Several evangelical writers share how prayer shapes their writing process.
I love communicating through written words. Much of that flows from loving what (or who) I usually write about: Jesus Christ or some aspect of following Him.
Like many who write, I often find myself frustrated staring at a flashing cursor on a blank page. Being stuck or unable to focus reminds me that even the most gifted writers can’t accomplish anything apart from Christ (John 15:5). To make a Kingdom impact through writing, crying out to Him for wisdom, direction, and clarity is essential.
As I thought through prayer and writing, I decided to reach out to several evangelical writers, authors, and editors to see how prayer shapes their creative process. While one might describe this exercise as ‘so straight forward it is almost embarrassing,’ I think there is much to appreciate for writer and non-writer alike. I hope this collection of contributions encourages you to depend more fully on our God no matter what your craft is.
“It has always been difficult for me to spend great lengths of time in prayer, and sometimes it’s been a cause of discouragement. On the other hand, God has graciously taught me about prayer and dependence on Him throughout the day. I often get on my knees for brief periods in my office. I pray as I hear of needs. Nanci and I stop and pray together various times throughout the day. I ask God to help me see prayer as an adventure in which I come into His presence and behold Him, and become so absorbed with Him that I don’t want to do anything else. I’ve had tastes of that, but long for more.
I often think about how wonderful it will be on the New Earth, as resurrected beings, to see God’s face, to consciously delight in everything around me as a direct extension of God’s magnificence. I will never have to guard my eyes, restrain my thoughts, question my motives, or wonder what else I need to confess. In short, I’ll be free of my sin-tainted self, and fully free to be the Christ-empowered righteous self God designed me to be, in continual conscious recognition of Him. This is at the heart of prayer, I think, and I ask God to help me taste that not only in the short sessions throughout the day, but in longer prayer times as well.
Taped to my computer is the verse, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” I’m always keenly aware of this truth, but never more than when I write a book.”
—Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), and the author of forty books, including Heaven. Read more about Randy’s writing process or follow Randy on Twitter @RandyAlcorn.
“Writing about the Christian life, theology, and the Word of God… It’s easy to be clever or seem knowledgeable out of my own power. But here’s the thing: only a fool tries to write about such things without coming before God in prayer. And that’s what prompts prayer in my creative process. I pray because I don’t want to be foolish. Here’s what that looks like:
- I start by asking the Lord for wisdom as I write. To help me communicate clearly, truthfully, and helpfully.
- As I write, I will periodically stop and pray or pray while working. Does it make sense? Am I being helpful? Am I off-track? This sometimes results in me setting an article aside for weeks, months, or years.
- When I’m done, I ask, “Is this honoring to you? Is it helpful for building up your people?”
This is not a glamorous process, but it is helpful for me. Lord willing, it’s helpful for those who read what I write as well.”
—Aaron Armstrong is the Brand Manager of The Gospel Project, and the author of several books. He blogs daily at bloggingtheologically.com and can be found saying silly things on Twitter at @Aaronstrongarm.
“When we pray, we are identifying and expressing our deepest longings, entrusting them to God’s hands. As a writer, these longings often include writing goals or projects that I may feel called to but am too fearful to attempt. But when I finally put that goal on my prayer list or voice it to God, I’m forced to own both my desire for it as well as my inability to accomplish it. In my experience, God’s goals for my writing are usually bigger than my own, and the process of prayer moves me past “safe” projects into places of deep dependency, and ultimately, better craft.”
—Hannah Anderson is an author who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where she serves beside her husband in rural ministry and cares for their three children. Her most recent book is Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul(Moody). You can find more of her writing at sometimesalight.com, hear her on the weekly podcast Persuasion, or follow her on Twitter @sometimesalight.
“Let’s be honest: we all do not pray as much as we should. Frankly, as a creative, I struggle with this because, at times, we creatives arrogantly think of ourselves as the Creator instead of the creature, gifted by the Creator to create. We have an illusion of control. But I find that when I do pray, when I set aside every digital input and meditate over Scripture and spend time with God, prayer has a kind of catalytic effect on my creativity. This humble act of worship, bowing before God and recognizing my dependence on Him as the source of my gifs ironically frees me to develop ideas and write without inhibition.”
—Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). Dan is the author of several books, including his latest, The Original Jesus. Learn more about Dan or follow him @dandarling.
“The connection between prayer and my writing is so straightforward that it is almost embarrassing. I have a devotional time every workday morning, which includes Bible reading and prayer. My prayer topics rotate every day of the week, but one prayer that I offer virtually every morning is that I would glorify God in my work. Most days, that work will include me trying to write at least 1000 words on my current book, a blog post, or a related project.”
—Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University. Follow Dr. Kidd on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.
“Prayer is vital to every aspect of ministry, of course. We need always to express our complete dependence on God. But I think it’s also important to see our “meditation” as well as our work as a kind of prayer, and this has been most vital to me in preparing to write a book. When I wrote “Faker”, I knew the book would be centered on Luke 18. If you looked at my daily schedule you’d see hours spent in writing and reflection on that chapter, with perhaps a few minutes in dependent prayer. I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong, although I’m admittedly weak in the area of intercession. I love the rather blunt translation of the NIV when Moses is in prayer before the crossing of the Red Sea: “Why are you crying out to me?” Tell the Israelites to move on.” More often that’s what we writers need to hear, because frankly it’s easier to think and pray about our work than to do it!”
—Nicholas McDonald, author of Faker: How to live for real when you’re tempted to fake it and blogger at ScribblePreach.com. Follow Nick on Twitter at @NicholasMcD.
“Prayer matters for the writing process because we are dependent on the Lord for everything in our lives. Christian writers must be careful of becoming practical atheists when we put our fingers to the keyboard. As a pastor, I know my preaching will only work if the Holy Spirit is at work. And this is true as a writer too. I have no hope of communicating anything helpful to God’s people from God’s word if God doesn’t help. When Jesus said, “You can do nothing without me” (John 15:5), he didn’t exclude my writing. Prayerless writing will be powerless.”
—J.A. Medders, Lead Pastor at Redeemer Church, author of Gospel Formed and Rooted, blogger at www.jamedders.com, and host of Home Row: A Podcast with Writers on Writing. Follow J.A. on Twitter @mrmedders.
“In our team at Coalición por el Evangelio, we meet every other week for an hour of prayer and discussion. What we have found is that many times we start praying about something before we start discussing it, and by the end of the conversation we see that same prayer answered through an idea or thought that we had not considered.
As part of the leadership team in our ministry, I don’t think I could last a week doing a good job without prayer, because of two things. First, the pressure from the outside: areas where we need to grow, difficulties with writers, responding to criticism. These are all things that I bring to God in prayer often daily and lay them at Jesus’ feet. And then there’s a need for guidance, to know which doors are being opened by God and not by our own means, and then to know when is the time to walk through them. Sometimes through friends and wise counsel from pastors, sometimes through an understanding of God’s guidance, but prayer has been integral to any fruit that the Lord has brought through Coalición.”
“When I was working on my book on Jonathan Edwards’s understanding of spiritual formation, Formed for the Glory of God, I was captivated by the Puritan practice of soliloquy. In this mode of praying, you speak the truth into your heart after the pattern of the Psalmist (“O my soul that is within me…”), and you allow your heart to make itself known. Now when I write, I always try to take time with this mode of praying to be open to what the Lord has called me to versus what I might want for myself. Do I want to impress people? Do I want to be great? What vices are tied to this project (and there are always vices)? When writing Beloved Dust, this caused my co-author and I to delete two fully edited chapters, that were tied more to our grandiosity than what we believe we were called to write.”
—Kyle Strobel is the co-author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It, and is an assistant professor of Spiritual Theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleStrobel.
“I frequently pray that writing will never become an idol in my life or what I place my identity in. It is a dangerous line to cross when we begin writing for our own glory, rather than for the glory of Christ (Isaiah 48:10-11). Therefore, I pray before I begin writing (or considering topics), “Lord Jesus, guard me from writing out of my own wisdom and for my own glory, and speak through me in wisdom and truth to draw others nearer to you.”
It never ceases to amaze me how faithful he is to answer this prayer by using my meager words to speak into the lives of others (many whom I may never know about) in a way that only he can.”
—Sarah Walton is a stay-at-home mom with four kids under nine years of age. She is the author, along with Kristen Wetherell, of Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering (The Good Book Company, April 2017). She writes at Set Apart: Hope on the Road Less Traveled. Follow Sarah on Twitter @Swalts4.
“If prayer is an expression of our dependence on the Lord, then when it comes to writing, I’m realizing how much more dependent on God I want to become. Usually, I pray both “big picture” and about specific projects. Praying about the big picture is typically a response to time in God’s Word, when I remember the gospel, confess any selfish ambition related to writing, and ask him to set my eyes on his glory. Then I pray specifically about articles, talks, and other projects before I start studying or writing, acknowledging my dependence and asking for his help. John 15:5 is often on my mind: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.'”