APPLES OF GOLD

(From Proverbs 25:11-13)

As writers of faith, we understand that a “word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11 RSV). That is why we fret so in our selection of words.

Well-chosen words, offered at the right time and effectively delivered, have the greatest opportunity for impact. We want to make a difference. So we’re careful—deliberate and intentional—with our words.

The thesaurus is our companion, though it may easily distract and confound if we are not careful. But we appreciate the richness of language, the shades of meaning hidden within each beautiful word. We string our words together meticulously as colored beads on a necklace, rethinking, rearranging, then restringing them again.

Our words have power, so we give attention to context and audience, the hearts and souls of our readers, that we may accurately and expertly deliver the right words at the right time. In doing this, we give our words their best chance to do their job, rushing to the very heart of the recipient. And if we’ve done our work, and if readers dare to open their hearts, our words may be received as glistening fruit displayed upon fine filigreed silver settings.

This is not to say our words should draw attention to themselves instead of to the crucial message. The silver setting is not to distract from the fruit, but to beautifully convey what is most important: the crisp message, the fruit of the story, dripping with nectar, enticing the reader to taste and be nourished.

See also: Proverbs 15:23 and Ecclesiastes 12:10. 

WE ALL NEED HELP

(From Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Helping hands writer critique groups
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV).

Since the beginning of humanity, God said it was not good for us to be alone—we need helpers (Genesis 2:18). Throughout Scripture we’re reminded that God created us as social, interdependent beings. Our assumptions of independence are illusions. We need each other’s help. But when it comes to art, help can be painful.

Our creations are our babies, and we don’t want anyone telling us our child’s ears are too big, her legs are too short, or that he cries too loud. However, if we’re trying to improve our craft, we need to hear from others. Even if it hurts.

Our earliest efforts in writing will show a multitude of mistakes, but that’s okay. The important thing is that we keep working and improving, and we cannot do this alone. Confidence is no substitute for guidance. Fear of criticism is no excuse for avoiding help. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV).

I’m grateful for my writer’s groups. I don’t always like what they say, but that’s the point. There are things we need to know about our writing. Whatever project we’re working on, we want it to be effective. And no matter how long we’ve been writing, we can’t do this alone.

See also: 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and Hebrews 10:24-25. 

A BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE

(From Malachi 3:16-18) 

When the people of Judah had grown cold in their worship, God called Malachi to awaken their hearts. Upon hearing his message, challenging them to reevaluate their lives, to open their hearts again to generosity, many were touched by the message, spoke to one another, and honored the name of the Lord. God took note of their change of heart and how they honored Him, and “a book of remembrance was written before him” (Malachi 3:16 ESV).

When the Persian King could not sleep, he did some late-night reading. And in his royal record books he came across the account of Mordecai’s kindness, who warned him of the plot against his life (Esther 6:1-2). King Xerxes then publicly acknowledged his gratitude to the man, parading Mordecai through the city streets as an example of one who pleased the king. Read the letters of Paul, and see how often the apostle also recorded the kindnesses shown to him along the way, mentioning by name those who blessed him.

In our writing, do we make room to record our blessings? Do we create a place in our lives to chronicle the kindness of others? If you keep a diary or journal, you may already be creating your own “book of remembrance.” You don’t have to be a memoirist to record how others have blessed you. Imagine the legacy such a personal book would leave for our loved ones as they read our recollections of the kindness and blessing of others.

(See also Philippians 1:3-8, and Ephesians 1:15-16). 

UNLIKELY CHAMPIONS

(from 1 Samuel 17:33–40)

Palestinian boy sling fighting giants
Many were dismayed at the anti-Christian sentiments on the editorial page that disparaged our churches, accusing them of greed and indifference. As a pastor, I’d had sour experiences wading into public controversy, so I didn’t want to be the one to respond. But I felt a nudge. When they published my response, church members and pastor friends were relieved. They knew the spiteful letter needed an answer, but they didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I appreciated their gratitude, but I didn’t consider myself any hero.

David probably didn’t feel like a hero, and he certainly didn’t look the part. Armies on both sides couldn’t believe their eyes when the young shepherd-poet stepped out armed with only a sling. No armor would fit him, his brothers mocked him, and Goliath was insulted at the mere sight of such a young challenger.

Despite all that, David skillfully hurled one stone into the air, and it hit the mark. It didn’t matter if he looked or felt like a champion. With well-honed skills and his faith in God, David did what others could not, and God did the rest.

In a world of doubt, we need champions to write about faith. When people long for light in the darkness, when children crave fantasy, when families struggle and hearts break, we need writers to step out with faith in one hand and well-honed skills in the other to meet today’s challenge. You don’t have to feel like a champion. Just be one.

See also: Deuteronomy 31:6-8

WRITING UPON THE HEART

(From Jeremiah 31:33)

Jeremiah warned God's people against idolatry, military alliances, and religious pride, but his warnings fell upon deaf ears. He became the "weeping prophet" for both the tragedies he witnessed and those he prophesied. So when Jeremiah speaks good news, it stands out from his ominous admonitions.

In chapters 30-33, the prophet encouraged the captive Jews forced to live among their pagan oppressors. He prophesied restoration of both home and heart, as well as a return to Jerusalem and to relationship with the Lord. God would ensure this by writing His law upon their hearts: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33 NIV). As the divine writer, the Lord knows  He must touch the heart.

It isn't enough to change our surroundings or memorize laws. The pen of the Spirit etches upon our hearts the very desire of God, changing our nature, shaping our character. Stone and clay tablets crumble, paper and parchment burn away, but the tablet of the heart remains within.

Our words may intrigue, entertain, or educate, but if they do not engage readers' emotions and etch words upon the heart, they will never have lasting impact. For change to occur, our words must touch the heart.

Let our words be sincere, powerful, vivid and alive. May they reach from the page and grab the hearts of readers, drawing them higher, pulling them closer to the One who loves them most.

(Read also: Hebrews 10:19-22)

HIS UNLIMITED LITERARY GENIUS

(from Romans 15:4-6) 

One of the many marvels of the Bible is that it is not just a book, but a vast library bound into one beautiful volume. If books of the Bible were published separately, they could be comfortably shelved not only with religion, but alongside works of history, biography, romance, songs and poems, law and leadership. Countless books based upon Scripture take their place in nearly every section of the bookstore, and God uses this wealth of literary styles for our instruction. As Paul said, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us” (Romans 15:4 NIV).

We clearly see how God uses commands for moral instruction, and His parables to show us how to live by drawing us into divinely imaginative stories, while His collections of wisdom sayings are a wealth of inspired lessons for life. But Paul looked at the entirety of the Old Testament and said “everything that was written” instructs us. Not only commands, wisdom, and parables, but also songs and poetry.

The ancient biographies and epic histories of families and nations are used of God to teach His people. So also the romance of the Song of Songs and the saga of Abraham and Sarah. From otherworldly visions of celestial realms to detailed directions for building a temple, even letters scrawled in foreign prisons, God uses all these genres and more to teach.

As children of the Creator, God’s writers have countless divine examples of creativity to share crucial lessons for life.

See also Ephesians 4:11-12 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

A RECORD OF RESTORATION

From 2 Chronicles 24:27

Among the sad stories of Judah's spiritual defection, an unnamed scribe wrote a "record of the restoration" in 2 Chronicles 24.

When young Joash became Judah's king, Israel had bowed to idols for a century, and Judah fared little better. Even King Solomon acquiesced to pagan neighbors, allowing idolatrous shrines throughout the kingdom. Such was the bleak history of God's people, following deities of wood and stone, prompting God's lament that "the people of Israel and the people of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me" (Jeremiah 5:11 NIV). I can imagine how it felt for godly priests and scribes as they recorded the parade of national failures and wicked monarchs, knowing something more beautiful was available.

However, when young Joash was crowned, he and the priest Jehoiada brought spiritual revival (2 Chronicles 23:16-18). Idols were torn down, God's law lifted high, and the aging and abused Temple was restored to its former glory. Sadly, even Joash later followed his predecessors, his spirit hardening against the Lord. But in the early days of his rule, sandwiched between years of religious disloyalty, God's scribes record a refreshing time of devotion, showing us that even during lengthy seasons of spiritual despondency, God's people can yet turn their hearts and revive their spirits.

Amid the darkness of daily life, God's scribes are still called to record glimmers of glory. Facing down daily struggles, we need reason to hope, we need assurance that God can yet burst into our lives and refresh our spirits.

Read also Ezekiel 11:17-20