Original post published January 10, 2019
We serve a gracious God, don’t we? Not only has He given us His Son, His Word, but He continues to speak and minister to us today. As a creative, I can tell you in all honesty that there are many days when I just have to squeeze my eyes shut and say, “Give me the words, Lord. I’m not sure I have them otherwise.” And He does. Because He is oh-so-faithful.
As someone who pretty much lives and breathes the publishing industry, I know this is pretty common. And I know many, many of us have been given stories to tell by the Lord. Now, that’s not saying these are Scripture. But they still contain Truth. They still have something in them that will minister to His children. This is a sacred calling, in my mind.
But this can come with danger, too. As an author, editor, and designer, I talk to a lot of authors. Whether they’re working on novels, non-fiction, screenplays, poems, or songs, writers are always going to be seekers of inspiration. And there’s something I’ve heard more often than I can count. Some variation of:
God gave me this story.
God downloaded this story straight to my brain.
God told me to write this.
Maybe people say that because they want everyone else to be as excited about it as they are. But…here’s the thing. All too often, people use inspiration as an excuse for laziness. They think that because God provided the idea, that they don’t have to do anything other than write it down.
Oh, my friends. Please. Please don’t treat the Lord’s whisper so cheaply!
There’s a story of a missionary who, as a young woman, realized that God was calling her to serve as a doctor to the women of a remote area of India, where the women were otherwise not permitted to seek medical care if it would involve a male doctor tending them. This came to her like a bolt. An epiphany. A sure calling.
But she did not, therefore, stroll out into the village at the age of eighteen and say, “Okay, y’all, God told me to be your doctor, so here I am! Come be doctored!” That would have been ridiculous, right? She had to first go to college, then to med school. She had to do internships and residencies. It took her years before she was ready to make good on that call. That inspiration. And she did it because that’s what it took to answer God’s call. It took WORK.
Why do authors sometimes think the stories or ideas He gives us deserve less? Or that they can never be changed or edited or tweaked?
Here’s what I’ve discovered: God gives us the inspiration we need to get started. But that just the beginning. Not the end.
My own example exists in A Soft Breath of Wind. If you want to talk about God “downloading” a story to your brain, this is the one I’d had that experience with. We’d just moved back home after living in Annapolis for years. Xoe was a few months old. A Stray Drop of Blood was just a few months older. I’d had no intention of writing a sequel to it, but as I rocked Xoe one morning, it came to me. Who Quickens the Dead, it was called. That sequel I hadn’t planned to write.
Benjamin and Samuel, all grown up. Two young women, one with the gift of discernment, one who was demon-possessed. In the course of the next two days, this very long and involved story came to me in full detail. I’m talking, sit down and write pages and pages of notes detail. I had full scenes in my head. The complete cast of characters. The themes, the plot, the beautiful Truths I wanted to draw out.
In that lovely frenzy of inspiration, I sat down and wrote a chapter. And then I screwed up my nose. Because it stank. I knew enough to know that. This, though it exactly followed the inspiration God had given me, was not good enough.
Years went by. I wrote other books. This one was always there, waiting, and a few times I drew it out and fiddled with it. I learned more, I wrote more, I did more, I got other contracts, Stray Drop began genuinely selling. But every time I considered this God-given story, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the time for it wasn’t ripe yet. I wasn’t ready. Maybe I had the inspiration, but I didn’t yet have the ability to make it what it deserved to be.
Seven years later, the moment finally came. And in such a way there was no mistaking it. I was hard at work on a historical romance, just getting started on it, when I had a Skype call with a book club who had just read A Stray Drop of Blood. Now, it had been seven years since that book released–let’s just say, my brain wasn’t really in that mode. But as I talked to these ladies, He moved me to tears at how He was still using this story. And when they asked me if I had a sequel planned and I gave my usual, “Yeah, I have one planned out, I just haven’t had a chance to write it” speech, something stirred within me.
It was time. In the next week, I came up with a more compelling title and designed a cover. I drew out those old notes, and I gave it an overhaul to make it more powerful.
And then God gave me the time to write it…in the form of a cancellation of the contract I’d been under. Not exactly how I expected that to happen, but He really couldn’t have been any clearer! I’d prayed, “Lord, I know You want me to write this, that I’m capable of it now, but I just don’t have time…” and there we go–He made time for me, LOL.
So I wrote the book, WhiteFire published the book. And I’m pleased with how it turned out. But you know what? It’s not identical to that idea I got when my daughter was a baby. Things changed as I wrote it. And they changed for the better. What God gave me was raw material. I had to cut it and polish it and turn it into something worthy of the passion He’d given me for it.
I think we often have this idea that, when God whispers to our spirit, if we change anything at all, we’re disobeying.
I can’t believe that’s true. God gives us what we need. But as we work, we grow. The visions and ideas that got us started often evolve into something even more amazing that we could have imagined–because that’s how God works. He takes our humble offerings–our time and hard work and passion–and adds His glory to them.
Our job isn’t to cling to the raw materials and claim they’re the end-all, be-all. Our job is to work them. To give them the love and care they deserve. To make them the best they can be. And to admit that maybe we don’t always know best–which might mean we don’t even know exactly what He gave us.
Sometimes it’s only through the exploration of a calling that we truly learn what it was He gave us at the beginning.