our own can become a distraction that the enemy has put in our hearts and minds because we do feel so inadequate. And so we need to rest in the truth that our holiness is really Christ’s holiness.

We need to embrace that and then follow Him and submit to Him in our writing and in our lives and say, “lead me. Help to hear Your voice and see Your guidance because we too often get confused and distracted by what’s working in the market and how do I do deep point of view, and all of these aspects of being a writer that can d interfere with our primary focus, which should be on Christ.

Karen Stiller: Paying attention and being very mindful of what is happening inside of us as we think about these things is important. So I may say out loud, and mean it at the time, that I’m not gonna chase the market or that I’m really truly cheering on another writer, that I’m not jealous or envious of their success, I know that’s right. 

But then on the inside, my gut may be feeling something a little different. My heart may be feeling something a little different, and as we pay attention to what’s happening on the inside, that does help our sinking into and living out of the holiness God has given us. Because then we can repent. Say we’re sorry.

A big part of my book is that we grow and change. We grow closer to God through the arc of our life of attempts at faithfulness. And through our spiritual disciplines, our attempts to live out of our holiness, which God has told us to do, and asked us to do, and shown us how to do.

I have a chapter on hospitality and I playfully say that Jesus actually gives instructions for a dinner party. You know, who’s to sit where, and who should you invite. So something is required of us. Yes, it is one  hundred percent grace, but in our response we find our sanctification. And that is really important. We are participants of God in our faith journey. 

So in the life of a writer, it has all kinds of implications for our posture toward our writing. I have been thinking lately about how our posture impacts our practice. You can’t talk about holiness without humility. And so humility helps our writing because it means that we are open to showing it to other writers.

We’re open to the editing process. We embrace revision because we know it’s not right the first time. We know other people have good things to say to us about our work and that makes our work better.

You know, there are all kinds of implications for that collaboration with other writers. For example, the ways we pour into the writing community. All of the good ways of doing that could be viewed as acts of holiness and it helps in everything. 

Erin Young: I love that. I to go back to what you said about running across a lot of people who doubt their holiness. For writers, that could make them doubt their qualifications to be a Christian writer. So both of you are correct: it’s Christ’s holiness, and yet we also have a responsibility to take part in the process.

Our works of faith prove that we are followers of Christ, though we’ll never do them perfectly. But if there are writers out there may be doubting themselves or God’s call, realize that that is one of the lies that we writers are so susceptible to. 

Karen Stiller: That reminds me of the scene I have in the book where I had this lovely moment with a younger writer who was going through that phase. At some point, we all go, “Am I a writer? Can I call myself a writer? “

This conversation between us happened in the sanctuary of our church. And I said, “Hannah, I pronounce you writer. You are a writer.” And I could tell because I had been in a bit of a mentor role with her and I was an older sister in Christ, it felt special. And she still refers to that moment as being so important. That she just needed someone bossy to tell her that. To validate. 

And in the book I draw a parallel with our sense of our own holiness, our acceptance of our holiness. Because once you start to say, “I’m a writer,” people actually start to expect some writing from you, right? And if you believe what God says about us––how beloved we are and that He has made us holy––then all three of us in this conversation are holy.

It may feel ridiculous to say, even off-putting and “aaahhh!” But when we view ourselves that way, then we can start to act a little different in light of that holiness. And that can be an adventure!

I’m really trying to shift the thought of holiness away from a big, heavy thing and help people just like consider it a warm invitation from God to a life of adventure and and beauty and love. 

Erin Young: I love that when you said those words to that person, you were speaking truth. As writers, we should be so aware of the power of words.

Words have truth and we pray our words make things happen via God. You know, He’s the One doing these things, but He gives us words to use to take part. So for you guys out there who are wondering if you’re writers? Yes!

Karen Stiller: Yeah, we pronounce you writers.

Erin Young: That’s right. So you can walk and act accordingly. Now, we may have touched on this a little bit, but what do you think then holiness has to do with money and work as it comes to writing? 

Karen Stiller: In the book, when I talk about money, partly I share my own journey with worrying about money and wanting more of it. So in my writing life, I was looking for a job that I could do around the raising of my children. And I was very fortunate, because being a mom helped me become a writer.

My husband was a priest, an Anglo priest, and we were not a high income family. We had just always lived at a certain level from student life into having children. So not being used to two incomes ever, we didn’t have the hard work of shedding things to be able to afford my being at home. And that enabled me to build up my writing life over the years as my kids’ schedules allowed. 

But I was trying to make a living, to bring more money into our household to pay for ballet and hockey. And I was ambitious, right? I had what I used to call a ball of fire in my belly. So I really wanted to have a writing life that paid money. Sometimes that probably was not fueled by the right things, but sometimes it was from a desire to care for my family and contribute.

So honest self-examination is important on the path of holiness. Taking time to think, “What’s going on here? What am I actually thinking and feeling and doing? Where is God in this? And where can God be more in it?”

For me, as for many others, money often is where the rubber hits the road. 

And I remember the publisher saying, “Money?” Because that was one of my proposed chapters. “What does money have to do with Holiness?” And I was like, “Oh, well for me it had a lot to do with holiness. Because I had to wrestle that monster to the ground. 

Erin Young: Yeah. 

Karen Stiller: And I have good friends who don’t have any issues around money at all. So I know it’s not universal, but it’s very common that we need to deal with our thinking about money. 

Karen Ball: Karen, you mentioned self-examination earlier, which helps with this. We need to look into why we worry about money and why we want to make more.

Of course, there are good, solid, and even holy reasons for doing that, but making that too important often stems out of fear. We fear won’t be enough, or that God really doesn’t supply our needs.

So if we don’t do something to build up our bank account and savings––and as I say savings, I’m laughing to myself. Writers with a savings account?––but if we don’t do everything that we can to build that up, then what will happen to us? 

Erin Young: Mm-Hmm. 

Karen Ball: We did a podcast on George Mueller and the power of his praying life. Whenever there was a need, he would go to God and pray for that specific need, and then walk away, trusting that God would provide. And He always did. Sometimes in phenomenal ways, sometimes little things trickling in, but always enough to meet the needs .

Erin Young: One of the interesting things about money for me has come from Jeremiah 2:13, which says, “My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

So I try to think, well, am I digging my own cistern here? Which parts of this desire for money are just letting God flow, and which part is me just wanting that cistern, that security. It’s always something to wrestle with.

Karen Stiller: It helps to have a good friend to talk with, to share our struggle. It’s hard to be honest about our feelings around money. It can be scary to be the person to confess that you want more of it, or live without enough of it, or whatever the issue is. I agree with everything you’re saying, and yet I work really hard. 

Erin Young: But that’s okay, too. 

Karen Ball: Right. Trusting and resting in God doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. It means you don’t make that your primary goal and you don’t worry about it. Anxiety can be a killer for creativity and for trust in God. When we let anxiety creep into our hearts and our spirit, it’ll do harm. 

Karen Stiller: But here’s what I do…and this has a little bit to do with that deep place answer…and I am definitely in the middle of trying to figure this stuff out….but if I am experiencing anxiety or sorrow or fear, my temptation before would’ve been to feel badly that I feel badly. So now I try to almost welcome it in and say, “What do you have for me? What is the message you have for me, fear? Anxiety, what are you trying to tell me?” 

These feelings add to the experience we’re having in the world. You know, I keep thinking of the word curiosity. Why not be curious about what is happening in our spirit and in our hearts? Not, “I’m disappointed in my disappointment,” or being grieved over our grief. Instead, know it’s all part of being a human and ask what is this teaching me? And how can I write about it? 

Karen Ball: Right. They say nothing is ever wasted in a writer’s economy! And there’s a big difference between having the feelings and dwelling in the feelings. 

What a great conversation, what a great exploration of holiness. In our next podcast will be going on with Karen Stiller, and there we’ll be talking about holiness in the face of utter devastation. So don’t miss it!

How do we develop holiness and bring it into play in our writing? Guest @KarenStiller1 shares her experiences and wisdom. #ChristianWriter #amwriting Share on X

Holiness Here: Searching for God in the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life by Karen Stiller

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Do you struggle with the idea of holiness in your life and writing? What steps can you take today to embrace holiness?

THANK YOU!

Thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible! If you want to add your support, visit patreon.com/writefromthedeep.  We’d sure appreciate it! 

Special thanks to our April sponsor of the month Christy Bass Adams. She’s the author of a devotional titled Learning As I Go: Big Lessons from Little People, and a middle grades novel, The Adventures of Cricket and Kyle: Imagination Checkers. She’s also a speaker and leads women’s conferences and Bible studies, and she’s a monthly contributor to Inspire-a-fire and a newspaper columnist for Greene Publishing. Find out more about Christy at her website christybassadams.com

Many thanks also to the folks at PodcastPS for their fabulous sound editing!

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209 – God’s Glory and Why It Matters to Writers

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God's Glory and Why It Matters to Writers on Write from the Deep Podcast

Anyone who has ever attended church has heard about God’s glory. We’ve sung about it, we’ve read about it in the Bible. But do we really understand it? And do we realize that we, both as believers and writers, are tasked with displaying God’s glory to the world? But how can we, in all our humanity and weaknesses, do something so grand and important? It’s easier than you think!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

In our last podcast, we discussed George Muller and his amazing life of prayer. I want to take a minute to treat Muller like a character in a novel with goals, motivations, and conflict.

So, George Muller had goals, he had ministries he wanted to start, like an orphan house. And he certainly had conflict—he had no money, no building, and no people to work with orphans. But what I love most is his motivation: He wanted people to see the mighty works that God did—how God provided, how trustworthy God is, and how deserving of praise God is.

In other words, he wanted to glorify God. That’s a great motivation! And it’s right in line with God’s goal in creating us.

Why Did God Create Us?

God created us, and everything else, to glorify him. Here’s what Isaiah 43:7 says, “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.”

And Isaiah 43:21 says, “The people who I formed for myself will declare my praise.”

Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

An article on DesiringGod.org puts it this way: “The supreme goal of God in history from beginning to end is the manifestation of his great glory. Accordingly our duty is to bring our thoughts, affections, and actions into line with this goal.”

What is God’s Glory?

But what is God’s glory? What do you think of when you hear that word?

We might think about what glory looks like—maybe what Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6:1, when he saw the Lord high and exalted on a throne, with the train of his robe filling the temple.

Or we might think of what Ezekiel saw. He describes a whirlwind, and living creatures, and wheels, and then he says,

“…what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown…”  Ezekiel 1:26-28 NIV

Or we might just think of light or fire so pure, bright, and holy that we can’t even look at it—we’d be consumed. Like in Hebrews 12:29 where it says, “For our God is a consuming fire.”

Or, We might think about a dictionary definition like honor, renown, magnificence, splendor, majesty, power.

An article on DesiringGod.org defines it like this: “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections.”

An article on Christianity.com says, “God’s glory is an indicator of his value”

So, God’s glory is God’s splendor, his worth, his value, his acts, his greatness, his brilliance, his power, his overwhelming nature, his majesty, his utterly beyond-ness.

HOW do we glorify God?

Yet here we are, little puny humans, who exist to help display all that. How do we do that?

First, let’s realize that God has done the heavy lifting. We don’t have to do it all. He causes his own glory to be shown through his righteous acts and through his creation. Look at the proof in the following verses:

“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.” Isaiah 44:22-23 NIV

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:8-14 NIV

“I [Jesus] have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” John 17:4 NIV

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:18 NIV

But, we still have a part to play. As the DesiringGod article said, it’s “our duty…to bring our thoughts, affections, and actions into line with” God’s goal of displaying his glory. We can do that by ascribing glory to God, revering his glory, and declaring his glory.

Ascribe Glory to God

When we ascribe glory to God, we’re recognizing it, we’re realizing it, we’re naming it. We’re attributing this characteristic to God, just like it says in these verses:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:11 NIV

“…Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”Revelation 15:3-4 NIV

“Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Psalm 29:1-2 NIV

We also ascribe glory to him when we acknowledge that his actions are ultimately for his glory, as it says in Psalm 79:9: “Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” Psalm 79:9 NIV

Revere God’s glory

When we revere God’s glory, we’re acknowledging the seriousness of it, the awe it should inspire. God’s glory is never to be taken lightly. Isaiah 59:19 says, “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.”

Revering God’s glory means we’re careful not take God’s glory. Here’s what Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”

Revering God’s glory also means we never, ever deny the truth of it, because we will face God’s wrath if we do. Romans 1:18-25 (NIV) has this to say:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

Paul goes on in that passage to talk about all the ways we will continue to devolve into evil if we refuse to recognize and value the truth about God and his glory. It’s not pretty.

Declare God’s glory

In addition to ascribing God glory and revering God’s glory, we also are to declare it. We’re to tell it, to make it known as it says in these verse:

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” 1 Chronicles 16:23-25 NIV

“All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” Psalm 145:10-12 NIV

“They raise their voices, they shout for joy; from the west they acclaim the Lord’s majesty. Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One.’” Isaiah 24:14-16 NIV

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Psalm 63:3 NIV

As writers, another way we declare God’s glory is through our words on the page. Those words tell of God’s truth and his worth, his actions and his attributes, his creation, his sovereignty, and his love. While it’s great if people read your words, don’t forget that just writing words is an act of declaration, and that is reason enough to write them.

Bearing Witness to God’s Glory through trust

Our trust in God is another way we bear witness to his glory. We can show our trust by believing his promises, like Abraham. Here’s what Romans 4:18-21 (NIV) has to say:

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV) tells us, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” Our amen is our agreement, it’s our acknowledgement that we agree God will fulfill all his promises, and that glorifies God.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Again, our belief is a mark of our agreement, our trust that God has and will save us.

Bearing witness to God’s glory though our actions

Another way we bring glory to God is through our actions. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

We need to think about this and take it seriously. Everything we do should demonstrate that God is our supreme value. That God is who and what we hold most dear. This should be reflected in how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we talk, how we write, how we treat others, how we handle disagreement, how we behave on social media, or at church, or at the grocery store, or during an interview, or driving down the highway during rush hour.

You might be thinking—as I am—well that’s a tall order. But God doesn’t leave us to do this on our own. He helps us. He gives us his strength, his Holy Spirit, his promises, his living word in the Bible. And he gives us the right to come before his throne and—to the best of our fallen ability in this fallen world—behold God’s glory. These glimpses change us. The more we ascribe, revere, declare, and behold God’s glory, the more we are changed.

Here’s what 2 Corinthians 3:18 (RSV) tells us: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

As we’re changed, we’re better and better able to be a reflection of God’s glory, which brings God glory. But there’s more. As we shine, we also display God’s Kingdom to those around us. We shine in a dark, broken world that so desperately needs light.

I was discussing this in my mastermind group and here’s how one woman put it: “We’re walking trophy cases to display God’s glory.” God does that. He makes us his delight, his display, his joy.

God also makes us his fruit-bearers. Here’s what it says in John 15:7-8: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

God’s glory. It’s more grand, more amazing, more indescribable than we can imagine. Yet he gives us glimpses of it every day in so many ways. How can we not share it with others? Especially when he helps us do so? As we end today, let’s join together in glorifying God, in sharing his Glory with those around us. Let’s let Psalm 57:9-11 be our guide:

“I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”

Why does God’s glory matter to you as a writer? #amwriting #Christianwriter Share on X

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What do you think of when you think of God’s glory?

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our March sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the next book in the series!

Many thanks also to the folks at PodcastPS for their fabulous sound editing!

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208 – The Keys to Successful Prayer

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The Keys to Successful Prayer on Write from the DeepThere is nothing more intimate, nor powerful, than our conversations with the Creator of the universe, with the God who sees us and loves us and provides for us. And yet so often we treat prayer as though it’s a fall-back position, not a position of God’s power. Come learn from one man the keys to powerful prayers.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible

Welcome

Over the last ten years or so, I’ve grown aware of something that has troubled my heart and spirit. But when I decided to make this situation a topic of a podcast, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Every word seemed a struggle. I wrote and rewrote. Researched. Deleted and started over. Not because I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but because I feel so ill-equipped to say it.

Then, in my research, I discovered a voice and life I’d never really heard about before, and it is this voice and life that I want to share today. Because this man didn’t just address the issue so many struggle with, he lived a life steeped in, as he called it,  “the reality of the things of God.”

A Man of Prayer

This man is George Muller. Now, some of you may be well acquainted with him, but I was not. Nor was I familiar with his extraordinary life of prayer. And that, friends, is the topic of this podcast. Though we often gear our podcasts to the task of writing or our journeys as writers, for this episode we’re talking about prayer in every aspect of our lives.

Before we jump in, I want to let you know that the primary source of my information on George Muller is the remarkable book, George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer. And I want to encourage you to pick up a copy and read for yourself the many wonders and details we don’t have the time to share here.

I also encourage you to pick up Release the Power of Prayer by George Muller. Or any of Muller’s other books. And I encourage you to find pictures of him online. What you’ll see is the face of a man filled with peace and the sure confidence in an Almighty, prayer-answering God. Seldom have I been so impacted by a man’s faith and life. May we all learn to live our lives as he did, steeped in prayer.

The Least I can Do…

As believers in Christ, we take on the mantle of the blood of Christ, sacrificed for us, which covers our sins and weaknesses and grants us entrance into the very throne room of Almighty God. In fact, it doesn’t just grant us entrance, it welcomes us. Into God‘s presence. To talk with him. Whenever we want.

There is nothing more intimate, nor powerful, than our conversations with the Creator of the universe, with the God who sees us and loves us and provides for us.

And yet I’ve heard believers say things like, “Well, at least I can pray.” Or, “I can’t do anything but pray.” Of course, there are times when “I can’t do anything but pray” is an acknowledgement of our limitations and God’s power, but what I’m talking about is the creeping attitude among believers that prayer is somehow our “fall back.”  The attitude is, “Well, if there’s nothing practical I can do, I can pray.”

Or, when people ask for prayer, believers say they will pray, but do so almost in an attitude of patting a child’s head and muttering, “There, there. It will be okay.” Then on they go with their day. They may shoot a quick prayer heavenward, almost as an afterthought. But we should never treat prayer, or prayer requests, in this way.

The MOST We Can Do!

Friends, prayer is never the least we can do. It is the MOST we can do. No matter what else we are able to do in our lives, or to help others, we can pray. We. Can. PRAY!

Stop and think about that. Do we understand what an awesome privilege that is? And what a powerful responsibility it is? To go to God with not just our concerns, but with the concerns and fears of others. To seek His will and intervention, believing He will answer.

Consider what Scripture says about prayer.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Have faith in God…. whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22, 24)

Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. (Luke 22:46)

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)

Jesus told his disciples the parable of the persistent woman and the judge to show them that “…they should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1)

There is no equivocation in Scripture. Always pray. Ask and it will be given. Not it may be given. Pray and don’t give up. When you pray, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

What About…?

“Hang on,” you say. “Not every prayer is answered. I’ve prayed for xyz for years, and it still hasn’t been answered.”

Maybe this is where today’s believers started to lose their belief in the absolute power of prayer. Maybe, because we haven’t yet seen answer to our prayers, especially those that we’ve taken to God over and over, our certainty that God will answer has slid a bit. Because, well, He hasn’t answered.

Or so we think.

A Life of Answered Prayers

George Mueller lived a life steeped in prayer. As a result, he, by God’s answers and provision, accomplished amazing things in his 93 years of life. Born in 1805, a troublemaker when young, imprisoned for a brief time for theft when he was 16, he encountered Christ at the ripe old age of 20.

For the next 10 years he studied to become a missionary (and was disowned by his father for it), through God’s leading became a pastor instead, founded the Scripture Knowledge Institute, got married.

In 1834 he felt led to form an institution established for spreading the Gospel at home and abroad. And so he prayed that God would show him if this was His will. By June of 1835, Muller had opened five day schools that taught over 400 children and distributed nearly 800 bibles and 750 New Testaments. In addition, they’d sent missionaries around the world financial and prayer support. All from donations that came to them by God’s hand.

Why An Orphan House?

Then, in December of 1835, God moved George to pray about establishing a house for orphans. At that time in the UK, there were accommodations for no more than 3600 orphans. So most orphans were sent to homes for foundlings or the work houses. Think Oliver Twist.

But Muller’s reasons for opening an Orphan house weren’t what we might expect. His most important reason was to glorify God. You see, when people saw God’s provision in answer to prayer, it would prove the reality of total trust in God, thus strengthening believers in their faith. Second, he wanted to take care of  the spiritual welfare of the orphans. Third, he wanted to see to the orphans’ physical needs.

The Big Ask

As he was praying whether he should do this, if it was God’s will for him, something happened. George recorded it in his journal:

“On December 5th, however, the subject of my prayer all at once became different. I was reading Psalm 81 and was particularly struck, more than at any time before, with verse 10: ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.’

“I thought a few moments about these words, and then was led to apply them to the case of the Orphan-House. It struck me that I had never asked the Lord for anything concerning it, except to know His will respecting its being established or not; and I then fell on my knees and opened my mouth wide, asking Him for much.

“I asked in submission to His will, and without fixing a time when He should answer my petition. I prayed that He would give me a house­­­­––either as a loan, or that someone might be led to pay the rent for one, or that one might be given permanently for this object. Further, I asked Him for £1000 [approx. $150k pounds today]; and likewise for suitable individuals to take care of the children.

“Besides this, I have been since led to ask the Lord, to put into the hearts of His people to send me articles of furniture for the house, and some clothes for the children.

“When I was asking the petition, I was fully aware what I was doing, i. e., that I was asking for something which I had no natural prospect of obtaining from the brethren whom I know, but which was not too much for the Lord to grant.”

The Big Answer

He was right. Five days later he received a letter from a brother and sister who said they wanted to come work in his orphan house for no salaries because “God will supply all our needs.” This brother and sister also gave all their furniture for use in the house.

Three days after that, a man said he’d been convicted by God to give weekly support to the house. And two more believers offered to work for no salaries, and give all their furniture to the house. And so it went.

George had all of 2 shillings, roughly $16 dollars, when he started praying. But again, he opened his mouth, presenting his needs to God and believing God would provide in His own way and in His timing. And God did. Sometimes with just enough to meet the need, sometimes with large amounts.

In fact, it’s said that Muller received so much in donations that over his life he was able to give away $80,000 pounds (nearly 3 million pounds, or 4.5 million US, in today’s money). Even more amazing is that Muller didn’t use any of the donations for the Orphan house for his or his family’s care. Instead, he trusted God for their daily bread, submitting his request and then waiting, waiting for God to act.

His Life Wasn’t Easy

Now, in case you’re thinking it was in any way easy for Muller to live this way or that his life was easy, here are some facts:

His father disowned him when he decided to become a missionary

His mother died while he was studying to be a missionary

He and his wife lost two children, one in stillbirth, one when a year old to an illness

Numerous serious health challenges plagued Muller throughout his life

And what about the prayers that God didn’t answer right away? Muller said this:

“We ought to love God, even though we have not answers to our prayers; but all this will greatly increase our love; and it is not only once, but if we mark the hand of God, we shall soon find that we have scores and hundreds of answers to prayer. And thus we shall be led to love Him more and more for all he has done.”

But I’m Not George Muller

And just in case you’re thinking, “Yeah, well, that’s George Muller. I could never have a prayer life like that. No one could but him. God chose him special for this prayer life,” George addressed that in his writings. He made it clear that his faith wasn’t the “gift” of faith mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9. Rather, he said he was able to trust God because of the “grace” of faith.

Muller himself dispelled this when he wrote, “Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith, that is, that gift of which we read in 1 Corinthians 12:9, and which is mentioned along with `the gifts of healing,` `the working of miracles,` `prophecy,”` and that on that account I am able to trust in the Lord.

“It is true that the faith, which I am enabled to exercise, is altogether God’s own gift; it is true that He alone supports it, and that He alone can increase it; it is true that, moment by moment, I depend upon Him for it, and that, if I were only one moment left to myself, my faith would utterly fail; but it is not true that my faith is that gift of faith which is spoken of in 1 Corinthians.”

George Muller’s Goal

Why did Muller talk about this prayer life with God? To encourage believers in their faith. That’s why he made such a point of the fact that his faith––as is true of all believers’ faith––was given to him and sustained by God, but it wasn’t some special ability. It was, quite simply, the result of his determination to take God at His word. Something we all are expected to do.

In his journal, Muller went on to write, “All believers are called upon, in the simple confidence of faith, to cast all their burdens upon him, to trust in him for everything, and not only to make everything a subject of prayer, but to expect answers to their petitions which they have asked according to his will, and in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In all, George Muller cared for over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime, giving them educational opportunities. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 people. According to an article in The Times, Muller received approximately 1.5 million pounds (equaling 2.6 million dollars) through faithful prayer and established orphanages in five locations.

He spoke in countless countries, preaching and teaching about faith and trust in God, reaching hundreds of thousands with the Gospel. He is known to have had 50,000 prayers answered during his life. His was a life well lived, not because he was someone special, but because He believed in and trusted God to be all He said He was.

Keys to Praying Like George Muller

So if George Muller was no one special, meaning each of us can attain a faith like his, how do we go about it? First we must ask ourselves one question:

Do I Believe?

Go ahead. Ask yourself. Do you believe God is all He says He is? Do you believe He will do what He says He will do? That He will answer your prayers. Because you must if you expect an answer from Him. The Bible is clear on that in James 1:6-7:

“But [you] must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that person ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Soul-Deep Belief

There could be no doubt that George Muller believed with every ounce of his being. Just one example happened in 1877, when, while crossing the Atlantic, a dense fog descended. The captain of the ship slowed their progress to be safe. George went to the captain and said he had to be in Quebec by the following afternoon. The captain said there was no way they’d make it in time.

What did George do? He asked the captain to pray with him. They went to a room below decks, with the captain muttering what a waste of time it all was, and Muller prayed. The captain started to follow suit, but George stopped him. In part, he said, because the captain didn’t believe. But mostly because the prayer had already been answered.

Had Muller seen the fog lift? No, but he believed! He told the captain “I have known my Lord for more than fifty years and there is not one instance that I have failed to have an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, for you will find that the fog has gone.” They went back up on the bridge, and the fog was, indeed, gone.

Are You Certain?

How do we pray like George Muller? First, we believe like him. We pray with the utter certainty that God will answer, in His way, in His time. Do we believe God is able to do infinitely and exceedingly beyond anything we can ask for?  Do we believe that God has the power to provide and that he is not only willing to do so but delights in doing so?

If you’re not sure you believe like that, then follow Muller’s lead and go to Scripture. Ask God to show you why you can believe this way. Here are a few verses to get you started:

Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)

Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act…Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough….The Lord rescues the godly; he is their fortress in times of trouble. The Lord helps them, rescuing them from the wicked. He saves them, and they find shelter in him. (Psalms 37:7, 18-19, 39-40  NLT)

Therefore, I say unto you, whatsoever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them. (Mark 11:24, )

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent over double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she stood up straight again, and began glorifying God. (Luke 13:10-13 NASB)

How Long, O Lord?

Eighteen years! Have you prayed for 18 years with no apparent answer? For longer? Are you will to wait for God to act, even if you don’t see it happen in your lifetime? Will you still believe that He will do as He promised? Remember, just because God hasn’t answered a prayer yet doesn’t mean He’ll never answer it. It can’t mean that. If it does, then God isn’t who He says He is.

There were six people whom Muller asked God to bring to faith. Every day he prayed for those people. One came to faith not long after Muller began praying. One several years. Two more over a larger number of years. Only one was still unsaved when Muller died.

So does that mean God didn’t answer that prayer? Not at all. The man came to faith a year after Muller’s death. There is no such thing as “taking too long” for God. He will answer when He knows the time is right. We don’t need to see the answers. We simply need to trust the Provider.

Are You Ready?

When you can say you believe with certainty that God is who He says He is, that He will do what He promised, then follow George Muller’s lead into Scripture. Yes, back into the Word of God. Why? Because Muller had been praying every day for years, but then God revolutionized his prayer life with a revelation. As he wrote in his journal:

“It pleased the Lord to teach me a truth…I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.”

Soul Happiness

How about you? Is your soul happy in the Lord? Are you content in Him? Resting in Him? Why did Muller think this was so important? Because if our souls aren’t happy in the Lord, then everything we do for him runs the risk of being done in the wrong spirit. So how do we achieve this soul happiness? Muller tells us:

“The most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditate on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into … communion with the Lord.”

So early every morning after that, he went to God’s Word. He asked the Lord’s blessing on His Word, then meditated on the Scripture, “searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.”

When Your Soul Is Happy in the Lord

The result? Muller found his soul led to confession or thanksgiving or intercession or supplication… in other words, to prayer! And he would continue his reading and meditating, which turned the Scripture into prayer for himself and others.

And, as he said, “My inner man almost invariably is … nourished and strengthened, and by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.”

So if we want to learn how to live a prayer-steeped life as George Muller did, start in God’s Word. Maybe even start by studying and meditating on the verse that so impacted Muller: “I, the LORD, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10 NASB)

Muller’s Conditions for Successful Prayer

Starting in God’s Word, letting it become prayer, will accomplish something else. Muller taught that there were conditions required for successful prayer, the first of which was that our requests must be according to God’s will. If we’re stepped in God’s holy Word, if we’re meditating and praying it, then we can be sure God will set our hearts and spirits right with Him. And He will show us what is in accordance to His will.

George Muller’s second condition for successful prayer was that we “mustn’t ask on account of our own goodness or merit, but ‘in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (John 14-13-14.)” He supported this condition with Psalm 66:18, which says “if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” In other words, Muller said, “if I live in sin and go on in a course hateful to God, I may not expect my prayers to be answered.”

The third condition we’ve talked about already, and that is to exercise faith in the power and willingness of God to answer our prayers. And the fourth condition is to “continue patiently waiting on God till the blessing we seek is granted.”

As Muller stressed, there’s nothing in Scripture about when God will answer, only that He will. “Therefore,” Muller wrote, “beloved brethren and sisters, go on waiting upon God, go on praying; only be sure you ask for things that are according to the mind of God.”

What Happens When You Take These Steps?

Friends, if we take these steps, being mindful of these conditions, how can our prayers not be changed? How can we not be changed? Even as George Muller was changed. And how can we not be used? Even as Muller was used, or more?

Charles Spurgeon says this about prayer: “Prayer is the natural outgushing of a soul in communion with Jesus. Just as the leaf and the fruit will come out of the vine-branch without any conscious effort on the part of the branch, but simply because of its living union with the stem, so prayer buds, and blossoms, and fruits out of souls abiding in Jesus. As stars shine, so do abiders pray. It is their … second nature.”

Abide in God. Trust in His promises. Believe He is Who He says He is and will do as He promised.

Don’t Let Yourself Be Derailed

One final thought:

Don’t let your feelings derail you. Because they can. If we’ve prayed and prayed and no answer seems forthcoming, we can become discouraged. Or we can feel that doing the things we’ve discussed just aren’t accomplishing anything. Muller warns us about this:

“It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.

“The truth is that, in order to enjoy the Word we ought to continue to read it and the way obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.”

Don’t let yourself be derailed.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

William Arthur Arthur Rubinstein, the great pianist, once said, “If I neglect practicing one day, I notice; two days, my friends notice; three days, the public notices.”

That applies to us as well, friends. Keep on keeping on. Because though it may take time, it’s the same as with any other thing we do. The more we do it, the more familiar it becomes. The more we learn and grow, and the more we are moved to do it. And ever and always, wait on God to act.

As George Muller said, “I have found invariably…that if I only believed I was sure to get, in God’s time, the thing I asked for…To see that He is able, you have only to look at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, for to raise him from the dead, He must have almighty power…assuredly if we believe, we shall receive––we shall obtain.”

Hello, Powerful Prayer

The least we can do? Hardly. Prayer is, in fact, a believer’s most powerful weapon. With prayer we can call on God to unleash the armies of heaven that He may be glorified on the earth. We can lift those we care about to the most powerful King in creation and seek mercy or healing or whatever is needed. Prayer is not our fall back. It’s our first and best act in any situation.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

And as Max Lucado wrote, ”Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”

Amen

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