085 – Serving Your Reader

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Serving Your Reader on the Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

Writers, what if your journey in the deep isn’t about you, but about your readers? What if it’s to teach you how to know and respond to their needs? Come join the conversation for insights and wisdom on serving your most important partner in the writing journey: your readers.

When we’re teaching writers about the publishing industry, and we start talking about marketing, there’s often this lightbulb moment writers have when they realize they need to think about what they’re writing from the reader’s point of view. They need to start asking what’s in this for the reader? Why would someone want to read this, let alone buy it?

And that’s when they start understanding that their writing isn’t about them. Well, let’s rephrase that. As writers, our writing is about us, it’s about changing us first. And sometimes it’s ONLY for us. We don’t need other readers to make our writing valid. But if we’re talking about writing for publication, or writing to share with others, then we have to make our writing for the reader. About their needs and desires. It’s about serving the readers.

We teach, we inspire, we entertain, we give hope.

This is our job as Christians, too. Ephesians 4:11-12 says:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”  (NIV)

We’re His people, created for works of service, to build up the body.

Challenges We Face

Our society has shifted away from fostering long-term multidimensional relationships, where you grew up together, played baseball together, went to school together, went to the same church, saw each other at the hardware store or the town meeting. You knew everyone’s cousins, their brothers, and their uncle Bob who lived with them.

There were multiple levels of connection, and everyone looked out for each other. You didn’t keep score. It was just the right thing to do. It was a covenant: You took care of your neighbors, and they took care of you. And your neighbors were pretty much the whole town. Perhaps there are some small towns out there where this still exists, but they’re a dying breed.

Now we’ve largely shifted to short term, one-dimensional relationships. We don’t see people in multiple settings. Our work friends don’t necessarily know our church friends, and certainly don’t know our sisters, brothers, and cousins. We’re much less likely to know our next-door neighbors, let alone the whole block.

People are far more transient. You could help out your neighbors but then when you need something, they’re long gone. So we’ve lost that sense of long term benefit for our service. This doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it’s just that our norms have shifted, and our culture has shifted to a “what’s in it for me” culture.

The Amish can do a barn raising, and everyone shows up, because sooner or later, you or someone else in your family is going to need a barn. That time invested in your neighbor’s barn pays off. And it’s the cultural norm to help each other. We don’t do that anymore, or at least not on the same level. Culturally speaking, if we’ve grown up being servant minded, it’s mostly a residual left over from the old days.

But as Christians, we’re called to servanthood, to being Christlike. But we need to understand we’re going against culture here.

When we’re talking about how to serve your reader, we could give a bunch of things to do here, but that might tempt us to simply create a checklist. That’s not really what serving is about. Nor is it about investing as little effort as possible to enjoy the most benefits we can.

Let’s look deeper––at the heart. What does a servant’s heart look like?

A servant’s heart is motivated by love

Jesus tells us what God’s two greatest commandments are in Matthew 22:37-39.

“‘Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NIV)

We need to serve others because we love them. What does that look like?

We need to respect our readers, to be for them. To want God’s best for them. To delight them, and to delight in them. To be kind in our interactions––even when responding to criticism. And to be patient, and like it says in 1 Corinthians 13: 5, to not be easily angered (and we know how hard that can be in this political climate) or rude.

We can’t view readers as a means to bestselling status, or a market we’re trying to peddle our products to. That’s not sincere service. Romans 12:9-11 says:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

Our readers are people created in God’s image. Respect what they need in what you write. What can you do for them? You’re not writing to get something off your chest. That’s writing for therapy, which is fine, but it’s not writing for publication.

Check your heart on this issue
  • Ask God how you’re doing in this area of love and respect. Do you have a sincere love for your readers?
  • Do you respect them?
  • Ask Him to give you a heart for them. To grow your love for them.
  • Ask God to open your eyes to their needs. How does He want you to love them?
  • Pray for them, because this helps you connect with them.
A Servant’s Heart is Humble

We did a whole podcast on humility (EPISODE #56 – Is Your Humility True or False) so you can go back and listen to that for more in-depth discussion. But one of the things we quoted was from C.S. Lewis who said that “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

So what is a humble heart in the context of serving? Philippians 2:3 says:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV) 

Selfish ambition is a problem. We don’t serve to get something.

Humility is about not feeling “entitled” to anything. Entitlement is a struggle in the American culture these days. We feel like we “deserve” to be happy, “deserve” a good life, “deserve” to make a reasonable amount of money…and it goes on and on.

But a servant’s heart doesn’t concern itself with what we deserve. It’s not focused on tit for tat, on being repaid.

Proverbs 11:24-25 says:

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (NIV)

When we’re focused on serving in humility without expecting repayment, that repayment still comes. But it’s God who pours into us. It’s God who refreshes us. When we understand that, we can serve freely, because God is the resource from which we serve. He provides to us, and we share with others.

Jesus is our model for serving with humility. He’s God, the maker of the universe, and yet He came to serve. In Matthew 20:26-28 He says:

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Serving with humility means we have the endgame in mind. God’s endgame. We all grow in the knowledge and grace of God. Remember what we said earlier, we’re created for works of service, to build up the body. And through that we all become better reflections of His glory.

Check You Heart on this issue
  • Ask God how you’re doing in this area of humility.
  • Are you serving to get something such as, say, validation from your readers?
  • Are you serving without a sense of entitlement, of “deserving” sales or accolades?
  • Ask God to grow your ability to serve without expectations.
A Servant’s Heart is Thankful

When we truly understand what God has done for us, how Christ purchased us with His blood, that makes a grateful heart well up in us. And that gratitude, that thankfulness, is what overflows into our acts of service.

Listen to the apostle Paul’s gratitude in 1 Timothy 1:12-14:

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them all.” (NLT)

Paul lived this gratitude every day. Acts 16 shows a great example of this. Paul and Silas are in Philippi, preaching the gospel, and day after day there’s a slave girl who tells the future through a demon, following them shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” (Acts 16:17)

Paul finds this so disruptive that he finally commands the demon to leave. When the slave girl’s owners realize they can’t make money from her telling fortunes anymore, they stir up a crowd and have Paul and Silas arrested. They’re stripped, severely beaten with rods, and tossed into jail, with their feet clamped in stocks.

What is their response? Anger? Resentment? No. Acts 16:25 says:

“Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” (NLT)

Did you catch that? The other prisoners are paying attention to their attitude. What are these servants of God going to do now that they’re bloody and beaten?

They’re going to praise God.

Then a massive earthquake shakes the whole jail, the chains fall off, and all the doors open. When the jailer sees that, he’s going to kill himself because he assumes all the prisoners escaped, which would mean he’d be put to death. But nobody escaped. Paul tells the jailor not to hurt himself and ends up getting taken to the jailer’s house where he and Silas preach the gospel, and the whole household gets saved.

That was a terrible ordeal for Paul and Silas. Let’s not gloss that over. But they know they’re only servants of Jesus, who suffered no less. Their thankful hearts made a difference in how that all went down.

Check your heart on this issue
  • Do you have a grateful heart for the good God has done in your life?
  • Does your service flow out of that thankfulness?
  • Or do you find yourself struggling with frustration or resentment when things don’t go your way? Or when you get a harsh review? Or when the sales don’t come?
  • Ask God to remind you of who you once were before Christ. Or think about what you would be without Christ and who you are now, with Christ, with His righteousness, with His purchase. You’re a forgiven, treasured, beloved child of the King.
A Servant’s Heart is Faithful

This is a long journey. We get tired. We get discouraged. Sometimes we’re tempted to give up. But God calls us to faithful service. Service that doesn’t give up, but that presses on. 1 Peter 4:10  says:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV)

As writers and servants, God has gifted us to administer His grace. Isn’t that wonderful? Our job is to be faithful to that task of administering that particular grace.

But that doesn’t mean you take giant leaps everyday. That doesn’t mean you never rest. This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s a journey of obedience we take one step at a time.

And It’s a commitment. When you sign a contract, you meet the deadline. When you tell your readers your book, or your blog post, or your contest giveaway, or whatever, will happen on a certain date, you follow through. You don’t disappear because you got interested in something else.

If God has given you this task of writing, you do it until He tells you to stop. So many writers seem to struggle with whether they heard God right: are they really supposed to be a writer? We did a whole podcast on that as well (EPISODE #58 – Did God Really Ask You to Write?).

There may be a long time between road signs, but that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten off the path. Faithfulness is doing your task until God gives you a different task, even if you don’t constantly hear Him say, “Keep going forward.”

Check Your Heart on This Issue
  • Ask God how you’re doing on being faithful.
  • Has He asked something specific of you that you haven’t done? That you’re dragging your feet on? Be obedient to His command.
  • Have you made a commitment to your readers that you haven’t followed through on? Follow through.
  • Have you been tempted to give up because this journey is longer, harder, or whatever, than you anticipated? Press on.
  • Ask God to show you how you have already been faithful, and be encouraged!
  • Ask God to spur you on to further faithful obedience.
One caveat about serving

We’re not saying that serving means you say YES to everything anyone ever asks you to do. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. You can’t let others set your agenda. Only God can do that!

Final Thoughts

We don’t write to “get” something. It’s to serve. God has given you a task to minister and serve others. When you keep your readers and their needs in mind, when you come into this writing task with the feeling of being humble and grateful, and serving your readers and serving God, friends, things will happen that will uplift you and encourage you far beyond anything you could want for yourself.

We want to hear from you!

How would you describe a servant’s heart? What do you find most challenging?

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Writing isn’t about the writer, but the reader! Learn how to serve your readers well.

Thank you!

Thanks so much to all our patrons who support this podcast on Patreon! We’re grateful to you!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous editing!

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