How do I know if it’s God’s will? Sticking to your beliefs in work and creativity

Can we know the will of God when making decisions? How do I know if I’m doing God’s will? How do I know if my feet are on the right path for God’s plan for me? How can I honour God with my work? How can I honour God in my writing or my art?

I was asked this recently by a friend and I’m going to answer it here as well because I think this question fundamentally affects our decisions when we’re living out our faith.

I went to the Planetarium recently and re-discovered that we are all just specks in this giant universe – no, less than specks. We cannot be seen from the moon. Our planet cannot be seen from outside the Milky Way.

We are miniscule – but God loves each of us as individuals, and Jeremiah 29:11 says God has a great plan for our lives. I can’t claim to know the will of God. But here’s what I think about when I’m trying to live out God’s will in both my paid work and my creative projects.

My feet at the labyrinth in Sydney Centennial Park.

About to start the labyrinth in Sydney Centennial Park. Image source: My camera.

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How I chose which books to read in 2015

The long road to Fort Scratchley lighthouse at Nobby's Beach, Newcastle. Image source: My camera.

The long road to Fort Scratchley lighthouse at Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle. Image source: My camera.

The end of the year is a great time for reflecting on our habits from the year and how they changed us as a person. Here is just one snippet from my reflections on my habits in 2015: How I chose which books to read during the year.

It’s an important topic. The books you read are part of the inspiration you get, and that shapes who you become as a person over the course of a year. We’re always changing, and the input we choose for our hearts and minds is a huge part of that.

What does the Bible say about the input you should give your heart and mind?

Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life and everything you do flows from it.”

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about those things.”

(author’s paraphrase)

So in short, in 2015, I let God choose.

While standing at the shelves of my favourite bookshops or poring over new releases on my favourite online bookshops, or even leaning against my own bookshelves and wondering what to read next, I asked the Holy Spirit. I asked that God would reveal what book would help me the most in this season, or what book would give me encouragement, give me a laugh, show me afresh His power, or give me the key to spreading His power to others with my life.

Here’s my list of books read, how the let-God-pick method went, and the themes that emerged in what I read…

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Book review: Devotions that start and finish my day

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office - now it's stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I'm heading out? God's reminder.

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office – now it’s stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I’m heading out? God’s reminder.

As you know, my faith is a big part of who I am. But what do I do when I am faced with a spiritual drought?

The Bible is filled with amazing stories, inspiring messages … but I don’t find it easy to read it every day. (I do read a bit of it every day, but that’s because of discipline, not because the book of Amos fills with me great joy.) But we still need to be filled with God’s truth, so where can we go to find that inspiration?

Devotional books – books filled with a Bible verse for each day followed by an observation on that verse or a practical application for it – have always been useful to me during those dry stretches.

Today I thought I’d review some of the devotionals that I’ve worked through over the past three years – especially since a bunch of them are on sale this week!

Each of these books were helpful, but definitely in different ways and for different seasons. I’ve never found a ‘one-spiritual-thought-fits-all’ devotional. I hope you see some in the list that might help you grow closer to God.

My NIV Couples' Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

My NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

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An ode to Terry Pratchett and the only gift a writer ever needs

Terry Pratchett.  Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

Terry Pratchett.
Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

One of my favourite authors of all time, prolific and gifted fantasy satire author Terry Pratchett, passed away last week. It hit me suddenly; I realised I had missed my chance. I wished I could have written to him before he moved on, to thank him for how he changed my writing, my life.

“You are a wonderful writer. Your books live in two and a half whole shelves of my largest bookcase because I enjoy rereading them so much. Thank you for your clever characters who made me think about the world differently. Thank you for your involving plots and your hilarious sense of humour, which gave me another world to live in on grey days.”

I know I’m just one fangirl of many. He’s such a famous author that I know he must get stacks of fan mail every day, from emails to postcards (“Terry, here I am at the edge of the Disc!”). By the time he died at 66 years old, he’d written 70 novels, including the 40-novel Discworld series that I loved so much.

But I still wish that I’d been able to express my gratitude to him in some small way – for me, not for him.

That day I made sure I didn’t miss out on other opportunities. I wrote two letters to authors at the publishing house where I work, whose novels are currently being copy-edited (an arduous process in which you question every word choice). I’d read the first or second drafts of their manuscripts in preparation for promoting their work and loved – simply loved – the writing and the characters. I’m not a crier, but I cried over the happy ending of one of them, sitting there at my desk in the marketing office.

So I wrote and told them, “I loved your book. It moved me greatly and I feel inspired to go out and do something about it. Your theme is one I’ve seen in real life and it thrilled me to see someone put it into words so accurately and with such real emotion.”

And I learned a big lesson.

Your encouragement is the best gift you can give a fellow writer.

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Creating as an act of worship

Every act of creating is an act of worship because it is an echo of what our great creator did in making us.

This month I’ve had one migraine after another – sigh! For me that’s just the result of stress and being too busy to find true rest. One of the more painful results of that is that I’ve been unable to stay in the room when we’re worshipping together at church or the awesome camps I lead on (SU’s Ubertweak, and Gateway Youth Camp)… because the music makes me feel like a hippo’s jaws are squeezing down on my head.

Photo of fighting hippos from Animals Time

On National Geographic’s TV show ‘Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr’, Dr Brady measured the bite force of an adult female hippo at 8,100 newtons (enough to crush a crocodile), but they had to give up trying to measure the male’s bite pressure because it was so aggressive.
Image source: Animals Time

I’ve found this time of personal silence challenging, but it’s also brought me back to an old truth – that there are so many more ways to worship God than just singing songs. The method of worship that I’ve found most powerful during this time is creating: every time I create, or write, or paint, or sew, I’m worshipping.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

A couple of years ago I ran an activity at Youth called 1:1. The name was a reference to the beginning of the Hebrew poem that tells the creation story in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of the night, our 150 kids painted canvasses, journalled, made encouragement cards for each other, and made and flew paper airplanes. We revelled in the act of reflecting what God did in creating us.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

Soul Survivor church in Watford, England, experienced revival in the late 1990s when they did something similar. They cut back their music team from the now-typical rock concert style to the congregation singing with only their voices. Why would they do that when they were already one of the leading worship music creators worldwide?

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Happy St Stephen’s Day, everybody!

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’, painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’,
painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

I know everyone thinks Boxing Day is all about shopping sales and cricket, and always has been, and until recently I thought that, too.

Nope, still about Jesus.

Happy Feast of Saint Stephen Day, everybody!

Stephen was the first disciple to be martyred for following and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

But why did they kill him? What did he do that ticked people off so much? And what can we learn to apply to our own writing?

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Bad stories that are being written in the world, and how we can edit them

Delete button. How to edit truly bad stories Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

How to edit truly bad stories
Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

This post is a long one, sorry, but stick with it! I really believe this is something we need to make time for.

 

 

Recently, I was looking for inspiration for a part of my novel where one character interrupts a battle to give a passionate speech that marks the beginning of the road to peace. One of the first results when you Google “speech about peace and war” is Martin Luther King Jr.’s little-remembered 1967 speech opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War, ‘A Time to Break Silence’.

I had no idea that reading this speech would change the topic that I would blog on today.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal. In Vietnam, that time has come for us.” – Martin Luther King Jr., ‘A Time to Break Silence’, 1967

Many of you, upon reading the title of this post, assumed that I’m talking simply about my profession of editing. “I say there are bad stories being written out there, and we gonna git ‘em fixed!”

I wish I was.

In the world today, as there has been every year since the dawn of man, there are bad stories being written. By governments and individuals. By my government in Australia. By individuals who I know who think that the government is doing the right thing.

And I need to talk about it. I need to tell you about it. I need to talk about why we are writing a “bad” story and how we can edit it so that we aren’t ashamed of what we have written.

“I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” – George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’ Essay

 

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Bible stories you should read if you want to be a great storyteller

No matter what genre you’re writing in, you’ll want to be reading other stories in your genre.

Something I’ve wanted to write about for some time is what a writer can learn about writing in their genre from reading one of the oldest books ever written – the Bible.

The truth is, it has so much to teach storytellers like us.

Yes, I know, reading the Bible isn’t terribly easy going. But if you treat it as one big collection of short stories, then you can read a little chunk at a time and not be overwhelmed by trying to read it as a single epic tale.

One of my esteemed friends, Josh Bartlett has a wonderful YouTube channel, Storytime with Josh, where he features regular videos of dramatically-narrated Bible stories. This guy has a real flair for bringing out the real life drama of these stories – some that you might have heard many times, and some that even well-versed Bible readers will find surprising.

Storytellers should always be looking for the human side in stories. Many characters in stories never get their side of the story heard, or their point of view is always sidelined because the main hero’s actions are seen as more important. But the truth is that every character has an interesting story, even if it’s only about how the hero’s actions affected them and how they responded to that.

A guide to where you can find all the genres in the Bible:

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Never hold back – Daniel – “Even if…”

When is faith in action ever easy?  But the Bible has some incredible stories about faith in action being rewarded by God!

In Daniel 3:16 – 18, Daniel’s mates (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, aka Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) are about to get thrown in the fire, and they give one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard:

“The three of them replied to the king, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you about this anymore.  If we get chucked into the blazing furnace that you’ve made, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it.  He will save us from Your Majesty’s power.   But we want you to know this: Even if we knew that our God wouldn’t save us, we still wouldn’t serve your gods and worship them instead.

Woah!

Even if God won’t save me, I’ll still call him my number one God?  I’ll still trust and worship him?

It’s crazy stuff.

It’s awesome stuff.

And God did save them – even more awesome! He provided an angel who stood with them in the fire so that they wouldn’t be burned up. By contrast, the soldiers who had to throw them into the furnace were all burned up immediately by the incredible heat.

Four in the fire from Keith Nicolas WordPress blog

Four in the fire from Keith Nicolas WordPress blog

There have been several moments in my life where God has said, “Even if *this bad thing happens* or *this good thing never happens*, will you still follow me?  Will you still worship me?” and I’ve said yes!  And I’ve known some great friends who’ve had the absolute worst happen and still love and trust God with everything they have.

But today isn’t about me or them or the past – although we’d happily give you details of what God’s done in our lives any time.  It’s about right now, your present situation.

Where is God asking you to let go of control of your life?

Where can you see God asking, “Even if the worst should happen, will you still trust me?”

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2013. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

The last leg of the race

The victorious woman crosses the finish line - Eshet Chayil!

The victorious woman crosses the finish line – Eshet Chayil!

Ever struggled to finish a project?  Yeah, me neither…

I’ve been thinking lately about how crazy busy this year has been, and how I haven’t finished the novel I was working on, although the beginning and the middle are definitely somewhat there…

The point of my post today is that often the hardest part of trying to get somewhere / waiting to achieve something is that last leg of the race.  The week before your loved ones return home.  The last year of uni.  The last month of work before you resign from your old job and start your new one.

Our writing projects often get abandoned right at the end.  I’ve written 42 / 50 chapters for a book that I told everyone I was going to finish in 2011 – now that’s awkward!  And the reason why is that I know how to start with a bang, and the middle is the crux of the story, so that’s pretty set in my mind, but wrapping it all up just looks too big.  I don’t know how to reach those last things that are needed for each of my characters to say, “My part in this story is done, and I’m happy with where I’ve ended up.”  For some characters, I don’t even know what is needed to finish their part.

Jeff Manion spoke at the 2010 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit about his book, ‘The Land Between: Finding God in difficult transitions’.  He said that the point at which leaders’ plans fail, and people stop volunteering to help, and churches dissolve, is not when you expect.

It’s not at the beginning, because even though looking at a blank slate is scary, most people will be able to imagine the vision that you are setting forth as leader, and it’s exciting to look forward to a future full of hope and promises.  People are happy to give time and money and effort to help a new project get off the ground.  And even in the middle, it’s easy to stay committed, because you can see progress in the steps along the way.

But in that last leg, it’s often hard to see whether or not it is the last leg.  If it looks just like the middle is continuing on forever, then it’s easy to get discouraged.  The last few steps just look too big, and getting through the middle may have drained your resources and energy and passion for the project.

We can fall with the finish line in sight, when we do it in our own strength.

I drove a friend home from a meeting recently and he was reminding me of others who have fallen near the end of their personal race.  He spoke of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness of the Sinai Desert, and how when God first promised to give the promised land to this slave people, they said, “No way, we can’t do that.”  And when they were nearly there, they blew it many times by rebelling against God, even though the end was in sight.  Moses was literally up the mountain fine-tuning the Ten Commandments when the people decided it was never going to happen and made themselves a golden calf idol to worship instead.

I want to keep running with perseverance the race that God has set before me (Hebrews 12).  In the writing context, this means that I want to finish the projects that I start.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25:  “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2012. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.