Firmly Established

When I mention the book of Ecclesiastes, what goes through your mind?

 The folk-pop song hit from The Byrds in 1965?

 “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”?

 Hopeless despair of anything one does “under the sun”?

100_1867

 Look closer…there’s more to this book than the Preacher’s laments.

 At the very end of Ecclesiastes, the writer switches his voice from the Preacher to the narrator, and writes these words:

“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.” Ecclesastes 12:11 ESV

 The goads mentioned in this verse are sticks used for poking and prodding sheep. Sheep are notorious for being slow-witted and stubborn. Even faced with danger, they will not obey the shepherd or sheep dogs if they think doing so would be more dangerous. At these times, the shepherd can resort to using his staff as a goad, poking the sheep to the point of pain, if necessary, to get it going to a safe place.

100_1793

 I don’t know about you, but I’m often like the slow-witted sheep, going blindly down the path toward danger. My Shepherd knows there are times when I would fall off a cliff rather than listen to His word, so He will resort to the goad. I know some of the most painful episodes in my life were used by my Shepherd to move me back to the center of His will.

 The other term used in this verse is “nails.” This same word is also used in Ezra 9:8 and Isaiah 22:23. It gives the picture of a peg or nail fixed firmly and securely into place, as in Ezra, when the Lord established the remnant of the nation of Israel in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.” Ezra 9:8 ESV

 What does this mean for us as writers?

 God’s Word is the goad that keeps us in line with His direction and will. He is the Shepherd who establishes us firmly in our place.

100_1773

 The next verse, Ecclesiastes 12:12, is also appropriate for us: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

 Did you see the instruction? “…beware of anything beyond these…” Beyond what? The “words of the wise,” given by “one Shepherd.”

 As Christian writers, our place is putting words on paper – words that point our readers to the One Good Shepherd who seeks the lost and redeems sinners.

Advertisements

The Season of Harvest Will Come

A seed. Faith starts with a seed. So does any harvest.

Jesus himself promised his disciples that if they had faith as small as a mustard seed they could uproot a mulberry tree (Luke 17:6) or move a mountain (Matthew 17:21).

You need faith and a seed to grow a tree as well as uproot one. Woman picking applesOne of my favorite September activities is picking apples. I love visiting an orchard on a crisp fall day with clear blue skies when the sun still provides enough warmth that you can leave your jacket behind in the car. I enjoy the experience of reaching up through the branches to select the perfectly ripe apple as much as I enjoy eating the apple later.

Of course, the welcoming orchard laden with fruit at my favorite local farm is the end product of many years of work for the farmers, including labor throughout the growing season to ensure a bountiful harvest in September. Some years the blossoms freeze and then are scorched in the sun, limiting the fruit yield for the entire season. Other years, insects threaten the crop, creating extra work for the farmer. However, with proper care and patience, a harvest will come most years.

Writing and Sowing

Those of us who write books know that our labor of love is truly a process of sowing. We are planting ideas, and casting spiritual seeds on what we pray will be fertile ground. Like germination, which usually occurs hidden in the depths of the soil, writing happens in quiet, hidden places, away from the clamor of the crowds. We can envision our intended audience and select words and sentence structure with them in mind, but only God truly knows who needs to read our words. If we are fortunate, our words may touch a heart that hasn’t started to beat yet. Unlike speakers who can receive immediate feedback by looking into the eyes of the listeners in the room, writers may never meet many of their readers. The time and place when a writer’s words will have their impact is not the writer’s to know. A writer must create by faith and trust the outcome to God.

Waiting and Growing

All writers take a hurry up and wait journey, especially those who choose the traditional publishing route. This journey also is an expression of faith. Like the farmer who tends the apple orchard, the harvest of a writer means intense times of labor alternating with stretches of simply waiting on the process. The owner of the orchard waits for the apples to grow, and no one can rush this process without damaging the quality of the crop. The publishing process helps grow the manuscript and the writer should respect the process. The input of editors, reviewers, marketing team members, and designers makes for a higher quality book. Team efforts take time. This time may cause the writer’s friends and supporters to wonder whatever happened to the book. Tell your friends that your book needs to grow for a season before the harvest comes.

Publishing and Harvesting

The work in the orchard on cool spring days and hot summer ones leads to trees filled with apples at harvest time. For the writer, the solitude of writing and the patience required by the review process eventually lead to publication and the beginning of the harvest. Soon the initial reviewers will provide feedback, much like the farmer sampling a few test apples. Then the pre-ordered books will ship to the first wave of readers. I am in the process of early harvest for my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith. Recently, a pastor shared with me his vision of a tree laden with fruit, providing nourishment for many people. That image captures my hope for my book.

What do you envision in your own season of harvest?

Some Thoughts on the Fabrication of Stories

Last week my Bible study class was reading in 2 Peter about false prophets, of whom, as Peter warns his listeners, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:3 NIV).

Of course, as a creative writing professor currently leading a novel workshop—that is, teaching eager students how to fabricate stories—and as a writer currently engaged in writing a novel of her own, I shivered a bit.

He means a different kind of story, I consoled myself, as the class question-answered through the passage. He’s not talking about fiction writing, the passage makes clear, but about preaching, about spreading “destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord(2 Peter 2:1 NIV).

Still, I couldn’t stop thinking aboutVan Reymerswaele--The Moneychanger and His Wife the uncomfortably commercial side of the writing world in which I am involved. How the buying and selling of books necessarily engages our—i.e., writers’, agents’, publishers’, marketers’, publicists’—greediness: to get more media exposure, to sell more books, to make more money. And, we Christian writers are, in effect, preaching, aren’t we? I worried. The Holy Spirit was at work, I feared, forcing me, as always, to look again, think again, before proceeding.

Just then, one of my classmates confirmed my fears by reading from his version of scripture the same passage about greedy story-fabricators: “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter 2:3 KJV). Isn’t that what we seek to do in our blogging and signing, platform-developing and tribe-building? I confronted myself. Turn our readers into merchandise sold?

The self-promotion demanded of us writers has always disturbed and embarrassed me. Deep down, I genuinely believe that, if a book is good, it will sell itself. But, the publishing world sages are quick to remind me, if a book’s not out there for people to see and read, no one will know it’s good. My efforts as an author stretch thin between these two pillars of writerly wisdom.

No answers here. Just puzzles, some worries, and a bit of scripture—fodder for reflection, I imagine, among fellow writers bent on being transformed into the image of the One God Sent.

Just Look at Me: Encouragement for the Highly Distractible Writer

file000551198693 (1)

When my sons were toddlers, they were so easily distracted (look: a squirrel!) that I often knelt down and gently placed my hands on their cheeks to help them listen.

“Look at me,” I’d say, waiting until their eyes met mine. Then I asked them, “What did Mommy say?”

Lately, I’ve felt God kneeling down, kindly pressing His hands to my cheeks. “Look at me,” He says. It’s not only a call to attention, but to single-minded devotion.

“Yes, Lord, ” I reply, taking my eyes off Facebook, Pinterest–even the Wordserve Water Cooler–and focusing on Him.

I feel Him kneeling down when I get jealous about other writers’ accomplishments; when I spend too much time clicking and too little time praying; when my tendency to compare Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers distracts me from the reasons I write.

Last week, I let Satan discourage me. Look at that author, he said. She’s your age and has written twice as many books as you have. Plus, she has a radio show, and her speaking resume is much better than yours. 

I started to get insecure, until I remembered the Lord’s hands on my cheeks. “What did I say?” He asks.

“Just look at me,” I respond.

I get it, Lord, I really do.

However, it’s hard to keep my focus when I am required to use social media for my part-time editing job. Plus, our post-recession world of high technology and low discretionary income means that book publishers’ marketing budgets are shrinking, while editors’ expectations are rising.

Sigh. This business is not always good for a highly distractible author…and yes, the apple does NOT fall far from the tree. (Look: a new webinar on building your tribe!)

I know I’m not the only author who struggles with this. Or at least I hope I’m not. So, let’s lean in and focus on our Parent’s eyes for a second.

“Do you hear what I’m saying?” God says.

When we spend time with Him, and hear His perspective on this crazy profession He’s called us to, we realize that He has uniquely called each of us to a highly specialized path.

I don’t have to be like anyone else. Although God calls me to work diligently at my craft and creatively tell people about my books (not for my glory, but His), I shouldn’t obsess about numbers, lists, or honors. All that leads to a place called “Crazy-ville.” And trust me, I can get there on my own.

My fellow scribes, God is calling me–and you–to be faithful and obedient:  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33)

Just look at me, He says, and write what I’ve told you to write. Write out of the overflow of our relationship, and trust me for everything else.

As a friend says, “God’s got this.” We can trust Him. After all, those heavenly hands on our cheeks are nail-scarred…from His scandalous, all-consuming love for us.