Because I’m a freelance writer, I’m involved in a lot of different projects, and one of the things I do on the side is run a coaching business for writers. I have to keep my client numbers low due to time, but I really love it, and enjoy working with writers at all levels and stages of their manuscripts.
The hardest thing to convince beginning writers of is allowing themselves a messy first draft. Writers tend to imagine that published writers sit down at their desk, start glowing with some kind of divine inspiration, and out pours a masterpiece. I guess they think the editors at the publishing house are just there to catch typos.
The truth is that no matter how good a writer is, they don’t nail their book on the first draft. It’s too many words. Too much plot. Too many discoveries along the way that cause us to go back and rework beginning chapters. Seat-of-the-Pants Writers (of which I am) are particularly vulnerable to messy first drafts. Outliners, on the other hand, tend to have it a bit more pulled together. Still, neither kind of writer ever hits it on the first go-around.
Much like these writers I work it, many Christians seem utterly aghast at the weak spots in their faith. “Why don’t I have it together?” “Why do I keep tripping up here?” “Why do I fail so much?” “Why aren’t I more like Jesus?”
The Bible tells us why, pretty plainly. We’re human. From the beginning, in Genesis, to the end, in Revelation, the Bible recounts story after story of humanity messing everything up. Even the good guys. Even those with the best intentions. Mistakes are made at every turn. Intentional disobedience wreaks havoc. Rebellion. Anger. Even murder.
So, just about as early as He could, God began whispering about sending a Savior. (Gen 3:15).
The truth is, our salvation is a free gift from God. The sanctification of our souls (revising ourselves to be more like Jesus)…well, that’s going to take work. But we need to be careful, and work in the way God asks us to. Work smarter, not harder, as they say. Because as it turns out, we’re not even able to contribute much to our sanctification either.
So how do we work smarter? Well, much like an editor guides a writer into revisions of their book (yes, I did say that with an “s”!), God guides us in the revision of our souls, if we’ll listen to Him.
As one who has tried to revise my life in my own power and in my own wisdom (and been utterly frustrated by it), let me give you four points I’ve learned within the sanctification process, that may help you work smarter.
Read the Bible with one thing in mind – getting to know God and who He is.
Reading the Bible with any other intention (such as trying to figure out all the promises God must fulfill in your life) can leave you frustrated. “God said He would supply all my needs and here I am with an overdue bill!” Yes, there are many passages in the Bible that assure us that God wants to take care of us, and is able, but the intention of the Word is to reveal God, and His plan of salvation for humanity. Our relationship with Him can only grow if we know Him. How can you trust someone you don’t know? Studying the Bible with the intention of learning about God will help you trust Him as He molds and shapes you into the image of His Son.
His plan for growing us and dealing with our hearts is vastly different than how we would do it.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul describes the upside-down world of how God works: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Weakness? What? The world tells us, the stronger we are, the better. That goes for physique, intellect, emotional and psychological attitudes, and more. If you’re strong, you’re doing great. But Jesus taught us that He doesn’t work that way. It’s in our vulnerabilities and our soft spots, in the parts we feel the most inadequate that He begins to reveal Himself and His glory. In short, when we get our big muscles out of the way, He can start doing some things that REALLY show power. True power. Power that does things like raise people from the dead. I can barely raise myself up in the morning, so how do I think I’m going to change much about myself without Him?
Work smaller not bigger.
When I work on novels, you might think that as I write I’m thinking of all the thousands of people who will be reading these words and that is what motivates me to continue to finish the book. You’d be awfully wrong about that. The more I think about the numbers, the worse I get. When I write, I end up thinking about one person, and I write it for that person. With my books, it’s usually my editor. I’m eager to hear what he or she thinks. The smaller I work, the bigger accomplishments I’m able to achieve. That’s true for the kingdom of God too. God didn’t gather the disciples together and say, “Hey look, I need you each to have a huge social media presence, preach to crowds of no less than a thousand, and try to get a book deal.” He, in fact, told them to take care of widows and orphans. Give water to the thirsty. Visit the prisoners. He knew already what meteorologist and mathematician Edward Norton Lorenz noted in the 1960s when he coined the term The Butterfly Effect. He believed that the tiny flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Oklahoma. In other words, the smallest change can cause larger consequences. A ripple effect. Change within ourselves begins to occur not by doing big things or working extra hard or long. God, who can do all things, chooses to work in the small things to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine, in the world and in our hearts.
Suffering is part of the process, not a punishment for inadequacy.
No matter how many times I tell myself that hard things happening isn’t a punishment from God, when the hard thing happens, I almost always, at some point, whisper (or yell), “What did I do?” Well, first of all, what a stupid question. I know good and well what I did. Everything I wasn’t supposed to. I mean, do I really want to present that question to God and stand there while He pulls out His list? For the day? For the year? For my life? I think not.
If we’re honest with ourselves, none of us are getting any holier sitting on the couch eating nachos and watching Netflix. The comfortable life doesn’t produce much in the way of fruits of the Spirit. I know for sure that all of my seasons of growth in God have come from hard seasons of suffering. Some heavier than others. But all full of confusion and turmoil, feeling God wasn’t there, but knowing full well He was. Trying to push past my feelings and doing that thing called “faith.”
I love how Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist, speaks of suffering: “As we enter into suffering—our own or another’s—seeking God in the dark places of our lives, the glory comes. It is not from the end of suffering or its effects, but from little by little being transformed into His image as we suffer.”
What every seasoned writer knows is that the REAL magic of a book happens in the revisions. Pass after pass after pass of the book begins to reveal more and more of the good stuff. It can be arduous. And sometimes even boring, reading the material over and over. It can be frustrating, when you know something is there but you can’t quite get to it yet. But in the end, the discipline of revision will produce the kind of book that readers will remember. Likewise, the process of sanctification, of becoming more like Him, is never going to be evident right away. Like a book, it’s pass after pass, revision after revision, until suddenly we realize it—we’re becoming more like Him.
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