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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8 writing tips for memoir and biography

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

I saw the most awesome documentary last week about healers all over the world. Within 2 minutes, I had tears leaking out because of what a good story a healing makes. Before, broken and hurting and helpless to do anything about it; afterwards, healed and whole and grateful to God. The best part is that the story is true.

This post – and my free ebook you can download below – is for the life writers of true stories who want some “back to basics” reminders for how to get your story on paper. Whether you’re writing memoir, autobiography, or biography, a few simple principles hold true. And most of them are fairly easy to spot in your own writing, so you can save a lot of time by referring back to these principles as you write.

Memoirs and biographies need to feel real for the reader. They need real drama.

Yes, it’s your story, but it’s still a story. Your story – or the story of the person whose life you’re chronicling – has already captured your attention and imagination and heart. It needs to be written in a way that also captures the reader’s attention and their heart.

Here’s my 8 basic tips – one for every day of the week, plus an extra.

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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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Adorkable literary proposals to read over Valentine’s Day, part 2

The Valentine’s Nebula, a gift from God to let you know you are loved by someone much bigger than you are!  Image source: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

The Valentine’s Nebula, a gift from God to let you know you are loved by someone much bigger than you are!
Image source: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you – taken, searching, or happily single alike! You all have the same value and worth in God’s eyes; you are not defined by your marital status. Has to be said.

Now on to fun things – my favourite proposal stories! Most of them are in books, some of them are in real life, but I’ll just be sharing the literary ones today. 😉

  1. Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen – the second, successful one

Secret confession – not actually a 100% Pride and Prejudice fangirl. My secret love is the best love story of all time – Persuasion!

We don’t usually get to hear the words in Jane Austen’s successful proposals. She delights in describing the unsuccessful proposals, the ones that get rejected so eloquently. But when the answer is going to be yes, then Austen only brings the scene to the point of “they both understand each other, at last!” or at least “they both realise their affection for the other” and then moves right along to “My father happily gave his consent and we were married in spring.”

The exception is here, in Persuasion. We get to read the full proposal because she gives us one of the most romantic letters of all time, which has since featured on coffee mugs, book bags and T-shirts, etc.

Written by Frank Wentworth to his beloved Anne Elliot, it describes his feelings in a way that is still expressed today, although in different words, by men everywhere who approach the woman they love unsure whether she’ll say yes or no:

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
F. W.”

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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.