David slays Goliath with a sling and stone

David after Goliath: A Writing Devotion

Badge-2018 Writer's Digest Writing Competition Award Winner

This was originally a devotional for the June 24, 2017 meeting of the South Carolina chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). I am proud to say it won an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Writer’s Digest Annual Competition.

David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground (1 Sam 17:49).

I remember when the writing bug bit me. I thought about Jesus and the sinful woman in Luke, and something stirred in me. I grabbed a pen and notebook and started writing the story as if Jesus were telling it. I didn’t think about it. I wouldn’t even have attempted it if I had. But somehow the story just flowed out of me. I looked at it and realized I had to be a writer.

After that, it was like I was on a writer’s high. I wrote constantly and thought everything on the pages was brilliant. I would write, look at it, and I was like, “I can’t believe I wrote this.”

Some months later, the high wore off. As I studied more about what makes good writing, I found my writing actually had “amateur” written all over it. My clever turns of phrase were really clichés. My profound comments on the human condition were breaking connection with my POV character. My masterpieces were filled with rookie mistakes: Weak verbs, info-dumps, irrelevant details, characters that were spokespersons for my beliefs rather than real people, not enough emotion and suspense, too much internal dialogue, telling not showing. And I looked at it, and I was like, “I can’t believe I wrote this.” Not in the good way.  I was writing, but I still had a lot to learn about the craft of writing publishable stories.

We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath. Do you remember that when David told Saul he would fight the giant, Saul gave him his armor and weapons? And what happened? That’s right. He did not take it. The armor probably didn’t fit. Don’t forget Saul was the tallest man in Israel. That’s why they wanted him to be king. And David had never worn armor or used a sword or spear. So he went into the fight with what he knew, a sling and five smooth stones from the brook.

David slays Goliath with a sling and stone
Armor? Shields? Swords? Spears? Nah, I just need a sling and some stones.

But after that initial glory, David would be called upon to lead the armies of Israel. He had to learn new skills and techniques. He had to learn how to speak in a commanding and inspiring manner, make battle plans, lead marches, choose terrain for battle, maneuver units to outflank the enemy, coordinate infantry, chariots, archers and slingers, and start wearing the armor and using the sword and spear he had not been ready to use against Goliath.

As writers, we will probably never be called upon to lead armies or kill giants. Unless we write stories about them. But like David, this calling to be a writer will require we learn new skills and concepts like, plotting, characterization, style, dialogue, creating scenes, point of view, how to work in description and backstory without bringing the action to a screeching halt, and what exactly does “Show don’t tell” mean?

So if you find yourself annoyed with all the technical stuff about writing, think about David. He may have had moments when he pined for his sling and a giant to take down, just like I sometimes pine for when I first started writing, and I didn’t have to worry about style or technique. I just enjoyed so much seeing my thoughts come to life on the page. But after Goliath, there were no more giants. If David was going to make the transition from baddest slinger in the Middle East to commander of the armies and eventually to king of all Israel, it was time to put his sling down, put his armor on, and practice with his sword and shield. So like David, we also need to put away our old ways of writing, when we were amateurs, and learn how to be professional writers. And also like David, whatever new adventures writing brings you, keep your faith in God.

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Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your gift of the written word. Bless this ACFW chapter to train and equip these people gathered here to make the most of their gift and calling, so that we may point others to the light of Christ. And it’s in his name we pray. Amen.

Creativity and God

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.

The Word was with God and the Word was God

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.

Jesus writing in the sand

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Further Reading

62 Bible Verses on Writing