Writing as Unto the Lord

by Andrea Graham

Building off what Karen said in our last post, from the responses I get when I suggest what separates "Christian Writing" from "Non-Christian Writing" isn't what we write so much as Who we are writing for, it's evident how many of us truly are waffle brains: Secular and Sacred are in separate compartments,with each area of our lives clearly defined in our minds and totally separate from the other. In this mindset, God takes up residence in His very own compartment marked "Sacred", which leaves the person especially prone to thinking that God only is concerned about, relevant to, the stuff in His compartment.

Which means despite years of singing, "You are my all in all" and "In all I do, I honor you" ("Amazing Love") on an unconscious level, many think that means, "You are all in all in my religious life, as for the rest, that's why you gave me a Brain," and "In all I do in explicitly spiritual activities, I honor you."

To this mindset, the natural assumption is, if Christians must honor God in all we write, then all we write must fit explicitly in our Sacred box, and, apparently, be fit for CBA markets. Not so.

As my husband Adam put it on the Guild's discussion:

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men,

Now, I would note that the verse [ Colossians 3:23] doesn't say, "Do all religious work." Indeed, the Bible was written to poor folks who were shepherds and other equally unglamourous secular position. Most were not priests or teachers. They had secular sheep, secular lawns to tend, etc.

The challenge is to do things as unto God. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

" What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."

So doing it as unto the Lord implies a certain quality of your work. It also implies a certain set of standards. If a man claims to be a Christian and he is dishonest in his dealings as a car dealer, has he sinned? Is he doing things as unto the Lord? Does it please God?

These are questions we have to ask ourselves about our writing. Is it pleasing or displeasing to God? Is it of a high quality? What our motives. Is it Solo Deo Gloria (as J.S. Bach put it) or Solo Us Gloria?

As to the issue of work, even secular works as ministry or worship, I would say that we far too often limit our understanding and definition of what ministers to the soul. Laughter does good like a medicine, but who among us would see the ministry of a Christian comedian doing a clean secular routine? No altar call, no request to make a decision for Christ. Just a bunch of jokes about family and life, and things that provide comfort to souls wearied and burdened down by stressful jobs and difficult family situations?

The waitress in the restaurant can often minister to someone, can change their whole day some times. As someone who works in Customer Service, I've heard a few times. All too rare, few see the chances they have. Most see a job that feeds them and allows them to buy stuff, but God wants more for us than that. You don't have to be an evangelist, but there are little things that minister in ways most of us don't understand.
Personally, I want "In all I do, I honor you" to be a summation of my life. But frankly, I'm an alcoholic's daughter. Like most daughters of alcoholics, I have some serious control issues--as anyone who has known me more than half an hour probably already knows. Left to my own devices, I want things my way, and if I don't get it, I might just go off to pout and stew about it a good long while. Taking my hands off the wheel and trusting Him enough to let him have control is something I don't always find easy to say the least. For me, one of the most difficult verses in the bible to live out is Proverbs 3:5,6 "Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (The From Andrea's Memory Version).

The difficulty I have, and many of us have, doesn't stop when we sit down at the keyboard to write. In fact, I've found the more I learn the craft, the harder not trusting my understanding of it but rather submitting to His leading becomes. The hardest thing He could ask me to do, writing-wise, is to break one of my "sacred" rules (such as, thou shalt not write in first person multiple. Though He knows our strengths: I probably won't be asked to not write in POV any time soon, but I need to be open to it if for some reason He did.)

Americans in general, I've found, have a hard time with not leaning on our own understanding, especially as relates to the God-box. Most of us still talk about honoring God in everything and Him being all in all. We usually still talk about writing to please Him, not man--especially when being critiqued. But the behavior of the American Church indicates most of us are in the camp of: "God gave me a brain. God only is concerned with explicitly Sacred things, so I only need to seek Him in regards to those things. Secular things He wants/expects me to handle myself using the whits and natural wisdom He gave me."

Now, if I'm not careful, I start thinking that way, too. But, Brethren, that notion isn't of God. God gave the Israelites a Law chock full of rules dictating practically every aspect of their lives at least in part to disprove that lie. Whether we write in the secular market or the explicitly Christian market, and even when we're writing company reports, news reports, or technical manuals for our day job, when we sit down at the keyboard, God wants us to "scoot over" as recording artist Mark Shultz put it--and let Him work through us.

You know what? I've found God often is faithful to our covenant even when I'm neglectful. You don't know how many times when editing something I wrote, something reaches out and speaks into my life as writing only does when God's had His hand in it--even when I'd neglected to specifically invite Him to when I wrote that.

Again, "Christian writing" can't rightly be defined in terms of the actual content of what we write. Rather, in the simplest of terms, it is our relationship with Christ that truly defines our work. Where we are not fully surrendered to Him, that shows in our writing whatever the genre. Yet, even at the same time, where we are walking in right relationship with Him, everything we do, say, and write truly does honor Him--whether sacred or secular. And if that be true, what distinction is there between the sacred and the secular for the Christian?


Andrea Graham said...

Or to quote an old cliche', "God doesn't require perfect vessels, only submitted vessels."

cyn said...

Again, "Christian writing" can't rightly be defined in terms of the actual content of what we write. Rather, in the simplest of terms, it is our relationship with Christ that truly defines our work . . . Yet, even at the same time, where we are walking in right relationship with Him, everything we do, say, and write truly does honor Him--whether sacred or secular. And if that be true, what distinction is there between the sacred and the secular for the Christian?

A big amen, Andrea. To use one of my favourite colloquialisms: seems like a no-brainer to me. If there is a difference in some minds, it must be a very subtle one.

cathikin said...

I'll add another amen to that. This is the way I want my life to be, although I sometimes try to use my own brain. Bad idea if I haven't hooked it up to the Spirit first. Whatsoever I do, I want it to bring Him glory.

Andrea Graham said...

Cyn: It's a no-brainer, yeah, so long as we're willing to surrender control of this area to Christ. It's when we're the ones in control, like it that way, and feeling convicted that we tend to make excuses/respond defensively. That's my dear sister's chief barrier to really giving her life to Christ. She likes being in charge of it herself too much.

Cathikin: Ditto here. I think we all trip up in this area from time to time, precisely why I'd post a no-brainer ;) We just have to pick ourselves up and get back on course when we've found we've slipped.

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

As the adult child of an alcoholic, I can completely relate to the control issues you've mentioned, Andrea. And I think most (if not all of us) do try to let the Lord work through us.

However, I think God IS in all my work -- even the stories that are "darker", or where the message is more subtle. Most of my stories have a "hook", or an arc where they turn a corner and **WHAM!!** the reader sees stars! If that style keeps them coming back for more, then those "other" stories(the less blatantly Christian ones) have served a purpose.

As you've said, if we are allowing God to rule in our hearts, then He will appear on the scene ANY time we are using the skills He gave us. The danger I see comes when WE try to tell someone else that this tale or that one is not godly enough. That conversation should always be between Creator and child. If we take the judgmental "high ground", we might just find the earth giving way beneath our feet. I prefer to leave that up to God. He can handle it much better than I can!

Andrea Graham said...

Um, Deb, you are you arguing with? You're protesting something no one has said here. To the contrary.

As for your work or anyone else's being Godly, there's only one basis we can make such a judgment on: how the message/theology/worldview of the particular work lines up with the Scriptures.

Otherwise, on content, if you've sat down and written the story God gave you (in whatever way He works with you) what else matters? If He gave it to you, He knows someone who need it, and He'll get into their hands. If He's in control, and it doesn't suit someone's personal preference, then it just wasn't for them.

cyn said...

That conversation should always be between Creator and child.

Yes, I agree with both you and Andrea and I like how you both articulate this in slightly different ways.

The danger I see comes when WE try to tell someone else that this tale or that one is not godly enough.

. . . which is the great thing about belonging to the Lost Genre Guild. None of us judge the calling of the other authors. It could happen, e.g. if one of us was to submit erotica for critique and try to pass it off as "Christian," I, for one, would feel it encumbent on me to point it out;-)

Frank Creed said...

For anyone following this drama, this is a conversation that's leaked out of the Lost Genre Guild's headquarters--our private newsgroup.

I've read through the e-mail debate, and never understood what people were arguing about. I sense you don't either. I totally agree, and have your back, little sis. I'm proud not only of how you've handled yourself here, but that you've stayed the course. I know you well enough to know how much you wanted to run away. I also know you well enough to know you'll fight the good fight. Honored to have Graham Crackers at my elbow. (sorry--that nickname's been coming a long time and this tension needed a lil comic relief about now).

A Sports Analogy
Stop groaning, it's short.
At the end of my first little league season, I got a pocket sized trophy for "most-improved on the team. That meant so much to me--I'm so clumsy. We here are a team, and I'm hading-down this trophy to Andrea. I cannot believe how much God's grown you in the last twelve.

I wonder if your use of the term "waffle" may the issue? Is there a psychographic of our subculture so entrenched in a dichotomy of life's spheres that you've offended? No idea why this "debate" goes on-and-on.

On this point, word had gotten back to me weeks ago about first-impressions. You very-much offended and injured when you first joined a year ago. People who are as dear to me as you are. There seems to be forgiveness issues. For anyone who's still toting a chip on their shoulder because Andrea turned a flamethrower on you in the past, this is not the same woman you once knew. She and I spoke privately--at length--about some things, and I cannot believe the change in her presentation.

Andrea's (and Adam's), message is scripture-pure. Anyone who wants a piece of this gotta run me over first.
John 13:34-35 34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

If anyone can please clearly communicate what's wrong with Christian authors glorifying God for either a secular skill audience or an overt Christian please do it. I see this as a colossal waste of time because I don't understand what's driving this. What am I missing y'all?

Novelist, and founder of the Lost Genre Guild.

Martin LaBar said...