Worship With Your Words: 7 Quick Thoughts About Writing
I used to hate to write. In high school I was an expert at procrastination. I don't think I ever started working on a writing assignment before the day it was due. While I still pull that trick from time to time, it doesn't work as well as a pastor. Pastors write all the time. The nature of their work requires at least one or more writing deadline each week. Sermons, Bible studies, newsletter articles, emails, letters of reference... whether we like writing or not, it's a reality of life - a skill we need to work at, and a discipline we must anticipate and manage with some degree of efficiency.
I actually enjoy writing now. For me, it's grown on me the same way running has. I did not like it at first. But, like running, which I took up out of necessity to deal with stress, the necessary act of writing has gradually become for me a therapeutic, joyful activity I now anticipate (I guess Aristotle was right about the whole habit thing). I'm not an expert on writing. I've never written a book. However, the past few years have required me to write more than I usually would, and so I've been reflecting more and more on the discipline of writing. Here are some thoughts.
1. Write out of Affection for Christ.
Why write? If you're a Christian, ideally it's first and foremost out of affection for Christ. In Philippians 3, St. Paul says that his aim in life is to know Christ. Now, Paul wrote a LOT. And his writing has made no little impact. But Paul's writing was always the overflow of knowing Jesus. We write for the same reason we sing hymns and spiritual songs to Christ. Writing is first and foremost an act of worship. This is why we shouldn't worry about whether people will read what we write, or if it's even worth our time to write. Even if no one reads what we write, every word is worth it when we write from the posture of praise. We submit our writing to Christ first and foremost as a sacrifice of praise. Whether anyone reads or benefits from our writing is secondary.
2. Write out of Affection for His Bride.
Second to Jesus, we write for the people he loves - his church. When I sit down to write, I want to pen something that is going to be useful first for the dear saints in my local church, second for the larger body of Christ, and then third for those who have yet to come to become part of Christ's bride. This mindset keeps our tone gentle and winsome alongside commitment to truth. It adds purpose to what we write and why we write it.
3. Never Stop Reading.
I've heard it said that the more widely you read, the better you'll write. One of my favorite quotes from Luther comes second hand from a lecture in Walther's Law and Gospel - "attende lectioni!" which translates as "attend to the reading" or "never stop reading!" This is a great life goal to pursue, first with Scripture, and then with anything we can get our hands on that is worth thinking about or imagining. I've found that writing allows me take my passive interaction with thoughts in the Bible, a book, article, or blog post, and actively interact with those thoughts in my own words. It's a wonderful back and forth cycle that builds on itself.
4. Don't Worry About Your Reach.
One of the thoughts that creeps up on me from time to time when I sit down to write is, "I wonder if this is worth my time? Will anyone even read this?" The more I think about it, this thought is a temptation to assess writing on the basis of its productivity rather than the worthiness of the process itself. Whether or not anyone ever reads what you write, writing is worth your time. For one, as I previously mentioned, writing is an act of praise to God. No one would say that a hymn or song of praise sung alone is worthless because no one else heard it. In the same way, God receives praise when we love him by pouring out our hearts and minds onto the blank page or computer screen. Second, writing is in and of itself a way to exercise the mind. I find that my writing - regardless of whether I post it on a blog or speak it in a sermon - allows me to think carefully and critically.
5. Set Reasonable Goals.
One of the reasons we don't write is because we don't have the time. Or at least we don't think we do. We probably don't think we have the time because we're binge writers - and who has three hours to spare on any given day? I don't. But I can usually spare half an hour. It's amazing how much writing you can get done if you set a timer each morning and start putting words on paper. I try to do thirty minutes each day. I read my Bible. I say my prayers. And then I write. Sometimes I'm just outlining a blog post or a sermon. Other times I'm just writing down ideas. Ideally I have a few days in the week where I get some paragraphs down. Other weeks I don't. Do what works for you. Either way, it's the exercise itself that counts.
6. Some Helpful Resources.
Two books have shaped the way I approach writing. I highly recommend them. The first is How to Write a Lot. I appreciate the straight forward title, as well as the brevity of the book. Written by a professor pressured by writing deadlines, Paul Silvia debunks many of the lies we believe about writing. He also offers some practical, accessible habits to pursue that will transform writing into a steady and productive discipline. The second is They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. This book deals more or less with the mechanics of writing. The authors highlight the importance of writing persuasively, as well as putting our words in the simplest, most accessible order for the reader.
7. What are the possibilities?
Maybe you're a pastor. Or an engineer. Or a teacher, a nurse, a stay at home mom, or a student. Either way, what you write is important. Maybe no one will ever read it. But at least you wrote it, right? But maybe people will read your writing. And who knows what impact it will have? A novel that grabs the imagination? A book, blog post, or paper that changes the way someone thinks about an important issue? You may even write words and sentences that the Spirit uses to alter someone's eternal trajectory.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT