Will not the Giver of Words grant us the right words in due season to speak to the injustices of our generation, and to bring truth and life where there is deception and death? Will not the maker of the tongue loosen it to speak order into the chaos and confusion? If our heart is for the afflicted and oppressed, will he who hears their deepest cries not empower us to labor on their behalf?
The thing about mountaintops is you can’t stay there too long. There comes a time when you have to leave the awe-inspiring landscape behind for another, less magnificent view. Like the mountain of laundry overflowing from the hamper. Or the colorful vista of dishes in the sink. Or the panoramic scenery of toys strewn across the living room floor.
I recently returned from a mountaintop of my own—a writers’ conference not far from where I live, giving me the luxury of commuting the short distance rather than staying on campus. While others enjoyed a much-needed escape from the daily grind, I had the benefit of returning each night to a house full of responsibilities. At least it made the last-day transition more bearable. It wasn’t such a shocking jolt back into reality when the glorious mountaintop vista finally faded from view.
As hard as it can be to face daily life after being immersed in something more appealing, reality can teach us something most mountaintops can’t. Especially if you’re a writer. The greatest of words flow from the humblest of circumstances, from the grit of everyday living. We can’t write what we haven’t lived, and if we haven’t lived. Yes, there’s life on the mountaintop. But there’s wisdom in the monotony of the valley that can’t be gleaned from anywhere else.
I’m grateful for the mountaintops. But I’d get bored if I had to live there. Give me a rugged terrain, filled with highs and lows and in-betweens. There, I find life. And there, I find words.
What do you picture when you hear the word servant? Probably not a person sitting at a computer keyboard. The more typical image associated with servanthood would be a person tending to the sick or helping in the food line at a soup kitchen. Or maybe you picture someone on their hands and knees, scrubbing a dirty floor or washing filthy feet. And such people truly are servants.
But did you ever think that you could serve through writing? I didn’t used to think so. After working all day at an inner city outreach, I’d come home hungry to write, yet feeling a tinge of guilt that I wasn’t doing something more worthy of a servant. Though I’d be up late into the night for days on end, wrestling for the right words, I was convinced that those doing the more evidently sacrificial works were the only real servants.
True servanthood is using your gifts, whatever they may be, to bless others. Yes, there are times we’ll be called out of our comfort zones to serve in less-than-ideal settings. Yet if your gift of words will challenge, encourage, or inspire others, it is a pure act of service.
I’m grateful for those nameless ancient scribes who translated scriptures that we might have wisdom for today. I’m grateful for those authors who speak encouragement from beyond the grave because they devoted themselves to pouring out their lives in ink. I’m grateful for those living servants who write words in season for our generation.
To be a servant is to invest your talents for the benefit of others. It’s to sacrifice your time and resources that others may reap from your labors. For those who write, your words may travel to places where even the greatest missionary could never go. And they may touch lives even the most devoted of servants could never reach.
See that amazing view? Yeah, that’s not what I see from where I sit. My office isn’t exactly the idyllic writer’s retreat—unless you consider the kitchen counter idyllic. Hey, if you like staring at a fridge, a stove, and a sink ever-filling with dishes, good for you.
Prior to this, my “office” was the back room of an inner city two-flat, overlooking a trash-filled alley and the fire escapes of the apartments across the way. Not quite the equivalent of a panoramic mountain landscape. My typical choice of views hasn’t been particularly inspiring from a writer’s perspective. But I’m in good company. Some of the most inspiring works were written from what most would consider not-so-inspiring locations.
Much of the book of Psalms was written in caves while the not-yet King David was running for his life. In fact, many Old Testament books were written in the wilderness or in exile, from people facing impossible circumstances. Paul wrote some of his epistles while in prison. And John wrote the glorious book of Revelation as a captive on the Island of Patmos.
So here I am, a captive of my own kitchen. And I realize…the best writing is life-inspired writing. Sure, it would be great to take a trip to the mountains—or better yet, a white sandy beach with palm trees swaying behind me and miles of ocean before me. But some of my greatest inspiration has come from the city streets where I spent so many years of my life, and from right here in my apartment—surrounded by noisy kids, needy pets and a stockpile of dishes.
‘Tis the season for writers’ conferences. Across the nation, those with a love for the written word will gather to hone their craft. Some will come with a desire only to develop their skill, others with aspirations of publication.
A couple years ago I was sitting in a classroom at the local conference when a woman walked in, eyes narrowed, hands on hips. “I’m just sizing up the competition, that’s all,” she explained in all seriousness.
I couldn’t decide whether her statement was more humorous or grieving. Writers were never meant to be competitors, especially in the Christian realm. We’re instead co-laborers, each contributing our unique voice for the building up of others. If anything, we’re to encourage one another in the use of our gift rather than viewing one another as a threat to our selfish advancement.
We’ve each been gifted with a unique history that enables us to speak a word in season to those within our sphere of influence. If one of our voices is silenced, we all suffer. Comparison and competition are destructive weapons against the good of the art.
Yes, I’m challenged by others who use their gifts with excellence. But I won’t let it silence me. Instead, it inspires me to use words more effectively and with greater wisdom and purpose.
Every voice speaking in defense of truth and justice, mercy and love is a needed voice. Writers are not enemies, but fellow soldiers. Competition is the enemy.
Sitting on a padded lounge chair on a sandy beach, waves lapping over my feet as my pen easily flows across the paper to the rhythm of the swaying palm trees. That’s how I envisioned the writing life. How wrong I was.
For me, the ink has flowed more like blood than anything else. And the view has been a far cry from the idyllic writer’s retreat. But at least I’m not alone. Some of my favorite writers have written from depths far deeper than I’ve ever gone.
The world’s most meaningful words are wrought in the fires of affliction. They often go unread, unnoticed by the masses for years, decades, centuries, until they, and their writer, have stood the test of time. When they finally emerge, they are as liquid gold, yielding wisdom for generations to come.
Today’s bookstores are filled with words that will fade with the passing seasons, blowing away like dust from the shelves. They’ve endured a short while to feed a passing trend. Yet they’ll be long forgotten as time moves on.
As for me, I’d rather write with red ink, words written from a life of sacrifice and struggle. Words that stand through the fires of adversity. Words not meant for the fickle masses, but words for those hungry for something more substantial than a quick fix. Words that don’t fade with the passing of time and trends.
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