This was a devotion I gave to the South Carolina chapter of ACFW.
For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring’ (Acts 17:28).
As a writer, this verse is special to me. It crystallized in my mind why I get joy from writing stories. I imagine characters and stories for them. These characters become real people in my mind, who have dreams and aspirations, who make decisions, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but I love them because they are a part of me. They live and move and have their being inside me, in the same way that every person, along with this world we live in, lives and moves and has their being inside God. And since you are writers, I think it’s safe to assume you have had that same experience. There are entire worlds inside us that need us to give them expression in the world. And like God, words are the vehicle we have chosen to express it.
It’s not much different from the creativity God exercised in making the heavens and the earth. God first imagined them, and then used words to bring it all forth into existence. This world we inhabit exists, we exist, because God is creative. And as humans made in God’s image, “his offspring,” God has given us the same creativity, and that is both thrilling and humbling.
Creativity has always been important in communicating the Word of God to people who do not see its relevance for their lives. Think of the creativity Paul had to use as he spoke this verse. In the 17th chapter of Acts, he is speaking to a group of people in Athens. He wants to tell them that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised in the scriptures. But they are gentiles. The scriptures are Jewish. The Messiah is a Jewish hope. They worship many gods, but the God of the Bible is not one of them. To get them to listen, he first has to answer the ever-present unspoken questions, “So what? Why should I care?” How does he do that? He gets creative.
- He starts by talking about them – tactfully. “I see you are a very religious people,” he says. Even this statement is creative. If you read the whole chapter of Acts 17, you know what Paul really wants to say is, “I see you are a very idolatrous people.” Religious or idolatrous? Both words are honest, but one is much less negative. Creativity allows you to be tactful when it’s appropriate.
- He makes a connection with something they can see. He mentions an idol inscribed “to an unknown god,” and says, “That is the god I want to talk to you about.” With that, he has made a connection with their world. They know what he says now is relevant to them. But it’s still too soon to talk about scripture and messiahs.
- He continues with a theme that they are much more likely to respond to. He talks about one God who made all things and all people, Jews and gentiles. If he can convince them that the God of the Jews is their God as well, then they can see that the Messiah was sent for them and not just the Jews. Then they will listen to what he really wants to tell them.
- He even uses their own pop culture. In the verse we started with, he quotes two pagan poets. Notice in his whole speech, he does not quote one scripture. That seems counter-intuitive, considering that everything Paul said and did was rooted in scripture. Paul knows this audience doesn’t care about the scriptures. So he uses something from their own culture to point toward Jesus and the scriptures. If you can point and get them looking, you have a better chance of influencing them than if you quote sources that mean nothing to them.
There will be a time later for them to hear about Jesus as the Messiah. But for now, Paul is meeting them where they are, not where they should be. By the time he is finished, an audience has gathered around him. Some of them leave, but others say, “We would like to hear more about this.”
A lot of people say they don’t like Christian fiction because it’s too preachy. I have to admit I’m one of them. I think what people mean when they say that is it’s not creative. The characters are not fully developed, because the author did not get to know them. They are just props and mouthpieces for a sermon. If they aren’t real to you, they won’t be real to the reader. This makes me sad, because I think now more than ever, there is a gap between the Word of God and people’s understanding. Throughout the Bible, Paul, Jesus, the prophets, and the disciples used words and creativity to bridge that gap. As writers, words and creativity are our stock and trade, so we are in a unique position to bridge that gap.
Now I’m happy to say that in the last few years, I have found writers – some in this room, even – who are bucking that stereotype. They give the reader characters who talk and act like real people. They give them a compelling story with believable action that leads to a satisfying conclusion. They understand that in a story, the goal is to show your values, not tell them. They are learning the craft of storytelling and using it to maximize their God-given creativity. They use their stories to point, not to preach.
So let your characters live and move and be who they are. Tell their joys and sorrows, their tragedies and triumphs, or better yet, show don’t tell. If you do that, you are much more likely to make your readers say, “We would like to hear more about this.”
Let us pray.
Creator God, thank you for sharing your gifts of creativity and language with us. Help us to use it wisely, to tell good stories, to know the words you want us to share that will make our stories and characters come alive for our readers.