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These are just a few of my musings about faith, formation, culture, and life.

 

The Perils of Publishing — And Why You Should Write Anyways (Part VI)

Jen Michel

Perils of Publishing.jpg

Several weeks ago, I had the hairbrained idea to read John Owen’s 1658 Of Temptation and blog about it. I’d read Michelle DeRusha’s unfortunate announcement that she was abandoning traditional book publishing, and I feared more attrition in our ranks. Catch up on the conversation here: second postthird postfourth postfifth post. While I’m hoping to help writers think through the temptations of the writing life (and the spiritual practices necessary for resisting those temptations), I’m hoping that the content from Owen will be of help to many people in many varied fields.


With the exception of returning library books on time, I am, by nature, a fairly diligent person. I get up early. I make my bed. I leave a clean sink at night. I meet deadlines. In high school, it was my chore to clean the bathrooms in our house, and you’d better believe that I made sure to clean every inch of every surface. I remember having the (what now seems pathological) thought, “If you miss the corners, Jesus will know.” 

This explains nearly everything about my spiritual life for the first couple of decades. I was a doer, a trier, an achiever. Hard work was the means to every reward, even—or especially—the spiritual ones. Intimacy with God wasn’t happenstance. You worked to know him. You flexed the muscle of your intention. You proved your seriousness. He would, one day, be finally impressed by your diligence.

I have not come easy to grace. I suppose no one does. It’s why the wisdom of the gospel is foolishness to us. We’d take meritocracy over mercy most days because it feels so good to be in control of something, to position ourselves to take all of the credit (and of course, none of the blame). It’s only been the last years—my writing years, incidentally—that I’ve seen the underbelly of this ethic of diligence. For one, it’s a miserable pace to keep, this trying to outrun yourself in order to keep up with God. For another, it makes you miserable company to keep, you and all of your exacting expectations. In parenting, as in other areas, I’ve seen the murderous effects of perfectionism, how it can trample little hearts under the weight of “not good enough.” (Oh, dear God, have mercy on my children, especially for all the times I withheld it.)

But even as I confess my sin, I want also to admit this: I’m growing. I’m even learning to say it that way. I’m growing. I’m learning to trust that God has far more patience for me than I have for myself, that he is the good Father of Hosea 11 whose compassion burns hot in his own heart. 

This prelude has nothing to do, of course, with the writing life, but it is an important preface to what I want to draw out from John Owen today as this particular chapter is entitled, “The Great Duty of All Believers is to be Diligent not to Fall into Temptation.” Ah, there’s that word again. Diligence. HIstorically, I’ve come hungrily to it, come to it with confidence and swagger. Diligence, you say? Yeah, I can be pretty good at that. 

But this is not the diligence that Owen intends. He expounds, “It is the great duty of all believers to use all diligence in the way of Christ’s appointment, that they fall not into temptation.” To see Christ in the middle of the sentence is to remember so many things: Christ, innocent Son of God, who died for my guilt; Christ, resurrected and ascended and returning, to whom I am now united and made new; Christ, my Intercessor, my Advocate.

To remember Christ is to remember that diligence has never saved anyone.

But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s more to say. There’s a paradox to discover. Though we have a host of promises from God regarding temptation (that he will deliver us, 2 Pet. 2:9; that he will provide escape, 1 Cor. 10:13), we can’t sit back passively, assuming those promises will become effectual as we binge watch the third season of Parks and Rec. Yes, there’s “diligence, watchfulness, and care” to exercise as we “enter not into temptation.” 

Still, the good news is: this diligence involves no crossfit regimen of spiritual fanaticism. It’s just this:

Pray.

“Our Savior instructs us to pray that we not enter into temptation.”

How delightfully simple—if also difficult—at the very same time. How unlike the diligence of doing for  God—and simply the invitation to diligently bring our broken selves to God and invite his help. “Our blessed Savior knows full well our state and condition; he knows the power of temptation, having had experience of it (Heb. 2:18); he knows our vain confidence, and the reserves we have concerning our ability to deal with temptations, as he found it in Peter; but he knows our weaknesses and folly, and how soon we are cast to the ground, and therefore does he lay in this provision for instruction at the entrance of his ministry, to make us heedful, if possible, in that which is of so great concern to us.”

Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” because he knew we’d need that prayer.

In this vein, I’ve written seven prayers that address some of the temptations I face as a writer—one for every day of the week! In the comments, I’d love for you to offer up your own prayer. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a kind of prayer book compiled by writers and speakers that’s both honest about the temptations we face and hopeful about the help we find in Christ? 

Thanks in advance for considering your submission!

Father, deliver me from selfish ambition. I confess that my heart is not conformed to kingdom priorities but driven to make plans and pursue goals independent of you. Remind me of the brevity of my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom. Give me, as needed, Christ’s courage to live a small and invisible life, if only to love you and my neighbor well. 

Father, deliver me from the love of money. I confess how easy it is to conform to the pattern of this consumerist world. Show me the path of contentment, and lead me in Christ’s way of dependence. You’ve proven yourself faithful to clothe the flowers of the field and feed the birds of the air, and I trust you to provide for my family’s needs. 

Father, deliver me from the love of applause. I confess that I grow addicted to praise. Apart from your rescue, I am hellbent on the primordial impulse to make a name for myself. With your help, I will not disavow any of the gifts that you have given to me, but I will also be clear to credit you as the Giver of all good things, even and especially Christ himself.

Father, deliver me from habits of hostility. I confess my jealousy of other people’s talents, my envy of other people’s opportunities. I say I want your kingdom to come when I really mean: “Don’t let it come through someone else, lest they be praised.” Help me to encourage others, to celebrate others’ accomplishments, and to generously share resources. Lead me to the sincere delight of being one of many members in Christ’s body.

Father, deliver me from laziness. I confess that I want my words to yield immediate reward, and I grow tired of the hidden disciplines meant for sustaining this vocational calling. I am intellectually restless, leaving books half-read. I neglect the deep work of study, contented instead to skim the surface of understanding. In this age of distraction, by your grace, help me to patiently give myself to deep work for the sake of Christ. 

Father, deliver me from heedless outrage. I confess that I am easily given to rash judgments, that I, like the fool of Psalm 109, clothe myself with cursing as a coat. I do not want to cower from speaking hard words when necessary, but I do not want to fail the compassion necessary for speaking them. Make the log in my own eye more apparent, more abhorrent than the speck in my sister’s. With your help, I will recognize the image of Christ in every profile picture and byline, every dissenting opinion and voice.

Father, deliver me from fear. I confess that the temptations in this work are great, and I grow easily convinced of my inability to resist. I forget the good news of grace, that you gave your son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from sin and to purify for yourself a people for your own possession who are zealous to do good works. I receive his help today, he who was tempted yet remained obedient. I do not know the way, but I trust you to show me the way. Most of all, I trust you to show me your mercy.

The Perils of Publishing - And Why You Should Write Anyways (Part V)

Jen Michel

Perils of Publishing.jpg

This is the fifth in a series I’m calling, “The Perils of Publishing,” in which I reflect on John Owen’s 1658 Of Temptation. Even if you’re not a writer, I think you’ll find helpful content here for whatever particular temptations you face in your own life.

To catch up on the conversation, start here where I engage with Michelle DeRusha, who announced that she is quitting book writing. Continue to the second post, which introduces John Owen’s 17th-century work, republished by Crossway in 2006. In the third post, I remind us that while we are called to “watch and pray,” our resolve alone will not rescue us from temptation. In the fourth post, I explore the means of temptation, namely: Satan, our flesh, and the world. 

Today I’m writing about Owen’s chapter, “What Temptation Is and Is Not.”


As I do most days, I woke up this morning early to make coffee, write in my journal and read Scripture. This routine has remained a constant in my life since college, excepting the very earliest days of being home with a new baby. (When I came home with twin babies, I let the routine lapse for a number of months and figured that sleep was just as important a spiritual practice). This morning quiet is a grounding discipline in my life—one way I experience the new mercies of God every new morning. No matter what the previous day has been like, the morning offers up a chance to do what God says his people should get good at doing: stumbling, brushing off our knees, and getting back up again by his grace.

Today was exactly one of those days because I had some grassy, dirty knees. In my journal, I let myself think about the moments yesterday where I’d seemed so far from God. A moment where I withheld the compassion that one of my children needed, turning silent and icy instead. A moment where I laid claim to worldly power, throwing weight around and expecting others to cow. A moment where I chose an unkindness because it felt rightly deserved and I felt self-righteous. I had to come back to those moments and recognize them for what they were: choosing a way other than the way of Jesus, which is the downward movement of grace. “Father, forgive me and cleanse me from pride, and unite me to the humiliated and highly exalted one for your name’s sake.”

Temptation is baying at my heels all day long, and I am sometimes, as Owen says, not simply “facing” it but “entering” into and “being foiled” by it. These distinctions—between facing, entering, and falling into temptation— are important ones that Owen wants to make. We will all face temptation in this life. “While Satan continues in his power and malice, while the world and lust are in being, we shall be tempted.” We enter temptation, however, in a season where its “solicitations” are particularly strong. “When any temptation comes in and [speaks] with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a long or short time, . . . we ‘enter into temptation.’” Nevertheless, to enter into temptation, writes Owen, is not to be foiled by it.

These distinctions may or may not seem that helpful, but I think Owen’s point is that temptation is a force that grows in strength in particular seasons, so that “entering” temptation is the point where temptation is at its “high noon.” In other words, though we’re tempted on a regular basis, we sometimes find ourselves more vulnerable to temptation by virtue of our circumstances and our relative spiritual health. “Entering” temptation is a step beyond the normal temptations we face in the course of the everyday.

It’s not just sin knocking at the door. It’s sin asking to sit and stay awhile.

How do we move simply from facing temptation to entering into it? Owen offers three reasons.

1.    First, “by long solicitations, causing the mind frequently to converse with the evil solicited unto it begets extenuating thoughts of it.” To translate: we enter temptation when we begin to contemplate the sin and diminish its importance. We rationalize. At first, we’re indignant to consider the sin being suggested, but imperceptibly, over time, we grow convinced that it’s “no big deal.” 

2.    Second, we watch the temptation prevail upon others and our soul “is not filled with dislike and abhorrency of them and their ways, nor with pity and prayer for their deliverance.” Others fall prey to the sin that once roused such indignation in us, but we find now that we’re hardly bothered by it. It’s no big deal for us, and it’s not big deal for others.

3.    We allow things to get complicated because we entertain something good alongside the evil. In other words, temptation makes the wily proposal of both good and evil, such that the evil is paid no attention while the good is elevated. Such was the case with the Galatians and the circumcision debate: they fell “from the purity of the gospel [by entertaining the good of] freedom from persecution, union and consent with the Jews.”

I can see all of these at play in the publishing world, but I think the third feels most apt to me. Publishing introduces all the perils that we’ve already talked about. It stokes pride and jealousy and selfish ambition. But it also does great good. As we write, we speak the truths of God that we ourselves and others need to hear. (Just this week, I had one of the most heartfelt letters from a reader who providentially happened upon a copy of Surprised by Paradox weeks before her sister died. She had started with the section of lament. “You reminded me, literally DAYS before I most needed the reminding, that grief is hard and terrible and leaves you in wreckage.”) 

What a privilege to speak into the lives of others.

What a peril that we can’t be trusted with very much praise.

And this is kind of both/and with which I began this series. To think of writing and publishing, there are no simply binaries and easy answers. We are both corrupt and called; the work is both privileged and perilous. It’s simply in recognizing this, says Owen, that is the strongest defense we have, and he ends chapter 2 of Part II with advice he’s already given. These are words he’s taken from Jesus himself. Watch and pray. Stay attuned to the way that things can go off the rails and practice “a universal carefulness and diligence.” Seek God’s help.

I suppose that’s what I’m doing every morning, when I let the sun rise and light dawn on my own bedraggled heart, when I practice believing that God, in his tireless compassion, is for me despite that I am—emphatically—not always for him. And in terms of temptation, as Owen writes, “God can make a way for a man to escape, when he is in; he can break the snare, tread down Satan, and make the soul more than a conqueror, though it have entered into temptation. 

Christ entered into it, but was not in the least foiled by it.”

The Perils of Publishing - And Why You Should Write Anyways (Part IV)

Jen Michel

Perils of Publishing.jpg

This is the fourth in a series I’m writing on the perils of publishing. Truthfully, I think this series could be broadened to include any area of our lives where we experience temptation. To catch up on the conversation, start here where I engage with Michelle DeRusha, who announced that she is quitting book writing. Continue to the second post, which introduces John Owen’s 1658 Of Temptation.Owen, a Puritan pastor and theologian, wrote three classic works on sin and temptation, which were re-published by Crossway in 2006 under the title Overcoming Sin & Temptation. In the third post, I remind us that while we are called to “watch and pray,” our resolve alone will not rescue us from temptation. Writes Owen, “Until we are tempted, we think we live on our own strength.” Below, in this fourth post, which continues to reflect on Chapter 1, “The Nature of Temptation,” I explore the means of temptation which Satan uses.


Last weekend was unusually busy for our family. (It’s why I never got this post written last week!) Our eldest graduated from high school, and the following evening was the school prom. Because our children attend a small, private school in Toronto—and the graduating class included only 68 students—it was possible for one of the families to host a pre-prom event for both students and their parents. (I say possibleonly because my own high school graduating class of more than 400 students would have made such an event impossible. I say possible—granting that most houses, including my own, would not accommodate a quarter of these guests.)

I’d breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled up to the house, noting that it was hardly the largest or most imposing on the street. (The host family lives in one of the most exclusive ravine neighborhoods in downtown Toronto.) But when we entered the front door and were ushered by “staff” through the marbled hallway out the back door, I understood that we’d entered a kind of portal, one that opened onto luxury belonging, not simply to the lawyers and the doctors and the bankers, but to the monied families of political and social importance. 

It was hard not to gawk. The terraced private backyard, each level accommodating tens and tens of guests. The indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The white tablecloths. It all bespoke a wealth so far out of reach that in one sense, I hardly fought a covetous impulse. On the other hand, I knew something else: that Toronto—its ambition, its elastic material want, its “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life”—can seep into my skin whether I like it or not. I am formed by this place, formed for good, formed for ill

Loving Toronto as I do, there are still are days I dream of moving to rural Iowa, dream of settling down to an obscure life where no one cares to know what degrees you have, what car you drive, what vacation you’re taking, what brand you’re wearing. I dream of a world less tethered to the spectacle of wealth and power. In that blue-jeaned, flannelled world, I imagine myself free of the temptation to buy and consume, to climb and impress. In that flat and grassy stretch of land, the sky wide and high and limitless, I imagine myself holy.

I think we all do this. It’s a bargain we all try making, thinking that a change in our circumstances is a change for good. (As far as the writing life goes, I think we often tell ourselves that we could do this work of writing if it weren’t for the clamoring, climbing world of social media!)

John Owen has something to say about this, of course. (And maybe you’ll be surprised to hear him say that, with regard to temptation, sometimes a change in circumstance can be a change for good.)

In chapter 1, Owen explores three means that Satan uses to tempt his people; some of you will be familiar with his “world, flesh and the devil” formulation. 

1.    “Satan tempts sometimes singly by himself.” Owen is quick to acknowledge that evil is not something impersonal. However strange to our post-modern ears, Christians have historically admitted the reality of a personal devil and his vast droves of minions. There are writers who have done much good to enliven our imagination about this reality (I’m thinking of The Screwtape Lettersby C.S. Lewis) and others who have done less (I’m thinking of Frank Peretti’s series This Present Darkness). I get that it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this world is one “with devils filled,” that we have an “adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Although there have been a few singular events in my life to convince me of the truth of spiritual forces of evil (I can tell you those stories if you’re interested), I confess I don’t think about this often enough, even when it comes to temptation. 

To admit the reality of Satan, the adversary and enemy of God’s people, is, for one, to admit that we can’t simply arrange our circumstances to be free of temptation. We are vulnerable to temptation anywhere at any time because Satan wills for our corruption. I don’t have to go to parties at big fancy houses to be tempted by greed, and neither do I have to be scrolling through Twitter, as a writer, to be tempted by the desire for approval. Satan is at work, injecting “evil and blasphemous thoughts of God into the hearts of the world,” writes Owen, and to fight temptation properly, we must pray for protection and look to actively resist him.

The good news of the gospel is, of course, that the devil is already defeated, that we who are in Christ have nothing to fear. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). 

2.    “Sometimes Satan makes use of the world.” As Owen explains, not all temptation originates with the devil behind the proverbial bush. Satan doesn’t always need to whisper blasphemous thoughts into our ears. Sometimes he just needs to get us to the local mall. Unless you’re living under a rock, to live in this world is to be seduced constantly into a friendship that, in reality, is hostility towards God. 

Regarding the world of social media, there is incredible temptation there, simply by virtue of its nature. There is temptation to compare ourselves with other writers. There is the temptation to traffic in outrage. There is the temptation to belittle and dehumanize. It’s a world where approval is quantified and publicized, where hostility becomes virtue. It’s a world that values the loud, the exaggerated, the knee-jerk, a world made for the quippy, the snarky, the self-aggrandizing. Yes, dear writer. While you might have to swim in the polluted water of social media, you are going to need regular lolls on the beach to be away from its noxiousness. If you sometimes wonder why you’re falling prey to the petty temptations of the writing life, I ask: how much time are you spending on your phone? 

3.    “Sometimes he takes in assistance from ourselves also.” In this last point, Owen wants to say: even if we could be rid of the world, we can’t be rid of ourselves. Satan often finds “a sure party within our own breasts.” And this is to say that temptation cannot simply be handled by re-arranging our external circumstances. (I can take myself to Iowa, but I am, after all, still taking myselfalong.) I am subject to greed, to anger, to lust, to disordered self-love because I have a crookedness about my nature, a bent toward valuing myself above others, above God most of all. 

To be sure, there’s a lot of wisdom in staying attuned to our external influences and to searching out communities and contexts that contribute to our spiritual health. But sin isn’t simply about falling prey to external dangers and temptations. What needs the most re-arranging is our inner world because as Jesus reminded the Pharisees—who remained hypervigilant about external pollution—sin is a matter of the heart. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. There are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone,” (Matt. 15:18, 19). 

I was reminded of this recently in a conversation with my spiritual director, Beth, as I confessed to her how vulnerable I am to an inflated sense of self-importance, to thinking that I am more needed in the world than I am. It often leads me to say unreasonable yeses in my life and to assume commitments that I don’t have capacity for. I shore up my own self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy by staying unreasonably busy, by making sure that I am needed by others. “I just need to have clearer boundaries, maybe even develop a rule of life,” I told Beth tearfully. I imagined setting down on paper the infallible criteria for discerning the invitations and opportunities and for hearing God’s voice—some externaland objective criteria. Now, I don’t think that’s a bad idea. A rule of life can be a helpful guide and guard rail, preemptively making decisions about our priorities and time before temptation comes. But, Beth and I both knew that a rule of life couldn’t alone deal with my inner world, the appetites and disordered love that drive the busyness in the first place.

That’s why we need practices that lead us to examine our hearts. It’s why we need solitude as well as community, why we need most of all regular formation by the Word of God which reveals us to ourselves—“the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

When temptation comes, it may come from Satan, from the world, or from my own crooked heart. But when it does come—and I do fail, I have this continual hope: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1). 

The Perils of Publishing - And Why You Should Write Anyways (Part III)

Jen Michel

Perils of Publishing.jpg

This is the third in a series I’m writing on the perils of publishing. To catch up on the conversation, start here where I engage with Michelle DeRusha, who recently announced that she is quitting book writing. Continue to the second post, which introduces the work of John Owen called Of Temptation.


People often remark on the vulnerability of my writing, particularly in my first book. I tell them that it’s easy to be vulnerable when you’re convinced no one is reading. In the opening of the third chapter of Teach Us to Want, I tell a story about temptation and God’s intervening grace. 

Ryan and I were in our mid-twenties. He was squirreled away nights and weekends studying for actuarial exams. I was teaching, coaching, and finishing graduate school. It was a busyness that made for a lot of separateness—and a separateness that made for an easy flirtation at work. I had, of course, absolutely no intention of being unfaithful to my husband. But then, at the end of one particular school year, this unmarried colleague and I found ourselves at a graduation party for a student we had in common. Like so many events in that season of our early married life, I was attending alone. 

“Want to go out for a drink later?” my colleague asked casually when we bumped into each other in the living room. 

“Sure, that sounds fun,” I answered. It was only a flirtation, I told myself. 

The night wore on, and we mingled in separate circles. When I finally decided to leave, I knew, with a sudden urgency, that there could be no hesitating. Reaching the door, I knew I could not turn around, could not scan the crowd, could not meet the eyes of this man—that if I did, this flirtation, this future drink, had the real possibility of becoming something I did not want. 

I fled to my car, and when I got home, woke Ryan to tell him everything.

This story, almost two decades old, does not pertain to the temptations of the writing life, but it does remind me of the first lesson John Owen shares from the preface his book, Of Temptation, and which I wrote about last week. Count yourselves vulnerable to temptation, Owen insists. He alludes to the warning of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 

We are capable of far more than easy flirtations.

What makes us most vulnerable to any kind of temptation—whether in our domestic lives or in our professional ones—is the conviction of safety. We’re in the most danger when we count ourselves reliable. As Owen reiterates in his first chapter in Part I: The Nature of Temptation, “Grace and corruption lie deep in the heart; men oftentimes deceive themselves in the search after the one or the other of them.” 

Even the most self-aware among us suffer acutely from spiritual myopia. We aren’t always able to diagnose, with any degree of accuracy, our spiritual health. Here’s Owen again, citing the example of Peter, who after virulently attesting to his loyalty to Jesus, denied him three times. “It would be an amazing thing to consider that Peter should make so high a promise, and be immediately so careless and remiss in the pursuit of it.” Peter counted himself safe rather than vulnerable, and it was reason for his calamitous, bitter fall. 

Our resolve is not our refuge. How easily we fail our best intentions.

In the writing life, I think about the intentions I set—and often fail. I commit to limiting my time on social media, to deliberately ignoring the Amazon rank of my recent book, to celebrating the work of others. I commit to resisting distraction; I promise to give myself to deep work. What’s more, I count myself vulnerable to temptation, looking for external structures and spiritual habits to bind me to these promises. And truthfully, there are really good weeks, really good days, and really good parts of days. I know something of the pleasure of doing work that both glorifies God and gives me great joy. I find myself experiencing a degree of openhandedness about it all, trusting God for the outcomes of every word I put on a page. Joyfully, I sense how my own life is enriched by this “naming” work that I do, which is helping me to understand more of myself, more of God, more of the beautiful, broken world I try bearing witness to. Like an electrical current, words surge through me, and so many times, I feel myself alive and awake.

But there are also really bad weeks, really bad days, and really bad parts of days. I can seethe with jealousy when others are extended invitations that I am not. I can find myself impossibly fidgety, struggling to sit still for the 90 minutes I have cordoned off to meet a deadline. I can promise not to check my phone—and can reach, not ten seconds later, for a quick scroll through Twitter to reassure myself that I am seen and known. I can wake anxious, my mind sounding like a gong with vague, unspoken demands. 

What hope does Owen have for me here? Much.

In his first chapter, he reassures us that there is hidden grace in temptation. While God never tempts his people to sin, he does use situations to “try” them and expose their hearts. Part of the grace of temptation, as Owen sees it, is that it reminds us of our utter need for God. “A man shall see that it is God alone who keeps us from all sin. Until we are tempted, we think we live on our own strength.” If you and I made resolutions and kept them perfectly, what need would we have for the merciful, faithful High Priest whose grace is readied for us? If intention alone were the only necessary means for overcoming temptation, then wouldn’t the best spiritual practice would be self-dependence?

But instead of relying on ourselves, we must look to God. “All our own strength is weakness, and all our wisdom folly.” Like Peter, we will fail to know ourselves—and fail to keep our promises. As writers, if we’re going to survive the perils of the publishing world, we’re going to need prayers at our disposal like, “Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner.” It will not be the strength of our resolutions that keep us safe; it will be the acknowledgement of our need.

All we need in this perilous writing life is neediness.

I’ll close here with what Owen calls the “foundational text” on temptation, Matthew 26:42. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Watch: because temptation is close at hand, and we are vulnerable. Pray: because it’s God alone who can rescue us from temptation. 

Watch and pray.

Herein lies the paradox, no? To say that our resolutions cannot be relied upon isn’t to say that we shouldn’t resolve to do what’s right and good. To say that our strength isn’t strong enough isn’t to say that we shouldn’t seek to build spiritual muscle and flex it. Let’s find the spiritual practices that keep us grounded, but let’s not put our faith in the practices themselves but in God. As the late Dallas Willard wrote, “This is an active, not passive, process, one that requires our clearheaded and relentless participation. It will not be done for us.”

Count yourself vulnerable to temptation. Then, watch and pray, remembering the good news of grace:

“A man shall see that it is God alone who keeps us from all sin. Until we are tempted, we think we live on our own strength.”

 

The Perils of Publishing - And Why You Should Write Anyways ( Part II)

Jen Michel

Perils of Publishing.jpg

Last night, my church hosted a book launch party for the release of Surprised by Paradox. It was equal parts wonderful and horrifying. The wonderful was, of course, to have a room full of people I know and love show such warmth for me and such enthusiasm for the book. “Who said a prophet isn’t accepted in her hometown?” I quipped as I stood to talk and my friend, Wendy, whistled from the second row. The horrifying was being the center of that kind and genuine attention. I’m not trying to be falsely humble here. It’s just plain awkward to gather a group of people to celebrate your work. When do the lawyers and emergency room doctors and stay-at-home moms and Home Depot clerks get to throw parties for their jobs well done? 

SBP Launch Party.jpg

Some people are saving lives. I’m just writing books.

This is the second post in a blog series I’m calling, “The Perils of Publishing — and why you should write anyways,” a series I began in response to author Michelle DeRusha’s blog post, “Why I’m Quitting Book Writing.” For all her love for and commitment to writing, DeRusha has concluded that the industry of book publishing is a place she can’t thrive.

I’ve sometimes wondered the same.

But as I already said in the introduction to this series, I feel called, not just to write, but to write books. That seems to make it imperative to me to find ways of making this work work—hence the idea for this blog series. I asked you to come along for a conversation about the perils of the publishing culture, and I promised that I’d draw in John Owen’s 1658 Of Temptation, published by Crossway as a larger collection entitled Overcoming Sin & Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen (2006).

Today, I’m posting some quotes and reflections from the preface where John Owen begins by addressing the Christian Reader: “If you are in any measure awake in these days wherein we live . . . I suppose you will not inquire any further after other reasons of the publishing of the ensuing warnings and directions.” Owen seems to think that many of his readers will immediately see the need for some systematic teaching about temptation. He describes his cultural moment as one where “a spirit of error, giddiness, and delusion goes forth with such strength and efficacy”; where “there are such divisions, strifes, emulations, attended with such evil surmises, wrath and revenge, found among brethren”; where temptation is constantly leading to “partial and total apostasy, in the decay of love, the overthrow of faith . . . [and the decline in] personal holiness and zeal for the interest of Christ.” Given the conditions of our times, writes Owen, we’re going to have to talk about temptation. (Are we sure he’s not talking about his 2019 Twitter feed?)

Similarly, given the conditions of our times, especially in the world of Christian publishing, we’re going to have to talk about temptation. To bandy about words like platformbrand, and tribe, some of us will immediately see the inherent temptations in those words. The temptations of self-preoccupation and self-promotion. The temptations of vanity and ego, of jealousy and competition. The temptation to build our own personal fiefdom, rather than the kingdom of God. These are not unlike the temptations that Jesus himself faced when confronted by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted to take right things, good things, by very wrong means. 

Many of you confirmed in your comments to the first blog post of this series what is good about writing. You write for the joy of expressing truth and connecting with readers who are grateful when you’ve named something for them. You write to find out what you think and to think more coherently. As you write, you find solidarity with your fellow human beings. You write because it makes it feel more like you. You write, and sometimes you get glimpses that it makes a difference, that someone lives with more hope, more faith, more self-understanding, more empathy than before. You write because those words feel timeless, even immutable in a way that you aren’t.

These are some of the many joys of writing, but you also named many of the griefs.

You feel grief that you have to rely on the publishing gatekeepers to get your words in the world. You write but are underpaid. You write in the margins of your day, which feels too limited and constrained an exercise of your creative energies. You feel the burden of responsibility for the stories you tell and the people they involve. You hate the pressure of building a platform and finding followers. You wonder if your words matter in a world glutted with the “shrill cacophony of public opinion.”

Some of these griefs might easily dissuade us from writing or might easily tempt us to do the very good work of publishing by very wrong means. 

What advice does John Owen offer? It’s simple but worth remembering.

Count yourself vulnerable to temptation.

“But now, reader, if you are among them who takes no notice of these things or cares not for them—who has no sense of the efficacy and dangers of temptations in your own walking and professions . . . I desire you to know that I write not for you.” In other words, as it relates to our discussion here about Christian publishing, if you think yourself safe from the perils of anxiety, greed, self-protection, and vanity of this work, you are the most vulnerable to falling on the own sword of your own words.

To exercise your proper sobriety in this work judged by likes and retweets, advances and book sales, count yourself unreliable, rather than steadfast. Know that the problem isn’t with other bloggers, other writers, other authors, other speakers. It’s with you. It’s with me. Look to confess daily to God the sins that you know and the sins that you don’t. “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me,” (Ps. 19:12, 13). Then, get yourself in a community of people who will love you, even whistle at you from the second row, but know you well enough to know that you’re not all that. In that broken, beautiful church community, sign up to serve in the children’s ministry. Take a meal to a new mom. Visit someone who is sick. Do something generous with your left hand that your right hand wouldn’t even take notice of. Practice some invisibility in your local church community so that when it comes time to publish your words for an audience, you’re a bit weaned from the thrill of being noticed, listened to, even admired.

Count yourself vulnerable to temptation. As you do, practice the glorious both/and of writing. Count this work good—and count on needing the help of God for doing it. Because though we may be unreliable, he is not. As Owen reminds, we have a “faithful and merciful High Priest, who both suffered and was tempted and is on that account touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”


What spiritual practices do you engage that help you to “count yourself vulnerable to temptation”? 

The Perils of Publishing - And Why You Should Write Anyways (Part I)

Jen Michel

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I am releasing my third book next week, which makes a recent online conversation rather relevant to me.

Several weeks ago, Michelle DeRusha published a blog post entitled, “Why I’m Quitting Book Writing.” She is the author of several books, including her most recent True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created. Her decision to abandon the world of traditional book publishing was certainly no impulsive decision, especially considering that she would be required to return the advance on the next book she had been contracted to write. DeRusha explains:

“I’ve learned the hard way over the last ten years of writing and publishing that staying whole and healthy in this vocation is, for me, not a simple matter of willpower, nor is it a simple matter of surrender. It’s not about trying harder or surrendering more. Believe me, I’ve done both.” 

She continues:

“I can’t separate my self – my whole, true self – from the platform-building, from the push to attract and attain more followers and subscribers, from the Amazon ranks. I can’t separate myself from what often feels like a relentless drive toward bigger, better and more. I can’t separate myself from wanting to be known, affirmed and recognized by the “right” people.”

DeRusha has expressed what most Christian authors have felt, including me—which is to say the seeming impossibility of writing for other souls while trying to keep hold of your own. It’s a mighty vortex, this roaring demand to find fans and followers, to grow a platform, and to sell your brand. (I would add that it’s additionally harder as a woman without the institutional support that many male authors enjoy.) 

 How do we write without losing our soul?

After I finished writing Surprised by Paradox, my third book in five years, like DeRusha, I, too, wondered if it wasn’t time to take a break, possibly even abandon the work altogether. In part, this was simply owed to fatigue. The words were spent, and I was spent with them. But I don’t think it was a simple case of burnout. There was a bone-deep discouragement about the work, about all that it required of me and the little it seemed to return. Of course I have enjoyed the process of writing three books and being asked to speak about them. But there have also been many days that I have half-fancied working retail. 

I entered a period of discernment. I don’t know that this looked like anything other than keeping myself open to the voice of God on the particular question of my calling. What did God want me to do? I was happy to change course—happier still if it meant fluffing pillows at Restoration Hardware and buying throw pillows with my employee discount. I pursued the normal course of my spiritual practices—Scripture reading, prayer, fellowship, spiritual direction, service—all the while keeping my ear low to the ground, tuned to the whisper

And as is often true with God, he did not thunder his will from the heavens—THOU SHALT WRITE!—nor did he move my fingers involuntarily across my keyboard. But in small, ordinary ways, he confirmed that this is what I meant to be doing: that I’m meant to be an author, meant to stretch my writerly legs in the longer form of books, meant to do this work whatever the cost, whatever the return.

I wonder if you, reader/writer, have ever felt this way, too? Despite all the hassles and heartaches of the writing life, you know, somewhere deep in your bones, that you’ve got to stick with the work of words. It’s the way you make sense of the world and yourself in it. It’s your spiritual practice of paying attention, of naming, of loving. On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold.

 Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.

How are we going to keep at this work? What’s going to keep us grounded? Having read DeRusha’s post (and knowing that her decision couldn’t be mine), I was pondering those questions for myself when I picked up an old/new book from my bookshelf, which I bought years ago off a table in some church foyer. Published by Crossway, it’s a compilation of three classic works by John Owen, the long dead Puritan pastor and theologian, entitled Overcoming Sin & Temptation. I’d read the first work—“Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers” (and written about it here), but I’d never finished the book. It has seemed like a good time to pick it up again—

Even share it here with you.

 Though it’s a busy launch season for me (or maybe because it’s a busy launch season for me), I want to read and blog my way through Owen’s second work, “Of Temptation, the Nature and Power of it.” I’ll be sharing these reflections every week, and I’d love to have you join the conversation. And by this, I really mean conversation.


 So, first question: what is our greatest JOY in writing? And what is your greatest GRIEF?

Not Your Average Mother's Day Booklist

Jen Michel

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I was the pregnant woman who devoured books on parenting. I was convinced that if I simply read enough books, I’d be armed to confront the problems of breastfeeding, sleep training, food introduction, and tantrums. (Probably the most dog-eared book of that first year of parenting was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It worked.) I soon discovered, however, in the course of birthing four more children, that while books could be helpful, they weren’t going to definitively answer every question I had. 

That’s why this list below isn’t your average Mother’s Day Booklist. I haven’t included how-to books but rather, books to nourish your imagination for the good, long obedience of mothering children as well as books to figure out how to be a whole person apart from that role. I’ve also selected some titles that might be appropriate for women who aren’t wives and mothers and meet a day like Mother’s Day with grief and regret. (I hope you won’t mind if I start with my own.)

To begin, when I started writing Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith in 2012, I was the mother of five young children. The days were a strict cycle of rinse and repeat. For as grateful as I was to be at home my children, I also struggled to reconcile the rightfulness of desires that fell outside of my domestic obligations. I never intended this as a book for moms in particular, but as I’ve spoken on the topic to audiences of women across the North America, I see them nod (and cry) when I give them the permission to start talking to God about their desires. If you know a mother in your life who is in the thick of parenting and is trying to make sense of other callings, I hope you’ll consider recommending this.

After writing Teach Us to Want, I identified that my deepest longing was the longing for home. But did this simply mean my roles as wife and mother? Or, was God promising a home to his people that was bigger than marriage and motherhood? Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home is the book I wrote that explores home as the promise for all of God’s people—the married and the unmarried, the childless and the child-full. If you know someone in your life who might meet Mother’s Day with grief and disappointment, whose “home” today isn’t all she hoped it would be, I hope you’ll consider recommending this.

Here are some other titles (in short summary):

 For moms with mental illness

Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy. "Breathtaking, moving, meaningful, and timely. Alia Joy writes with exquisite skill on topics like mental illness, suffering, poverty, and weakness; subjects we tend to turn from, and invites her readers in close to experience both the pain and joy through her honesty, warmth, and hard-won hope in God."—Vivian Mabuni, speaker and author of Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts

For moms with chronic pain

The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament by Aubrey Sampson. “In this vulnerable account of her own pain, Aubrey Sampson helps us believe that life can be hard . . . and God can still be good. Anchored in Scripture and enlivened by storytelling, this powerful book makes something lyrical of lament. And I suppose this, too, is a mystery―that the most beautiful songs are often born out of suffering. The Louder Song will be a pleasure to recommend and reread.” —me

For women with disappointment 

Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give you What You Want by Ann Swindell. “Ann Swindell tells her story of waiting with winsome honesty. Readers who have fought secret battles will recognize her exhausting effort to avoid shame. Anyone who has prayed the same prayer for years will resonate with her struggle to be content in all circumstances while at the same time holding on to the hope of healing. Still Waiting helps the reader not only experience Swindell's story but lift our gaze from her life and our own to the healing love of Christ. —Betsy Childs Howard, Editor for the Gospel Coalition

 For young moms:

Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, by Catherine McNiel. “Writing in the tradition of Brother Lawrence, Catherine McNiel shows readers how to keep company with God in the everyday. But she is no monastic. She is a mother, caught in the turbulence of life with small children. How I wish I’d had this book―and her example―when I was just beginning my journey into motherhood.” —me

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. “Micha is singing the longings of all the tired mother pilgrims. Every word is like motherhood: elegant, earthy, loving, and present.”—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship by Shelly Wildman. "Shelly Wildman doesn't offer burdensome to-dos or simplistic 1-2-3 formulas. Rather, she calls parents to prayerful intentionality. Warmly, wryly opening her life to readers, Wildman gives us a window into godly parenting in the thick of soccer season, basketball tryouts, homework, and Sunday morning worship. Despite her many exemplary qualities, Wildman never claims to be a perfect mom―which must be why I love this book so much." —me

For moms of tweens:

A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Livingby Beth Bruno. "In her practical book, Beth Bruno helps mothers imagine their daughters' transition from girlhood to young adulthood differently, inspiring courage in place of fear, intentionality where there might otherwise be resignation. Besides offering wonderful recommendations of books and movies and activities to share together, Beth most importantly invites mothers into conversation and intimate relationship with their daughters. I only wish I'd read A VOICE BECOMING when my own two daughters were younger." —me

 For moms in transition:

The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisionsby Emily Freeman. "Reading Emily P. Freeman I start to believe Jesus' promise more--that his yoke is easy and his burden light. The Next Right Thing delivers us from anxious hand-wringing over our uncertain futures." —me

 For suburban moms:

Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Muchby Ashley Hales. "Ashley Hales stands in the bold tradition of the ancient prophets. In her book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, she exposes the tinseled temptations of the suburbs and calls us to Christ and his ways of generous self-sacrifice. The book’s vivid storytelling, biblical reflections, unabashed truth telling, and practical applications make it a worthy read for anyone no matter where they live." —me

 For any life stage:

The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith For The Rest of Us by Erin Wasinger and Sarah Arthur. The Year of Small Things explores the yearlong experiment of two young families to implement twelve small practices of radical faith--things like simplicity, sustainability, and hospitality to the poor--not waiting until they were out of debt or the kids were out of diapers or God sent them elsewhere, but right now. "This is the best kind of spiritual formation book: serious and funny, smart and vulnerable--and, most useful of all, practical. Honestly, this is one of my favorite books this year." —me

Buy a book for a woman you love!

Recommended Advent Resources

Jen Michel

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By now, you know that I’ve written a free Advent devotional for subscribers to my regular content. The first day’s reading will arrive to inboxes on December 1, which isn’t, of course, the first day of Advent, but . . . (If you somehow missed the announcement about this free resource, you can subscribe here.)

There are many, many wonderful resources to use during Advent, and I’d love to suggest others to you. To curate the list below, I polled people on Facebook and Twitter, including the Facebook group associated with The Pelican Project. (If you don’t know what The Pelican Project is, you’ll want to learn, especially as one of our primary goals is to connect churches, lay leaders, and individuals with theologically rich content.)

Whatever you do, don’t let Advent pass you by as you keep yourself busy with shopping lists, holiday parties, and school concerts. As I write in the reading for December 1:

“If December has its way with us, it will leave us too distracted to look up, as the shepherds did, and notice the blinding glory of the Lord.”


For Purchase

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge

Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting by Kris Camealy

God Is In The Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. A Collection by Malcolm Guite

The Advent of the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey

Give Me the Word: Advent and Other Poems by Laura Fabrycky

Advent 2018 Study Book from She Reads Truth

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas by Nancy Guthrie.

Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by Sarah Arthur

Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp

Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent by Walter Brueggemann

Watch for the Light: Collected Readings for Advent and Christmas

Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent by Sinclair Ferguson

Search “Advent” at Englewood Review of Books to find more titles!

For Children

The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman

The Littlest Watchman: Watching and Waiting for the Very First Christmas. An illustrated children’s book by Scott James

For Free 

The Advent Project by Biola University

Finding Holy Holidays by Ashley Hales

Advent—An If:Equip Study

Advent Devotional 2018: Blessed Son of God by Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College

Advent: Christ is Coming! Reading plan on YouVersion

Family Advent Scripture Readings by Courtney Ellis

#IsaiahChristmas: A reading schedule through the Book of Isaiah by Tony Reinke

Seasons: Enter the Story of Jesus by The Village Church

4 Advent Readings by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson

 Advent Meditations by Shannon Baker

An Advent Reading Experience

Jen Michel

My first published writing was devotional writing for Today in the Word,a donor publication of the Moody Bible Institute (also available online). After I had quit my high-school teaching job to stay home with Audrey, my friend, an editor at Today in the Word,asked me to do some very occasional editing for them. Eventually, the team asked me to submit a writing sample. After my first submission, I was very courteously rejected ; a year later, the team asked me to resubmit, and in 2005, my very first devotional was published with Today in the Word—a 31-day walk through the book of Esther. (If you’re interested in reading that month’s study, you can begin here.) Since then, I’ve written one or two issues each year for Today in the Word, sometimes on books of the Bible (Judges, Ruth, the Minor Prophets, Luke) and sometimes on various topics (Fear, Home, Desire). Every assignment has been the best kind of excuse to study Scripture and find succinct ways of relaying its truths. 

More recently, Moody Bible Institute has decided to have Moody professors write their devotional. This ends my devotional writing responsibilities for them, but it opens up some new invitations elsewhere.

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With some of this restless energy in me, I’ve written an Advent devotional for my regular content subscribers, taking them through the month of December (through the 25th) and through the story of Jesus’s first coming. It’s my gift to you and one way I hope to help you spend intentional time throughout December reflecting on the story of Christ’s coming to earth.

 The days’ readings will be short (400-500 words), and I hope they’ll focus us on God in a distracted season. I’ll also offer a short prayer as well as a portion of Scripture to read. It’s not meant to be an onerous assignment but rather a quiet way to keep time with the time-keeping God who, “when the fullness of time had come, sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4).


You can subscribe to receive these daily Advent emails here.You’ll also be subscribed to my monthly-ish newsletter, which is the most regular content I’m providing for my readers these days. 

 

 

 

On Reading the Bible

Jen Michel

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I was sixteen when I started to read the Bible daily. I can remember visiting the Christian bookstore after summer camp and choosing The Quiet Time Companion from the shelves, a systematic reading guide with interpretive helps, questions, and applications. I was a new Christian and had been encouraged to read the Bible every day for the next six months in hopes that the habit would stick. And though I was committed to the task, I also felt as every new reader of the Bible feels: daunted by the immensity of this ancient book.

I’ve been reading the Bible regularly now for more than twenty years. This isn’t to say that I haven’t missed days and weeks, sometimes even months, but it is to say that this book, more than any other, is responsible for forming me. In fact, it keeps delighting and surprising me—even confounding me (as I talk about it my next book, Surprised by Paradox). The Bible has become, as Jesus said it would, food on which I have come to daily depend. Which is why, as often as I have opportunity to say it, I try saying this: reading the Bible regularly is my most important spiritual habit. I don’t believe that we can know God, ourselves, or the nature of the kingdom coming without regular intake of this book. 

But what does the regular habit of intake look like?

I’ve thought to share with you what it looks like for me to read the Bible and actually take it in. I don’t believe that my way is the best way or the only way, but it is way. And sometimes you just need a way to get started, just as I did at 16 when I picked up The Quiet Time Companion at my local Christian bookstore. In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard wrote that “it is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every verse of the Bible pass before our eyes.” And that’s really the point of this post, to ask you about your habits, not just of reading the Bible, but allowing the words of God to be transferred into the substance of your life. Because Bible reading isn’t about accumulating arcane facts that will help you win at Bible trivia (although I do know the name of Moses’ mother). Rather, it’s a habit that forms us into the desires of God: we begin to love as he loves, even hate as he hates. 

In these final days of October, I am coming to the final pages of my Bible reading journal, which I started April 9, 2017. Tucked into the middle of my Bible (I read the NLT translation of the One Year Bible) is a small post-it note where I’ve scribbled down some reminders of how Martin Luther read the Bible. First, he looked to the Bible for instruction.Then, he looked to the Bible for thanksgiving.Third, he looked to the Bible for confession.And finally, he looked to the Bible for prayer. In other words, he saw the Bible as:

-      “a school text”

-      “a song book”

-      “a penitential book”

-      “a prayer book”

Although I discovered Luther’s ideas long after I had been a regular reader of the Bible (I found this is Tim Keller’s excellent book, Prayer), I realized that I, too, tended to write down similar observations from my Bible reading: what I’m learning about the nature of God, what I’m discovering about my own sin, what I’m learning about the redemptive work of God through history, what I’m learning about my own calling.

A quick glance through the pages of my journal reminds me of all the life we’ve lived in the last year and a half: I released a book, help coordinate major church initiatives, bought a house, started a house renovation, wrote a third book, continued raising five children.

  • Reading my reflections remind me of the angst I’ve had these many years of impermanence in Toronto—and how I found consolation in the fact that the Levites, too, had no permanent land holdings. (Numbers 18:10: “In their land you shall have no estate, and no portion shall you have in their midst.”)

  • As I turned pages, I read prayers for suffering friends—and the promises of God that I’ve claimed on their behalf. (Ps. 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”)

  • As I’ve faced difficult career decisions, I’ve been reminded, again and again, that the true vocation of the Christian is praise. (Ps. 33:1, “Praise befits the upright.”)

  • There have been anxious, worrisome times where I’ve asked to stand guard. (In Robert Alter’s translation of the Psalms, “guard” occurs six times in Ps. 121: “Your guard does not slumber,” v.3; “He does not slumber or sleep, Israel’s guard,” v. 4; “The Lord is your guard,” v. 5; “The Lord guards you from all harm,” v. 7; “He guards your life,” v. 7; “The Lord guards your coming and your going, now and forevermore,” v.8.)

  • Halfway through the journal I switched to writing with the lovely fountain pen, given to me by a friend, the ink itself serving as reminder of God’s goodness.

  • I even occasionally read prayers of resolution—like this one, after we’d purchased our house in Toronto. “This is a gift: this house, these answered prayers, this permanence; this lukewarm shower, this hard-to-regular thermostat, this smaller space, these close quarters, this detached garage.”

The journal is a written record of conversation: God talking to me, me talking back. It’s nothing extraordinarily deep because that’s not the point.

The point is keeping company with God.

Maybe that’s a longing you have, but you’re not sure where to begin. Here are a couple of thoughts for getting started regularly reading the Bible:

1.    Find a plan. There are any numbers of ways of systematically reading the Bible. (You can find some here.) Get yourself a plan, and stick to it. It takes the thinking out of “What should I read?” And trust me, it’s the thinking that’s harder than the actual reading.

 2.   Find a partner. Tell someone that you’re starting a goal of regular Bible reading. The best thing is to enlist them to do it with you! The next best thing is to ask them to check in with you, to see how you’re doing. Accountability is key to meeting goals.

 3.   Find a purpose. Go to Scripture and expect God to speak. Then write down what you discover!

a.    What does he say about himself?

b.    What does he say about humanity?

c.    How does the passage illuminate the gospel?

Jen Wilkin offers a number of excellent questions in her book, Women of the Word.

4.    Find a prayer. Remember that God speaks to us, and faith is the act of response. Talk back to him!

a.    If God shows you his generosity, ask him to provide.

b.    If God shows you his faithfulness, ask him to help you trust.

c.    If God shows you his holiness, ask him to forgive.

d.    If God shows you his mission, ask him to commission and send!

I was sixteen when a pastor at summer camp told those of us who had committed our lives to Christ to commit to some new spiritual habits, including reading the Bible 10 minutes every day. I didn’t know the habit would become a lifetime’s work—but I’m grateful. 

I wonder what God might have for you: if you started giving him 10 minutes of your day’s attention.

Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.


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