The Lectionary Companion: An Inspirational Tool for Christian Writers

As a Christian writer, you have no shortage of inspiration available to you. Through prayer, Bible reading, worship, and enjoying God’s presence in nature or in Christian fellowship, not to mention looking at all the names of God, all the testimonies of what He has done, and all the needs lifted up to Him, you have an endless supply of topics to write about.

Sometimes the inspiration is so vast and deep, you may need help to find a simple starting point. Your first starting point should always be prayer and allowing God to lead you. Sometimes it also helps to pray over specific writing prompts.

Here is a good resource that can help you in this process: Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary (published in three volumes, A, B, and C), Paul Scott Wilson, editor.

While the book’s title may not sound very inspiring, the book gives simple yet vivid themes, imagery, and hands-on application and description for weekly groupings of Bible verses. I’ve found this book to be helpful in coming up with ideas for Christian writing.

What is the Revised Common Lectionary?

The book is a companion to the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a weekly grouping of Bible verses that follows the Christian calendar and is used as a reference by many churches. Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary goes all the way through the Christian year. Many churches use the lectionary for their Bible readings, and many pastors write their sermons based on the lectionary scriptures.

The Revised Common Lectionary rotates every year:

Year A = 2019-2020

Year B = 2020-2021

Year C = 2021-2022

Then back to A again, and the cycle repeats.

The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary has three volumes: Preaching Year A, B, and C. These volumes correspond to the rotation described above.

How the Lectionary Companion Can Inspire Christian Writers

These guides are not just for preachers. They provide wonderful inspiration for Christian writers too, based on a year’s worth of Bible reading and weekly themes.

As a writer, you can use the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary to write about any of the lectionary verses. You don’t need to write seasonally or for that particular preaching year. Writers on a budget may not want to purchase all three volumes, and that’s okay. Just choose one and it will give you plenty of inspiration for your writing.

If you do decide to use the lectionary companion as a seasonal guide for a particular year (A, B, or C), it may give you an opportunity to write devotionals for your church. If your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, as many denominations do, your devotionals would add to the biblical experience. Even if your church doesn’t follow the lectionary, you would still be inviting readers to experience the Christian calendar through scripture.

Each week, the lectionary brings together four scripture passages spanning Old and New Testament. As a writer, you can choose one passage to focus on, or prayerfully see how the passages come together and write from that convergence.

The lectionary companion can inspire your writing in many ways. You might be inspired to write on the main theme highlighted in the companion guide. Or you might pick up on one of the theological questions that arise from the readings that week, discussed in the companion guide.

The lectionary companion also gives tangible descriptions and images for pastoral and ethical issues. These can often inspire writing that applies scripture in daily life. The companion also connects the Gospel reading to the bigger biblical narrative, and that connection can also inspire your writing.

You might decide to write one piece based on the lectionary readings for one week. Or you might choose a particular week and write several pieces, perhaps a week-long devotional collection that covers 6 or 7 days and explores the week’s theme more in-depth or from many angles.

Example of Topics for Christian Writers: Second Sunday of Advent

Let’s look at an example to see how the lectionary companion might inspire Christian writing. This example will be from Preaching Year A, second Sunday of Advent (Dec 8, 2019). The readings are Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12.

For that week, the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary, Preaching Year A, discusses themes of justice, hope, and peace.

Here are some topics you might write about for that theme, inspired by the lectionary companion:

  • How Jesus helps those who are oppressed.
  • How does the Holy Spirit bring justice, or peace, or hope?
  • What are the characteristics of the Holy Spirit? How do you know you’re seeing Him in action?
  • Testimony of when the Holy Spirit brought you into peace or gave you hope.
  • Letter of encouragement to someone who needs the Holy Spirit to meet them in their deepest needs.
  • How does hope give us glimpses of God’s kingdom in the midst of a suffering world?
  • How is biblical hope different from worldly hope or from specific concrete outcomes?
  • Who is Jesus as the Prince of Peace?
  • What kind of Peace does Jesus bring? How does it differ from the world’s peace? What are some examples of this contrast?
  • How does Jesus lead us to befriend one another? What are some specific illustrations?
  • What limits do we put on our hope? What does it mean to expect hope beyond those human limits? Testimony of a time when your idea of hope was expanded. When you were willing to stretch your hope, how did God change your heart?
  • How do we recognize the peace of Christ?
  • How does the peace of Christ differ from earthly peace? What are some examples of this contrast?
  • How do we move deeper into the peace Jesus offers? Helpful tips. Or what kind of story might illustrate this process?
  • Where does the world tempt us with its definition of peace, leading us away from the peace of Christ?
  • What wounding in us causes us to be tempted toward the world’s peace and away from the peace of Christ?
  • How do Isaiah and Paul (in the scripture verses above) suggest we (as individuals or as a church) move deeper into justice, hope, and peace?
  • How does our church relate to people who feel like outcasts or misfits? What would Isaiah or Paul say about it?
  • What do we need to repent of to see greater justice, hope, and peace in our midst?
  • How do we renew our hope?
  • What is the hope Jesus calls us to?

Those are just a few of the topics you might be inspired to write about after reading the lectionary companion for the second Sunday of Advent. If you dig deeper in prayer, you’ll have even more ideas and/or you can drill down further into one of these topics. Each week has new scriptures, new themes, and lots of inspiration for Christian writers.

Always Begin with Prayer

As always, read the scriptures and the lectionary companion prayerfully. See what God highlights for you, what stands out to you or speaks to your heart the most. Pray about which topic to work on next. Then present that topic to the Lord and let Him inspire you for how to approach it. There are so many different ways to write about each topic. Different angles, different readers, different testimonies, different types of writing. Your way will be as unique as you are in this moment.

As you grow in your Christian writing life, you will find many sources of inspiration. The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary is just one helpful source that I have enjoyed using. It can help you find themes, images, and tangible questions and applications from the lectionary readings. Of course, remember your Bible readings should always begin and end with prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Writing While Growing: Some Tips for Christian Writers

A friend and I were talking this weekend about Christian writing. Our conversation touched on a common concern of Christian writers, the concern of writing something that will lead someone astray. I have often told writers (and prayer ministers) that as long as you have that healthy concern, I am not worried about you. You are likely to be diligent and discerning, bringing everything before God and asking for feedback from trusted individuals before you publish anything. You will also be more humble in your writing, acknowledging what you don’t know and inviting your readers to explore along with you as you grow together. That is a healthy approach to writing.

The problem is that sometimes this healthy concern expands into paralyzing fear, and nothing ever gets written. The question “When do I know enough to write about it?” never finds its answer. Readers miss out because you were ready and you had something helpful to share, but fear kept you from publishing.

The conversation with my friend went more in-depth about this concern, and I would like to share some of what we touched on, in case it helps another writer with similar questions.

Sometimes Growth Means Re-Editing at a Later Date

My friend had observed how sometimes people write and publish their perspective on a Christian-related topic, assuming they have done their research. Then at a later date, after continued research and growth, they change their perspective. Should they have written that first piece or waited until they learned more? Of course, every situation is unique, so it’s hard to answer that question in general. But here goes my attempt.

Here is one example that came immediately to mind. This weekend, I re-edited one of my blog articles I wrote 7 years ago about centering prayer. Recently, I have discovered that some of the books I’ve read about centering prayer have been confusing for readers who are new to the topic. So I don’t want to refer to those books in a basic blog article. I went back to edit and remove the book references. If I had time to give a thorough background teaching, I might have left the book references in. But really the article was about spending quiet time with God. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive teaching about centering prayer. So I removed the reference to the books and republished the blog post with just the centering prayer reflections I had shared.

That’s an example of how we can write something where we are at in the moment, and then re-edit it later as we grow, learn, and discuss. In September 2012 when I first published that blog post, I was actively engaged in dialogue with those books for my own learning. I was also being taught about centering prayer in two separate venues: in seminary and in a ministry internship. So I had a deep contextual understanding (historical teaching, experiential training) of centering prayer. The books made sense to me, and I was able to take the meat and spit out the bones. But it wasn’t until I engaged those topics in a wider audience that I realized those books are not for newbies. If I didn’t plan to share the entire training in that blog post (would have been a book, not a blog article!), then I needed to not make reference to those particular books.

The Challenges for Readers and Writers

The reason for my concern is, as my friend mentioned in our conversation, unfortunately many people will read something and take it in at surface level without praying about it, asking questions, or digging deeper. Unfortunately many people who read Christian online content aren’t taught about accountability, even though the Bible reminds us of wisdom and safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). But many people aren’t taught that. Ideally when someone reads an article written by someone they don’t know, and it hits them sideways, they should go to people they trust and get their feedback. And also take it to God for His guidance. But so many people aren’t taught to do that. And if they know the author personally, then ideally they should ask the author first to explain. That not only helps the reader find clarity but might also help the author rewrite to clarify. So that is one of the challenges on the reader’s side.

On the writer’s side, often we write from the season we are in. And where else can (or should) we write from? We have to write from where we are sitting at the time. Otherwise we will never write. Then later, we experience growth, and maybe that shapes our perspective in ways that the reader can see the growth in our writing over time. Think about an author you have read for many years. I’ll bet you can literally see that author’s spiritual growth and life experiences shape the things she writes. In most situations, this growth will be gradual and will tend to move more deeply in the same direction. But in other cases we, as writers, may do an about face and realize something we said earlier does not line up with where our spiritual growth has brought us.

Ideally we will remember things we wrote earlier. If something needs to be edited or updated, we should go back and either change it or write a note updating it (or possibly delete it), or we can even create a new edition of a book with a new introduction explaining the changes. The reason for doing this is that the meat of the book is still valid, but we want to add a new perspective or context based on what we have learned over the years.

Sometimes an author has to just say they have changed their view, especially when it’s a sea change. And they need to be transparent and public about this. If they are influential or have a big following, they need to say it out loud and publicly. A prominent author that I read did that recently. He did a complete about face on a writing practice he had promoted for years. He publicly wrote a letter to his readers and told them he had changed and why he had changed.

For my own example, I originally wrote a guide to devotional writing. I wrote it 13 years ago, and 99% of it is still correct. But I no longer believe that a writer should write a devotional every day. I can’t even believe I said that, let alone believed it. That was before I had any inner healing. I hadn’t learned how to rest, to just “be,” and to let God order the rhythm of my day. If I were still in the writing community I was with at that time, I would issue a public correction of that guide. But that community no longer exists. So I simply took the guide off my website. Maybe one day I will have time to change the guidelines and republish them. But for now, they are just removed from my website because I no longer want to say anything remotely like that to a writer. Instead I spent the summer telling my online writing group why I haven’t been writing lately and why it is okay if they are having the same experience.

Writers Are Always Growing

We are always in a growing process spiritually. As Christian writers, we have the responsibility to do due diligence and make sure what we write lines up with scripture and God’s nature at the time when we are writing a particular piece, whether it be an article or a book. We need to be sure to ask for feedback on our work (before we publish) from trusted individuals who have a clearly demonstrated close walk with the Lord. This step is especially important in the age of blogging and self-publishing, where we lack the traditional layers of feedback that we would have found in working with Christian publishing houses. We also have the responsibility to follow spiritual health and growth practices like accountability, inner healing, and spending time with God and in His Word.

But we are always going to be growing. So we may, to the best of our understanding, write something that rings true at the time. But later we change our understanding and rewrite it from a place of growth. And ideally we help our readers see that transition where necessary, especially with a major about face.

We are accountable for the words we write – not just at the moment, but long after they are in print. While we are not responsible for someone’s response to our words, we do need to be aware of what we have spoken and repent when we realize our words may have been amiss. If we wrote and published something in the past, and now we realize that we were wrong, we ask and receive forgiveness. We ask God to help those who may have been confused by our words. That’s all part of growing up in Christ. And we take whatever steps are needed to publicly correct or remove those words so they don’t affect others. We’re like teenagers growing up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We make mistakes. We learn. We repent (means a complete change of heart in a new direction, i.e., the direction of God). We take responsibility for what we have published in the past to the best of our ability and ask God what we need to do to make it right. We don’t engage in self-destruction by beating ourselves up. And we move on as God leads us. We write again.

As writers, we engage in a two-way interaction with readers. The reader also has the responsibility to use discernment, feedback, clarification, and accountability rather than just taking things in superficially. If something doesn’t sit right, the reader needs to look into it or take the meat and spit out the bones. So both the reader and writer share responsibility for how a piece is written and consumed, always taking things before God and getting wise counsel on both ends of the process.

As writers, we are also avid readers (or should be). So, we need to remember this responsibility when we are in reader mode as well. And as reader-writers, we need to be careful not to judge the authors we read for the mistakes they make. Not only does the Bible tell us not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-3), but also in the ways we judge other writers, we might end up reaping those judgments in possibly greater proportion in our own writing (Galatians 6:7-9, Hosea 8:7). We need to read responsibly and stay accountable for the words we consume as readers. When we read something that seems amiss, we need to realize it could just as easily be us writing that way. We are called to forgive that writer for their mistakes, as we would hope others would do for us (Luke 6:31-36). Reading the heartfelt words of other writers is a privilege that comes with a reminder to stay humble in our writing.

No Fear

As long as we do our due diligence in our writing, we don’t need to be bound up by fear that would prevent us from publishing where we are in the moment. If we have done our best to use discernment and to be sure our work lines up with God and His Word, and if we have sought healthy and trustworthy feedback, we don’t need to be afraid to publish our work. We are always growing. If we wait till we have completely grown, we will never publish anything. (See my article “When It’s Time to Hit ‘Publish.’”) And people will miss out on the blessing of the writing we could have shared with them.

People read things from where they are spiritually at that time. So a writer who has just gone through a stage of growth may be writing for someone just going through that stage, and who better to write it? Further down the road they might both be in a different place. But the writer can trust that God used that written piece to encourage that reader at that particular point in time.

Limits, and What to Do with Them

I do think also a writer has to know her limits. If there is a part of the Bible she doesn’t understand, maybe she needs to write about something more familiar to her. She might need to spend a season growing in that area she doesn’t understand, before writing about it. But she shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that area of growth and step into it.

The writer may say, “I should just forget about that passage. It’s too hard for me.” But if God prompted it, that’s a great invitation to learn and grow. She shouldn’t just dismiss it as “out of reach.” Maybe she has a helpful perspective for sharing it with readers, and maybe that’s why she should be writing about it. The writer’s personal and unique life experiences might give her the right approach to share that scripture passage in a way that will resonate with certain readers. If the writer is willing to learn and grow, she may be writing about that passage before long in ways that surprise her.

Or maybe that particular Bible passage is not for her to write about but for her own personal growth instead. It also might be a stepping stone that will lead to writing about something else altogether.

No matter what, if she feels prompted by God, she shouldn’t dismiss it. I never thought I could write about Exodus 32-34 (or any passage from Exodus for that matter) until I took the time to immerse myself in Inductive Bible Study of that passage. I would have thought it was impossible for me to understand. But if I hadn’t worked through it, I would have missed the rich teaching and truths in that passage that are so helpful for intercessors in understanding how God responds to our intercession.

Granted, the writer who moves forward with a passage that is difficult for her does need to take the time to understand it first, at least enough for what she will be writing about. This is where the use of reliable, trustworthy commentaries can be helpful. Also, the writer should know (or get to know) some pastors or Spirit-led teachers that can help give feedback and perspective. It’s helpful to have several such people to ask questions of (wisdom and safety in a multitude of counselors, Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6) and be sure they come from different life perspectives.

Seek Feedback from Trusted Individuals with a Variety of Life Perspectives

I once had a pastor disagree with how I wrote about a particular Bible story. So I quit writing about that topic. Later I talked with other pastors who agreed with my perspective. What I realized was that the first pastor I asked about it was a happily married man. He didn’t see things from the perspective of a woman who had been through an abusive marriage. He didn’t understand the dynamics that come with that experience.

In the story I wrote, my emphasis was on how my personal anger (although certainly understandable and even partly righteous anger) had turned into bitter, long-term anger that continued to hurt me. This anger would have led me to cause further abuse if I hadn’t allowed God to heal me. My anger certainly did lead me to many more years of self-abuse. That wasn’t something the pastor could relate to. I believe he thought I was being unmerciful toward people who have been abused (in his defense, he didn’t know I had been abused). In reality, I was talking about the long-term damage that continues to affect a person long after they have been removed from the situation of abuse – the pain that comes with long-term bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and self-hatred. Often that damage has far worse consequences over time than the initial abuse, no matter how violent that abuse had been. We often do far deeper damage to ourselves than anyone else ever could. (I am the poster child for that, and I thank God for my healing.) The story I wrote ultimately showed how both abuser and abused person needed to seek Jesus’ healing at the cross.

It’s unfortunate that I stopped writing about those topics at that time. I would have written from a fresh perspective on it that might have resonated with people going through or recovering from abuse. I was remiss in not seeking out other pastors to talk to, instead of just listening to one person’s opinion. I failed to recognize that he didn’t have the life experience to see where I was going with the story I was writing. I also neglected to push back and discuss it further with him. That last point, had I done it, might have led to a fruitful discussion where he could have helped me see how to write it more clearly, and it also might have helped him grow in his understanding of his parishioners who were struggling with abuse. If not, the discussion might have led me to see why he couldn’t understand, so that I wouldn’t have dismissed a potential calling to write and publish on the internet for readers who were struggling with abuse.

Not All of Your Readers Are Christian

Whether we write on the internet or write books or articles for magazines, many of our readers may not be Christian. That is all the more reason for us to do our due diligence as writers and communicate clearly when we have experienced growth that changes or clarifies something we wrote – or in some cases to remove it or take it out of print if we are concerned it would lead someone astray.

At the same time, when we are writing pieces about spiritual growth for Christian readers, we don’t have the time or space to include everything that someone would need to understand if they are not Christian or if they are a new Christian. They are not our intended audience for that article or that book. The church needs to provide that growth and understanding for them. So we need to point them in the direction of a healthy church.

This is a reminder that we, as writers, should offer (in our books, on our websites, etc.) an invitation to pray for salvation, an actual prayer of salvation, and encouragement for that person to find a good church (and explain what that looks like). I try to include a salvation prayer and encouragement to find a healthy church in each of my books. But as I write this, I realize I don’t have such a prayer on my website or my blog. That will be the next section I add on my website.

Do Write

To sum up, I think it’s important that writers do their best to bring due diligence into their writing, to be sure it’s in line with God’s Word and His nature, and to get feedback and wisdom from multiple and trusted perspectives. I also think writers need to be diligent about their continued spiritual growth, inner healing, Bible study, prayer, accountability, and intentional quiet time with God.

Additionally, I think writers have a responsibility to be aware of what they have published in the past. When they experience a major change in perspective through a season of growth, they should make those new insights publicly available for their readers, either by publishing a new book edition with a new intro or republishing an article with a new intro. If that’s not possible – e.g., if a publishing company won’t let them – then at least they can share their insights publicly by writing a new article or delivering a podcast that informs their readers of their new perspective.

At the same time, I believe readers need to take responsibility for how they take in and respond to what they read, similar to those things mentioned above – accountability, wisdom from a multitude of counselors, their own Bible study and spiritual growth, and asking the author to clarify when they have questions. I think this is how God designed us to be in the body of Christ. And how wonderful if a piece of writing can inspire and remind us to practice these spiritual disciplines and ways of fellowship and accountability in the body of Christ.

If you are a Christian writer, let God lead you in all that you write. Practice spiritual health, growth, and discernment. Ask trusted people for feedback on your writing. Stay accountable and humble.

But do write. Do not be afraid. Trust the Holy Spirit to prompt you and help you. So many readers will be blessed.

Don’t Let Commentaries Slow Your Christian Writing

When I teach Christian writing classes, I emphasize the importance of Bible study. Christian writers have an incredible privilege of inspiring and encouraging readers to draw closer to God and to dig deeper into His Word. That means writers need to know the Bible and have a solid foundation for presenting scripture in their writing.

This doesn’t mean a devotional writer needs to be a scholar of biblical texts. But there are some basics that anyone writing about scripture needs to practice. One of these is the use of reliable biblical commentaries.

When I mention commentaries, a creative writer may sigh and think, There goes the inspiration or There goes the fun or even There goes the Holy Spirit. I get it. I often have the same response. But learning how to use reliable commentaries in minimal ways is important for Christian writers. And the use of commentaries does not need to slow or make tedious our inspirational writing.

I am creating this article as an encouragement to Christian inspirational writers on the importance of using commentaries and some simple and interesting ways to do so.

Why Should We Use Commentaries in Our Christian Writing?

As Christian writers, we need to look at reliable commentaries. Through our writing, we are expressing our voice in Christian community. We need to converse with others in the community over time and space. That need to engage in dialogue is also why we check more than one commentary and see where we find overlap, consensus, or disagreement. I recommend always consulting at least two commentaries to enhance our understanding of a particular Bible passage.

In our writing, we are pointing our readers to God’s Word. We need to understand the weight of doing that. We want to be sure we are presenting scripture in a way that reflects our own dialogue with Christian community, so we are presenting to the reader as a representative of that community. We’re all in this together.

We need to take some effort to grow in our understanding of scripture over the course of our writing lives. The Holy Spirit leads us as we search the depths of scripture. Commentaries offer a good aid along the way.

Our own wounding can cause us to skew the way we understand a Bible verse. Commentaries can help us sort it through and see more clearly.

The enemy loves to mess with Christian writers, telling us one or more of the following: our understanding of scripture is wrong or not good enough; we don’t have the biblical foundation to write about scripture; or we’re going to lead readers astray. The enemy wants to stop us from writing because he knows how powerfully God will use our writing. By consulting reliable commentaries, we will be able to discern and dismiss the lies of the enemy.

When we love scripture, as most Christian writers do, a good, trustworthy commentary can also provide insights that deepen our understanding of a Bible passage. That experience is something to treasure and appreciate. Good commentaries should add joy to the inspirational process of our Christian writing.

Some Tips for Using Commentaries with Ease

Consider your use of commentaries as part of your ongoing long-term biblical growth as a writer. Don’t let it slow your writing. Let your exploration of God’s Word (a lifelong process for all of us) continue to shape your writing as you go along. Start with where you are right now. Take it as God leads. He will guide you for sure!

1. When you start working with a Bible verse, don’t go to the commentaries right away. Begin with your own prayerful work with the Holy Spirit. Don’t consult commentaries until after you have done your own study of the Bible verse and surrounding passages. You want God to work the scriptures into your heart first. Then use the commentaries for confirmation and to shed light on additional layers to explore later.

2. Find your go-to source of commentaries now, so it doesn’t become a big deal each time. It is worth the up-front investment of time to line up the commentaries you will use as a writer. Start with your church. Does your church have a library? Ask your pastor for suggestions on how to find good, reliable commentaries. (Sadly, not all commentaries are trustworthy, so seek advice from your pastor.)

Do you have a college nearby with online databases? Many local colleges give free public access to databases, and many of those databases contain biblical commentaries. Some school library databases also have free online access to full-text articles that may focus on particular biblical passages. You can often search by chapter and verse. I recommend peer-reviewed articles as the most reliable. Talk to your local college reference librarian for help. They will be glad you’ve asked.

Commentaries can be expensive to buy, but keep your eyes on your favorite publishers. Sometimes they run sales on commentaries, and you will often find good discounts on e-book versions. If you enjoy working with a particular book of the Bible, it might be worth it to buy a good commentary focusing on that book.

Do you have fellow Christian writers in your church or community? Maybe create your own co-op for commentaries. Each person buys one, and then you share with each other.

If you invest the time up front to find good sources of commentaries, you will save time down the road when you are ready to consult those commentaries. You will know exactly where to go each time.

3. Start with Bible verses you know well. One of the best ways to get your feet wet with using commentaries is to start with Bible verses you already know. When you know the meaning of a verse really well, the use of a commentary won’t bring a huge learning curve. It will simply confirm what you already know. That’s one of the easiest ways to get used to looking at commentaries.

A commentary brings you into dialogue with Christian community regarding the interpretation of a Bible verse. For some of the more commonly referenced Bible verses, you have already lived out that dialogue in Christian community. You know the interpretation of that verse and can be confident of how you are sharing it with your readers.

When I chose the Bible verse for my devotional, “Firelight,” I was very certain the core message in my devotional expressed at least part of the meaning of that verse. Why? Because I’ve heard that verse taught, preached, sung, and lived out over my entire life. I had already experienced conversation about the verse in Christian community.

So, start with Bible verses you have heard taught and discussed many times. Verses you know well. Then see how the commentaries reaffirm what you already know. That’s a great way to get used to using commentaries.

4. Start by reading just a few paragraphs from a commentary. For devotional writing and many other inspirational writing projects, you will most likely focus on one Bible verse at a time. You don’t need to read a huge portion of a commentary, just the part that covers your verse. You can read more, of course, but don’t let that cause you to put your writing project on hold. Take baby steps and grow from there. Take a quick peek at the commentaries and keep writing.

5. When you start out, you will notice how much the commentary agrees with your own understanding of your Bible verse. That shouldn’t surprise you because you know God’s Word. That’s really all you need to do: just confirm your understanding of that verse with reliable sources. It’s great if you want to explore further and discover where the commentary offers new insights. If you have a really good commentary, you may find that enjoyable. But you don’t need to do that at the start. Simply confirm: “Yep. We agree!”

6. Remember Bible verses will often have layers and nuances of meaning. If you are writing devotionals, your message will be very focused. You will just be looking at one aspect of the Bible verse you are writing about. You can skim the commentary, looking for your particular focus, and skip all the other aspects the commentary covers. That way you won’t get overwhelmed by all the layers of meaning.

When you are starting out as a Christian inspirational writer, keep it simple. Take one step, then another. With each step, you will move more deeply into your journey of Christian writing. Before long, commentaries will become a simple and natural part of prayerful preparation for your writing.

 

When God Prompts You to Write – Write

I can’t tell you how many times the enemy has planted seeds of doubt regarding my calling as a writer. I’ve also talked with so many writers who feel the same way.

I’m writing this first of all to tell you – do not listen to the enemy. He lies!

Secondly, if God has called you to write (you wouldn’t be reading this if He didn’t), step into your calling, knowing God has an amazing purpose in everything He gives you to write.

Let me share an example. I am currently reading the second novel in a Christian series. The reviews of this novel have been harsh.

While I understood why those readers were disappointed (there are so many typos and cliches that suggest another round of edits and proofreading were needed), I felt like I wanted to continue reading the series, despite those distractions.

Why? Mainly because I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to continue to see how their fictional lives grew and transformed.

So here I am, halfway through the second novel. The main character has been facing a lot of adversity. I haven’t missed the irony that her situation is painfully similar to mine.

Maybe I have sensed a kindred spirit in the author’s description of this character. And maybe I am persevering to see what God will do in her circumstances, to add to my own hope for my struggles.

And there, right smack in the middle of the book, a woman asks the main character if she can pray for her. And the author writes the prayer. (I noticed many Kindle readers highlighted that prayer.)

As I read the words of the prayer, they spoke exactly to my situation. By the end of the prayer, the main character and I were both in tears. And I absolutely received that prayer in my heart, just as if I had been standing in the room with that character and hearing those words prayed over me.

God gave the author the words of that prayer – for me and obviously (by the number of highlights) so many others like me. The author was faithful to write and publish those words – even at the cost of getting harsh reviews. Today, that prayer has made an impact in my life. I am so grateful the author was obedient in her calling.

If you are called to write, I can assure you God has a purpose in everything He will give you to write. Sometimes the purpose will be for you, your growth, and your relationship with Him. At other times, the purpose will be for a reader like me, to give God another way of speaking into that reader’s life at a crucial moment.

He knows what the purpose is. He just asks that you write. Don’t let the enemy or your own self-doubts stand in the way. When God prompts you to write – write.

 

 

Devotional Writing: Two Ways to Begin

This lesson is taken from my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.”

While a classic-style devotional begins with a Bible verse and is followed by a reflection (sometimes called a meditation, or story), that may not be the order in which the inspiration comes to you.

Sometimes you will start with the Bible verse, and then you will ask God to help you write a reflection that relates to the verse.

At other times, you will start the other way around – you will know the story, the object lesson, or the testimony first, and then you will ask God to lead you to the scripture verse which that story expresses.

Notice I said that the story expresses the scripture verse, and not the other way around. It is tempting to make the scripture verse fit the story, but that’s not what you want to offer to your readers. Whether the Bible verse or the story comes to you first, you want your readers to begin with scripture. The story should help your readers see the scripture verse at work in daily life. So, even if you get the story first, and then you find a scripture verse to go with it, be sure you are using a scripture verse for which that story is a natural expression – as if it had come to you the other way around.

For example, if I am writing a story about hope, I want to be sure the scripture verse is about hope. If my reflection or testimony is about healing, I want to be sure the Bible verse I use speaks a message of healing that sheds light on my story. A common mistake is to write the story, quickly grab a Bible verse that “sounds like” the story, and put them together. Take the prayerful time you need to find the right verse. If God gave you the story, He will give you the verse.

This is where it helps to dig deep with the Holy Spirit into your study of the Bible. Be sure you know the verses you are using and what they mean. Spend regular time in the Word. Let the Spirit lead you. Look at each Bible verse in the full context of the surrounding passage.

Make Spirit-led Bible study a spiritual practice – not just when you are preparing a devotional. The more you meet God in His Word, the more that understanding will come to you as you write. Even when you gain a deeper understanding of the Word, always stay humble and be open to God’s instruction and leading. This process is as much for your spiritual growth and your relationship with God as it is for your readers. God will use it for both, if you let Him.

Activity:

Begin with prayer and ask God to lead you in this process. Choose a Bible verse. Read the verse several times, meditating and praying over the verse. Then read the surrounding passage. Ask God to help you see how that verse connects with the larger context of the whole passage. The process of lectio divina is very helpful here. If you are not familiar with lectio divina, you might enjoy learning about it. This is a common way of scripture meditation practiced at monasteries.

After you understand the verse in its own original context (as those who heard it for the first time would have heard it), then pray about what that verse means to you today. Write down whatever God shows you – it might be emotions, a story you have experienced, ideas, specific problems people struggle with, or even a different Bible passage. Don’t edit yourself. Just makes notes in your journal – whatever comes to you. Don’t leave anything out.

That is the depth of immersing yourself in the Word that you will want to bring to every scripture verse in your devotionals. It takes time, but it is worth the effort, and God will use that time to work in your heart as well. Get in the habit of doing this every time you write a devotional, whether you begin with scripture or come to the Bible verse after you have the story. The time with God will affect your life in so many ways beyond the devotional you are working on.

At the end of this time, if the Bible verse turns out not to be the right one for your devotional, that is okay. You had an amazing time with God. You were shaped by His Word. And you have still come away with journal notes that might lead to other devotionals in the future. Keep those references in your journal. You never know when God will prompt you to use them down the road.

God, thank You for every moment we get to spend with You in Your Word. What a life-changing privilege every time. In Jesus’ name. Amen

*****

If you would like to learn more about devotional writing and take a guided, self-paced, online course where you will write a devotional and receive feedback from your instructor, you might enjoy my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.” Come visit the course page, and you can get started with devotional writing today.

Read as a Writer: A Lesson for Devotional Writers

This lesson is taken from my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.”

In this lesson, we are going to read several devotionals. Hopefully, this reading will be enjoyable for you. The more you enjoy devotional reading, the more that joy will come through in your devotional writing. And the more devotionals you read, the easier it will be when it comes to writing your own.

As you read the devotionals in this lesson, I want you to read specifically as a writer. This lesson will take some time, but it is well worth the effort. You are setting a foundation that will help you greatly when you begin to write your own devotionals. Enjoy this time, move slowly through this process, and make the most of it. This is all time spent with God. Be blessed.

Finding Devotionals to Read

You might have a favorite source of devotionals. If so, you can go ahead and turn to that now. If you don’t have devotionals on hand, here are several places where you can find them:

The Upper Room publishes devotional booklets, and they also publish some of their devotionals online. If you visit their website at https://www.upperroom.org/devotionals you can immediately read some of their devotionals.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association publishes daily devotionals online in calendar format, which is very user-friendly. If you visit this website https://billygraham.org/devotions/ you can read today’s devotional or any devotional titles that grab your attention.

My own website Adventures with God is a place where you can read some of the devotionals I have written. Here is a link to the “devotional” category on my blog – this will bring up a list of devotionals you can scroll through: https://adventureswithgod.blog/category/devotionals/

These are just a few sources of free online devotionals to get you started. You will discover many more as you grow as a devotional writer.

Reading Devotionals as a Writer

First, pick three devotionals to read. Here’s what you will do with each devotional, one at a time:

1. Read it first, straight through, prayerfully, as a reader. Do this just to get the context and understanding.

2. Now, re-read it, and this time, read it as a writer.

What does that mean?

Try to see what choices and decisions the writer made in creating this devotional. Put yourself in the writer’s place and think about why certain words are used, and why certain stories are shared.

As you go through each devotional, reading as a writer, I recommend capturing your reflections and making notes in your journal. This will help you later on, when you get ready to write your own devotional.

The steps that follow will help you in learning to read devotionals as a writer. Be sure, most of all, to pray and let the Holy Spirit lead you in this process.

3. As a writer, look at the devotional’s message.

Think about what the person who wrote this devotional is trying to get across. What is the main message? How does the writer share this message? Does the writer share a story, a teaching, or a personal reflection?

Can you tell if the message is important to the writer? What are some clues to this? Does the writer use certain words that show how much the writer cares about the message?

Do you feel like the writer cares about you, the reader? What makes you feel that way? Be as specific as possible – is it certain words, a feeling you get, the way the message is written?

4. As a writer, consider how the devotional affects you, and why.

What impact does this devotional have on you? Does it make you want to read the Bible more? Pray? Serve? What specific response do you have after reading this devotional?

Now get even more specific: What did the writer do to encourage these responses? What part of this devotional makes you want to pray, read the Bible, or help someone else?

5. Read the entire Bible passage.

Let’s go a little deeper. In your Bible, look up the Bible verse that begins this devotional.

Note: You can use a printed or electronic Bible. As a devotional writer, you may discover that using your own physical Bible will help you connect more deeply with the Holy Spirit in your writing. However, I understand that sometimes writers do well when they are out in nature or in different settings. You might not be able to bring a physical Bible with you. A Bible app on your phone is still God’s Word. Do what works best for you. What is most important is that you connect with God in His Word as you read and write devotionals.

Now that you’ve looked up the Bible verse that leads off the devotional, read the entire passage that surrounds this verse. The whole passage might include what comes before the verse, after it, or both. You decide how much to read, but be sure to read everything that is relevant to that verse.

How does the devotional message connect with that entire passage? Are there other lessons in the passage? Would they also make for good devotionals?

Why do you think the writer shared this particular verse, and this particular lesson? What lesson might you have shared about this passage?

Take your time with this process. Spend your time prayerfully with God. Enjoy it. Make the most out of it, and don’t rush through it. By taking your time with this exercise, you are building a strong foundation for yourself as a devotional writer.

When you have finished going through the first devotional with the eyes of a writer, move on to the next one. I recommend you go through this process with three devotionals before completing this lesson. It takes time, and effort, but it will be well worth it when you begin planning and writing your own devotionals.

For Reflection: Do you have any insights you want to include in your journal for your future reference? Anything you’ve experienced through this process that might help you when you start writing your devotionals? Write those notes while they are fresh in your heart, and they will serve you well later on.

God, thank You for the privilege of helping us read devotionals with the eyes and heart of a writer. We are grateful to enjoy this time with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen

*****

If you would like to learn more about devotional writing and take a guided, self-paced, online course where you will write a devotional and receive feedback from your instructor, you might enjoy my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.” Come visit the course page, and you can get started with devotional writing today.

When It’s Time to Hit “Publish”

For those who are called to write, I believe it’s important to listen to God’s timing with every piece we publish. Sometimes that means projects are delayed while God works the topic through our own hearts so we can share it with others. But there are also situations where God’s timing is “now” even though we may hesitate to put our work out there.

One of the biggest struggles I see with writers (myself included) is holding back, waiting too long, wanting to do one more edit or more research or … Editing is important. Knowing your readers is important. So is the timing of God’s message and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

But at some point, you need to hit “Publish.”

The reality is we can always do a “better” job. Ideally, we are growing and improving every day. But it’s okay to have a first book. Or an article that was your best today, even if next week you write something better. You have to start somewhere.

If you struggle with this, read a work by your favorite author – and choose one that you consider that author’s best work to date. After you read that piece, go back and read one of that author’s earliest pieces of writing. You will see the difference. Even with an author like Hemingway – his earlier pieces are entertaining, but they don’t have the same depth as his later writing.

Every writer has a first published piece – if they hit “Publish.” If they keep writing, they also have a collection of early pieces. Even when they start to improve, some later pieces will be better than others. And the piece you write that is not your best may be the very one that resonates with someone and makes an impact.

As Christian writers, we have a life-giving message to share. Jesus offers good news every minute of every day. Someone out there needs to hear His message shared through your experiences and your heart. Even if it’s your first piece. Even if you know you will write better one day. Even though we are all imperfect vessels – God chooses to work through us. But you have to hit “Publish.”

Maybe you feel that your testimony is not complete. You’re right. It isn’t. As long as you are on this earth, God will continue working in your life to transform you. But the testimony you have today may be exactly what someone needs to read today.

I write about areas of my life where I’m not completely healed. I share what God has done so far. Because that is enough of an encouragement for someone else to seek Him for healing. They don’t need to know the final chapter of my story. They just need encouragement to move forward on their journey.

If you have a piece of writing and you know it’s time to share it (God keeps nudging you), ask yourself why you are hesitating. Then take those concerns to God and ask Him to help you.

If you have questions about how your writing comes across (perhaps on a sensitive topic), ask trusted friends to read it and tell you how they hear it. It amazes me how many times I have concerns about something I write, but my friends read it and tell me it sounds fine.

I’ve been on the other side of that as well. Friends ask me to read things they are worried about. But I see nothing of concern in their written piece. This is one of so many reasons God puts us in fellowship with others. Don’t neglect to ask for help and prayers from your support network.

Have you done the best you can do to prepare that written piece thoughtfully and prayerfully? Do you feel like God is saying, “It’s time”? Then pray over your written work. (Have trusted friends pray over it too.) Ask God to move through the words in your writing to touch hearts in the ways He already intends to do.

And then publish it and share it so people can be blessed by the message of good news you are sharing. Thank you for being a Christian writer.

Volunteer Christian Writers Are Valuable to Small Ministries

Christian writing and blogging
Photo by Pixelcreatures at Pixabay

Are you a new or aspiring Christian writer looking for writing experience? Search your community or region and see if there is a small ministry where you can volunteer to help with their website or blog.

Even today, many small ministries don’t have a website. For those who do, often the website does not have a blog. There’s no time for it, and no money. What a great way for you, as a new writer, to volunteer.

Websites and blogs benefit small ministries. They help the right people find, learn about, and build trust with the ministry. The very people who would benefit the most from what that ministry offers don’t even know the ministry exists. When those people search online for answers to their problems, wouldn’t it be great if that ministry’s website and blog articles appeared in their search?

A website with an up-to-date blog also shows that the ministry is active and interacts with real people. That visible activity encourages individuals to reach out and contact the ministry. A great blog gives people a preview of what it’s like to interact with that ministry.

Despite all the benefits of a website and active blog, most small ministries don’t have the time or staff to write online. For a small ministry that doesn’t have a website, creating one seems like a big hurdle, something to put on next year’s “to research” list. Blogging feels like a luxury. What if you could help?

All the work doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders, either. (Actually, the Lord shoulders all of this. He invites you to come alongside. Matthew 11:28-30.) You can find supporters for that ministry and engage them in writing for the blog. You will find even more benefits to that process, as those same supporters will become more active in helping the ministry and spreading the word.

At that point, not only will you have an opportunity to grow as a writer. You will also gain experience as an editor and blog manager. Blogs are a great way to learn writing, editing, using images, and interacting with the dashboard of a website. Blog posts are easy to link to social media, so there is another opportunity for you to grow as a social media writer and manager.

All while helping a ministry get the word out about what it offers.

The best benefit of all is getting the word out on the internet about the good news of Christ.

If volunteering for a ministry sounds like a good way for you to grow as a writer, here are some tips for getting started:

1. Pray. Ask God to lead you to the right ministry.

2. Talk with your pastor about local ministries that need volunteer help.

3. Learn about ministries that are active in your local community.

4. Do a google search for small ministries in your region. Check to see if they have a website and/or a blog. If not, pray about reaching out to them. Do some research first to learn more about who they are and what they do. (Sadly, there are still some scams out there that use the covering of a “ministry.”)

5. Pray again!

Then reach out. Tell them you are a new writer and willing to volunteer in exchange for the experience. It will help if you have your own blog (no matter how simple) to point them to. Maybe have a few sample blog articles to show them. If you don’t have any of this yet, don’t let that stop you from reaching out. Just be honest with them about where you are as a new writer.

As you prepare to start helping that ministry, learn all you can about what makes for a good blog post. There are many good, free resources online, which you will find if you do a google search. Also start learning some basics about the best content for a simple website. And continue to hone your skills as a writer. Become involved with a Christian writing or other writing organization. Join a critique group. Keep learning, writing, and growing.

On behalf of every small ministry that needs help, thank you for reading this article and reaching out with your writer’s heart, wherever God sends you. God bless you!

Writing a Spiritual Legacy

Have you ever thought about writing a spiritual legacy?

A special kind of journal, your spiritual legacy is a gift you can give to your children, grandchildren, other family members, young people you mentor, and friends.

Your spiritual legacy shares your spiritual journey in a very short, simple format: things God has done in your life, favorite Bible verses, spiritual wisdom and encouragement you would like to share.

It’s like a scrapbook with words – and pictures can be added as well. You can even incorporate the written pages of your spiritual legacy into a larger scrapbook about your journey with God.

You can write and share a spiritual legacy at any stage of life. Imagine your children growing up and having their own kids, and then reading the spiritual legacy you wrote when you were a young parent. Imagine your grandchildren and great grandchildren also reading your spiritual legacy when they become new parents. What a blessing!

Think about other milestones of life, like starting your first career, or turning 40, or entering retirement. You can create a spiritual legacy at any stage. As you get older, put your spiritual legacies all together and reflect on your ongoing journey with God through every stage of life.

A lot of people wait until later in life to write their memoirs. Hindsight can certainly be valuable for sharing wisdom through memories. But with a spiritual legacy, you will also bless your family by writing in the moment when things are happening. Then look back later and see how you have grown. Let your kids and their kids experience your journey written live, as it unfolds.

To help you get started with your spiritual legacy, I have created a spiritual legacy journal available on Amazon. This book gives you a different journal prompt and Bible verse on each page to help you write your spiritual legacy. The rest of the page is blank for you to fill in your thoughts, memories, wisdom, prayers, and blessings for those who will read it.

If you are a writer, you can help other people write their spiritual legacies as well.

Write a Prayer

Today’s post is a lesson from my free online intro course for Christian writers: Begin Your Christian Writing Adventure!

Dear Lord, thank You for helping us to grow as writers. We ask that You will guide us, so that Your heart will shine through each word we write. In Jesus’ name. Amen

In the last lesson, we talked about how your writing starts from your relationship with God. Your writing also begins with prayer. Prayer is simply conversation with God – and that’s exactly what you did in the last lesson. Your letter to God was a prayer.

All of your writing should be bathed in prayer. Pray before you write. Write from a prayerful spirit. Take breaks during your writing time to pray. Talk to God as you write. Ask Him any questions you have, or share your concerns with Him. Don’t wait – stop and talk with Him as concerns come up. Listen for His wisdom. He knows exactly how to help you. Then close each writing session with prayer.

As you pray through your writing, not only will this help you as a writer (and as a person). Your prayerful writing will also invite the Holy Spirit to move through your words. God will touch readers in ways you can’t begin to expect. Think about the last time God affected you through a piece of writing. He will do the same for others through the words He inspires in you.

I’ve had readers share with me that a certain word or phrase spoke directly to their heart. Some of these were phrases I didn’t even remember writing. But God knew what they needed to hear. He helped me write the words, crafted for people I didn’t even know. He reached through those words to touch their hearts in unique ways that I could never have done. The key was prayer.

In addition to writing with a prayerful heart, you can also allow God to use the writing gift He has given you to write prayers for people. It may be an email to someone in need; a prayer offered on a blog or in a magazine for a specific type of situation; or a collection of prayers in a book.

Your church might enjoy having prayers written on the website or social media pages, in the newsletter, or in the Sunday bulletin. I used to lead a writing ministry at a church. Together, we created responsive prayers for different occasions. As a prayer leader, I was also asked to write sample prayers for healing. And I enjoyed writing short prayers for different seasons in the church newsletter and daily news emails.

In whatever ways God leads you, you can write prayers that will help people.

Today is your chance to get started with prayer writing. Here is today’s writing exercise:

Write a prayer.

It can be a prayer for someone you are praying for right now. Or a prayer for something you are going through. You might think of a situation and write a prayer for someone in that situation. It might be a prayer for a friend who is ill … for a child about to take a test at school … for a new believer to share thanks with Jesus. Ask God to lead you, and pray before you start to write.

Remember not to edit yourself – just write. Write from your heart, prayerfully.

When you finish, you may simply want to read your prayer out loud to God. If your prayer is for a particular person, you might want to email it or write it in a prayer card to mail to that person, if that seems appropriate and if the Lord leads. If you have a blog, and if your prayer is for a general or common situation (i.e., not for a particular person), you might want to share your prayer so other readers can pray that prayer too, for their own situations.

Or the prayer you write may just stay between you and God. There’s no pressure to share with others. Only if you want to.

P.S. After you finish writing your own prayer, turn to John 17:20-26 and be blessed by the prayer Jesus prayed for you when He walked on this earth.

If you would like more lessons like this one, my free, self-paced, online course Begin Your Christian Writing Adventure is waiting for you. The course includes feedback on your final course project. And the course is Free! Come on in.