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For a person who wants to be, professes to be, or IS a Christian writer, the single most important question is this, “Has God called me to write or do I want to write and offer it to Him?”

What’s the difference? Sounds the same, but it isn’t. One is an offering from us to God. We initiate it. However, if we are genuinely called to write, He will initiate it. If He does, then it is an assigned task and an obligation, and we must be acutely aware that God always finishes what He starts.

If we accept the premise that there is a difference, then how do we know which is which? For a Christian writer, the starting point is always prayer. If we pray, “I want to write for you, Lord, is that¬†ok?” or any similar utterance, we are holding out an offering, pure and simple. It will undoubtedly be accepted and will be pleasing to God, but will clearly be a gift from us.

Determining if we have been called to write is much harder. It still has to start with prayer, but we can’t dictate terms to God. We must start with something along the lines of “Show me what you would have me do, Lord.” An open-ended request followed by preparing our hearts and minds to receive the answer.

No easy task. Learning to hear when God communicates with us has always been the most difficult task for a Christian. It’s even harder than coming to a point of belief. For one thing, we have to assure ourselves that we are receiving an answer from God and not just rationalizing what we ourselves want to do. If we are, that’s right, we’re back to making an offering.

In the Old Testament, claiming to hear from God and being wrong was being a “false Prophet,” and was punishable by death. It’s still serious business. We HAVE to be sure God has in some way communicated with us, and there is a way. That’s because God wants us to be sure. In order to accomplish it, He corroborates the contact when He reaches out to us. Relying on a single source of contact can lead to delusion of the spirit, or rationalization as I mentioned earlier. But when we open ourselves to receive the answer, God will provide enough corroboration to set us at ease. Of course we must not be impatient, for such communication happens in His time, not ours.

What are the sources of corroboration? Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King said in their book, “Experiencing God,” that He uses (1) prayer, (2) study of the Word, (3) circumstances, and (4) the church to reveal Himself to us. And a true communication will not use just one of these.

I was conflicted with exactly this timeless writing question. I prayed that God would tell me what to do. No strings, no “Is this what you want?” I just asked Him to reveal His will. The mail came shortly after that, and I got a brochure from a weeklong writing conference in Glorietta, New Mexico. ( This conference has since moved to be the “Writing at the Ranch Conference” in Abique, N.M.)

Coincidence or circumstances? I thought coincidence even though later, when I checked, no one could tell me how my name came to be on the mailing list.

No matter. It cost too much to go, I couldn’t do it. Then my wife came home, and I told her about it. She got a funny look on her face. An audit at work had produced a payment for some un-reimbursed overtime. She had a check neither of us had expected or counted on for the exact amount needed to go to the conference. Coincidence, or circumstances?

The pastor gave a sermon on special gifts (church), and the subject started popping up in Sunday school and our Bible reading. A half dozen other things I won’t go into occurred. Finally I said, “I get it, Lord, I’m going.”

At the conference, they knew how to lead the way through the next logical step in the process. We were taken through an exercise designed to help us identify our special gifts. Not surprisingly, mine were encouragement and writing (as a derivation of a couple of classic gifts). Corroboration, but still did not distinguish between an offering and being called.

They were prepared for that, too. I’ve been to a number of writing seminars, courses and conferences, but not a Christian conference. Prayer, consulting the Bible, and interface with people of faith all played as strong a role as the actual discussion and study of the craft of writing. I knew by now that I would use my words for God as best as I could, but did not know on whose initiative I was to do it. To be truthful, I rather hoped it was on my own initiative — far less responsibility and pressure.

It didn’t work out that way. God used all of the sources during the week to convict me and convince me that the call was sincere. But I was only a fiction writer, and was not qualified to do it. Then I learned the next big difference between the two. If it was an offering, then it would be made out of my own skill and ability. If God was assigning me the task, He would see that my ability, skill and even character were¬†molded to fit the requirements.

My wife and I were immediately led to a small church with a very strong teaching ministry, and gently nudged into a larger role there. Every time I stalled out in my writing, a sermon, Sunday school, Bible study or the like would provide EXACTLY what input I needed, and I would be underway again.

Then came doubt. It wasn’t going as fast as it should. If God wanted this, shouldn’t it be happening faster? Bigger? Surely I had misunderstood the call. No, all things in God’s time. Look how long it took Him to prepare Moses and Abraham, all the figures of the Bible before He used them. Who did I think I was? I realized patience was all-important if it was a call and not an offering.

Then the publisher on my upcoming inspirational fiction gave me a call. The market was bad, the only people selling were name authors. The book was not going to be printed. I got depressed, of course. Then two hours later, he called me back. A distributor had placed a nice order for it. The book would be out in a month. God had clearly shown me that I could not get it done . . . but that He could. Obviously staying the course was the final step, keeping my mind open for inspiration or communication, and write, write, write.

A cookie-cutter recipe for success as a Christian writer? No, I’m certainly not qualified to offer that, but I do think it is a good example of the proper process. Let me be clear, however, that there is nothing wrong with writing of our own accord strictly as a gift or offering. It will be joyously received.

It’s just important that we know which it is, for they have to be approached differently. As I said, an offering comes out of our own abilities. If we are being directed by the Spirit, we are totally dependent on Him, and therein lies our power. Whichever of the two paths we follow, we pray God will guide and direct our efforts.

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