Comfort for the New Year

Photo/KarenJordan“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Cor. 1:4 NLT).

A New Year offers new opportunities and challenges. As I sense the needs around me, I often think, “What can I do to help those in need?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond. In fact, some people may say,”the devil is in the detail,” inferring that there’s some mysterious secret hidden in the details. That term comes from the original phrase “God is in the detail,” which reminds us that the details are always important.

Discovering the mysterious details of how to help others requires wisdom. And God promises to guide us in this discovery process. But He wants us to ask for HIS help first.  “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you … ” (Jms. 1:5 NLT).

Seek God first. The Lord promises to provide the guidance we need throughout our lives. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (NLT).

God often uses my experiences—good and bad—when I seek Him for direction in helping others. At times, He prompts me to share small things—like prayers, concerns, and a listening ear.

When my friend, Kathy, struggled with vertigo following her cancer treatments, I felt helpless to help her since she lived in another state. And I knew the misery of vertigo. When Kathy mentioned that she could not even read her Bible, I was able to read scriptures to her by phone.

Later, Kathy told me, “Your calls helped me survive my cancer treatments.”

Listen. In Matthew 11:15, Jesus asks His disciples, “Are you listening to me? Really listening?” (MSG).

As we seek God and ask questions, it’s important to listen for the answers. Sometimes instead of listening to God, I’m tempted to offer unsolicited advice to friends and family.

Have you ever received a gift that you didn’t want or need? Awkward! Our unsolicited gifts might actually offend instead of blessing others. Perhaps they need godly advice, not just a hasty opinion or thoughtless response.

Ask questions. I also ask questions when I’m trying to discern how to encourage others. What matters most to them? How can I discern how to help? What helped me when I faced a similar problem? What do I wish someone else had offered me when I faced my last crisis?

John 14:26 promises, “… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (NIV).

Tell the stories that matter most. As a Christian writer, I never want to lose sight of the needs of my audience. Author Anne Lamott offers this advice: “Write the books you really wished were out there in the world.”

During a crisis, I look for resources to help me find solutions for my current needs. Encouraging words heal my soul when I’m desperate for answers. And I’m grateful for the writers who have poured their lives into helpful devotionals and books for those troubling days.

So, “… even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phil. 2:17 NIV).

As you plan your projects for the New Year, consider offering some words that could help meet the needs of others.

“… Words are powerful; take them seriously” (Matt. 12:36 MSG).

Can you think of a book that helped you through a crisis?

Author FAQs

It doesn’t matter where I am. A party. The vet. Getting my teeth cleaned. Whenever people find out for the first time I’m an author, one of three questions pops out their mouth…

How are your sales? How much money do you make?

Really? Are plumbers asked this? Does anyone ever ask the Walmart greeter what he or she nets for pay? I’m guessing not, so why?

Why do people feel comfortable asking writers how much money they make? 

Because, doggone it, everyone has a book in them, and they’re curious how much money they can make. It’s really not about the author, to shame them or to pry. This question simply flies past the curious lips of people who have a secret hope they can pound out their story and become a millionaire.

Compassion is needed to answer this one. Sure, the Rowlings and Kings of the world do make big bucks, but most authors don’t. It’s a dream-crushing bit of information, so remember that sometimes truth stings. Be gentle.

How many chapters is your book?

This one always stumps me. Not because I’m on mind-altering drugs and don’t know how many chapters I’ve written in any given book, but mostly because chapters are subjective. Haven’t readers figured that out by now?

Apparently not. Apparently garden-variety readers award badges of honor to books with lots of chapters.

So I put on my teacher’s hat and explain in one-syllable words that publishers don’t require mandatory chapters; they look at total word count. At that point, I whip out my sunglasses because a brilliant light bulb flashes on.

I wrote a book, too. Can you help me get it published?

This is a tricky one. I love to help others. Who doesn’t? But the brutal truth is, I am a lowly writer, not an acquisitions editor.

Much care is needed in the answering of this question. The danger is you’ll get cornered for at least an hour listening to the synopsis of an entire epic saga. I’ve found the best way to handle this situation is to offer sources other than yourself. I frequently recommend joining ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) for networking purposes. I also advise author-wannabees where they can attend local writer meetings or possible critique groups they can check out.

Those are the top three questions I get asked. How about you? What’s your FAQ?