Struggling with Surrender?

I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. – John 17:4

Property of Shelley Hendrix

Property of Shelley Hendrix

Recently, while on a trip out west, (I’m a Southern Girl), my husband shared his experience with “surrendering to the ministry.” We didn’t realize when he shared this phrase that it was unusual to ministry friends in another part of the country. They jokingly said things like, “You surrendered?!” and put their arms up above their heads–revealing the idea that this made being a minister sound like the death of the good life. How awful, right?

We all got a good laugh. I mean, they were right. We had just never thought about it that way before.

Stephen and I still laugh about it. The friends who kidded us are some of the most trusted, sacred, and wonderful people we’ve ever known. It reminded us, though, that our words matter. We often become so accustomed to certain phrases, slang, and lingo that we forget how these same words or phrases land with others. We had heard “surrender to the ministry” our whole lives in the walls of our churches, so it sounded totally normal to us.

Surrender? 

When I was growing up, one of my biggest pet peeves came to me courtesy of my own mom. Anytime I wanted to know what any word meant, she refused to tell me. She always said the same thing: “Look it up.” I don’t know why I asked her after the third or fourth time she answered me in this same way. What I once resented, I now genuinely appreciate: a love of words and their deepest meanings. (I also appreciate the convenience of carrying a dictionary with me wherever I go, thanks to today’s technology!)

With this in mind, I looked up the word “surrender” for us.

Surrender, according to Dictionary.com, means:

1. to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession on demand or under duress.
2. to give (oneself) up, as to the police.
3. to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.: He surrendered himself to a life of hardship.
4. to give up, abandon, or relinquish (comfort, hope, etc.).
5. to yield or resign (an office, privilege, etc.) in favor of another.
6. to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

The choice to surrender continues to be a part of my own journey. I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus that surrender is not a one-time-call-it-done experience.

Surrender is only a “bad” thing when I forget (or don’t understand) its purpose within the context of relationship to God.

Sometimes I think I need to know WHAT I’m surrendering to: the ministry, my vocation, financial status, size of platform as a writer, role in the body of Christ, etc. But the truth is, I only need to know to WHOM I surrender. When I get this right, everything else falls peacefully into place. I can then live with purpose, and without all the pressure!

You are reading this, most likely, because words matter to you, too. I want to encourage you to pause today, and perhaps from time to time throughout the week, to write down and reflect upon the attributes of the One to whom you have chosen to surrender. Rather than focusing on our platforms, or even the next project, let’s take time to engage fully with the One to whom we choose, once again, to surrender.

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Marketing Love

Striding down the endless hallway of the Mayo Clinic, I passed hurting people on all sides.  This wasn’t about being heroic; I simply wanted to make my day about more than a doctor appointment.

“Okay, Lord. Who?”  My book felt sweaty in my hand.

Copy number one went to the sweet lady in a wheelchair. “Oohhh,” she said, pursing  fuchsia lips.  “It looks wonderful.  Thank you, Dear.”

Copy number two returned to me with the cold shoulder of rejection.  I kept walking because I couldn’t shake off the possibility that God might still want to do something. Besides, I was stubborn and didn’t want to go home with the book.  When I got to the end of the hallway, I discovered I’d inadvertently funneled into a large waiting room.

“Okay, God.  What now?”

Doing a three-sixty over a sea of people, I tried to look inconspicuous.  Then, with a puff of a prayer, I picked a pleasant-looking lady.  She’d be the one.  I took a deep breath and plopped myself down with only a chair between us.

After a minute of pretending to read my own book, I cleared my throat.  It worked.  We made eye contact.

“Hi,” I began.  “This may sound strange, but I prayed God would lead me to someone I could bless with this free inspirational book, and I feel it’s you.  May I give you this?  I wrote it.”

Her eyes lit up.  “Oh, bless you,” she said, glazing with tears.  No fanfare, just a simple exchange.  I went home happy and bookless.

Two or three weeks went by and apart from a few imaginations of finding “A Friend in the Storm” in a thrift shop, I basically forgot about my give-aways.  That is, until three days ago, when I received this heart-stopping email from Sara, a friend I hadn’t talked to for months:

Dear Cheryl,

I talked to my neighbor & friend about 2 weeks ago, Krista Flint.  She had an amazing story of being touched by God’s love through a stranger.  And that stranger was YOU!  It gave me goose bumps to hear of how she had been going through so much and that you sat beside her in the waiting room and gave her your book.

She was so blessed by your words, kindness, & the power of your poems. She said that she knew that God was near, but it was so comforting to hear it from someone! So I wanted you to know that your choice to follow God’s nudge to go to the waiting room and give “someone” your book was exactly what God planned for you & Krista!! It was so exciting to hear how God did that for both of you.

Sara’s P.S. explained that Krista was a breast cancer survivor.  Later, the same day I gave her my book, she was in a major car accident.  Although her car was totaled, she somehow managed to make it through it okay.  “A Friend in the Storm” gave her peace and reminded her that God has a purpose.

“Make use of every opportunity.”  Ephesians 5:16

When we ask God to go before us and use us for His glory, He makes a way.

Until heaven, we can’t possibly grasp all the ways God uses us to reach others.  We simply rejoice in these glimpses.

Giving away books is only one of many ways we can be God’s messengers.  We can also share personal notes, Scripture cards, and post cards or business cards with thought-provoking quotes or concepts from our books.

One time, when I gave a waitress a poem card, she threw her arms around me and burst into tears.  The Lord used a simple poem to reach into her heart and start a healing conversation.  Don’t you love how the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes?

How do you share marketing love?  I’d love to hear stories of how God used you and your words.

Honoring the Writer’s Call

Remember the Call

As ambassadors of the written word, we’re called to awaken people to truth. Rubbing words together, we set the world on fire!

Above publishers and agents, God’s our number one boss. With pure, submitted hearts, we make it our mission to please him first.

Am I on the right track, Father? What do you want me to share today? These are the questions we ask.

We try not to judge and compare ourselves with other writers because we know God equips each of his instruments for different specific tasks.

When fearful, overwhelmed, and wondering why we chose this career/ministry path in the first place, we remember… God never calls us where his grace won’t sustain us.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Gal. 6:9

Persevere in the Call

When tempted to distraction by potentially good things like social media, movies, and chats, we’re privileged to consult our boss: “Please show me what to do and give me the strength to carry it through.”

When tempted to discouragement by trials, we understand they’re God’s method of making us stronger, more Christ-like, and more effective in our writing.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Rom. 8:28

Because we clearly know we have been called to write, we persevere when people judge us, and we remind ourselves it only matters what God thinks, and the Lord sees every heart. 1 Chron. 28:9

We persevere when our paychecks are sparse because we know God will supply all our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:19

We persevere when the road is rough and slow and we can’t see ahead because we know who leads us each step of the way. (Ps. 37:23)

Balance the Call

Balance starts with rest, and rest starts with prayer. Jesus walked a tight deadline, but rose before dawn to commune with his Father. He snuck away from the crowds to reconnect. Do we sneak away from our characters to bless the Word of words?

Jesus waited on His Father for wisdom and wants us to do the same; but it takes trust.  (James 1:5-6)  When it comes to trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, we often get it backwards, and lean on our own understanding first. Then, when things go awry, we cry “Help me!” and ask him to direct our path. He will, but we must first acknowledge him.  Prov. 3:5-7

Jesus only spent three years in ministry; however, his thirty preparation years were just as important because they defined and nurtured the Father/Son relationship, enabling him, in the right time, to turn the world upside down by submitting to His Father’s peculiar but brilliant plan of reaching the Jews first, then the Gentiles.

God writes a different plan for each one of us. He calls some of us to blog first, others to write books first, and still others to do both at the same time – in balance.

Whether we’re writing, speaking, networking or spending time with the family, God isn’t just interested in what he’s doing through us; He’s interested in what he’s doing in us.  He wants us to joyfully trust him so we can honor him with our calling.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jer. 29:11

Please talk to us about remembering, persevering, and balancing God’s call to write. We’d love to hear your stories, lessons, insights, and experiences.

And what is God reminding you about today?

My Day in Prison

I went to prison not long ago to visit an inmate and to hear her story. I needed to know first-hand if she was who my client said she was. My client, her best friend on the outside, is writing a story of forgiveness between two women. I spent two hours in a small room listening as she spoke more words than my male ears could possibly take in. But I was riveted.

Outside in the main visiting area, dozens of inmates visited with parents, friends, children. Eating vending machine food, playing cards, laughing and trying to find a bit of normal in their season of isolation from the world for their public sins.

Her words filled the air for about 95 percent of our time together. She radiated the Lord like few I’ve come in contact with on the outside. Twenty-two years behind bars for a cold-blooded murder that she readily admits to committing. Many more years lie ahead. She killed the best friend of her best friend, the woman I mentioned in the first paragraph. Tears of regret come easy for the life she took, the lives of children she altered (including her own, one of whom was only 18 months old at the time and whom she has not seen since), even a city she threw into turmoil.

The good part of the story is that she’s now had 22 years of learning what it means to know, love, serve and wrestle with the Lord.

“Though I have the privilege of keeping a small TV in my cell, I have few distractions. I get up at 6:00, make coffee in my little coffee maker, and spend time with God in the Word.” She prays…a lot. She writes songs, words and lyrics, which are truly inspired. She’s an advocate for other prisoners trying to navigate a system that, by its nature, has to be more concerned with incarceration than care, with towing the line instead of grace. She understands. “It’s just the way it is.”

“There are 1,000 women here,” she says, “about 600 I would say know the Lord, probably 400 attend one of the four ‘church’ services offered once a week. Three of the services are the fire and brimstone variety, only one of the pastors of one church talks about the grace of God.”

“As if people here need more shame,” I say, attempting to understand a bit of what prisoners feel when they’re locked up for years at a time. She agrees that most of the women are so full of shame they don’t need the heaping coals of judgment to go along with it.

Before I can ask the question, she says, “That’s why books get passed around here so often. Books communicate, through story, God’s grace and the love of Jesus in a form that women can grasp. A woman can get swept away into the love of God through a story, well told. Jerry Jenkins’ book, Riven, is a favorite here, we have four copies. Francine Rivers is passed around a lot, and of course Karen Kingsbury.” Ted Dekker is mentioned, Gary Chapman, John Eldredge, as are several other familiar novelists and nonfiction authors.

You and I both know writers can’t invest their precious time writing solely to prisoners incarcerated for not playing by life’s rules. But in a bigger sense, that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you get behind your computer to tell the story God’s given you to write. We’re all prisoners to our own story in ways unseen, locked-up to our own daily grind. We all hear too much condemnation and not enough grace and love, and we all need those continual reminders that God is involved in the details but also looking out for the big picture.

And we all need to hear that He is constantly trying to inspire us to move closer to Him, His Kingdom, and communicating the true love He has to those who can’t readily touch it.

Books do that. Perhaps the book you’re writing right now does that.

So in the truest sense, you do what you do for the prisoners. You labor long hours in research, in writing and rewriting, in obeying the editorial instructions of your agent and editors. And most of the time you do it for a pretty low hourly paycheck. You hone your craft to tell the story better. You endure bad reviews and confusing royalty reports. It’s often hard and thankless and lonely.

But you do it for the prisoners.

Thank you.

Greg Johnson is president of WordServe Literary Group and has been a literary agent for 18 years serving Christian authors.