Why Are You Writing?

How to Recognize and Avoid Making Writing An Idol

The term “idolatry” today evokes an image of little bronze statues, burning incense, and prayer mats. But we don’t have to create a shrine of our writing to worship it.

Isaiah 44 paints a perfect picture of true idolatry, and it is shocking how much it resembles our modern day affinity for material things. These material things themselves are wonderful gifts from God, but our human hearts like to make our gifts into false gods. Idolatry is the act of using our God-given talents to create something in the image of ourselves, robbing God of the credit. Almost anything can be an idol (even love). When we use our writing to think or act in a way that esteems our work over our relationship with God, that is idolatry.

As a Christian, writing should be a sanctifying tool through which we engage with God. Perhaps you are called to journal to remember God’s faithfulness. Perhaps you want to seek publication to learn to put aside your fear or pride. In whatever capacity, your writing should draw you closer to Christ. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” But how? First, we have to be able to recognize and identify when we’ve made writing an idol in our lives. Then, by God’s grace, we can root the idolatry out.

Signs of Idolatry

All idolatry is marked by telltale signs that can be identified by a believer who is seeking God’s will. When your lack of success or progress in your writing makes you question God’s commands or goodness, or when the practice of that thing interferes with other God-given commitments, examine your actions and thoughts more closely. Look at your reasons for writing, what you hope to gain, and what you stand to lose. You might be caught up in idolatry.

Last year, I was plagued with doubt in my work and in my writing. I felt that I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t have the capacity to do what I wanted to do. My circumstances indicated a lack of competence and confidence, and I realized only recently that my doubt was expressing itself as a lack of belief in God’s good nature.

I was believing in my heart (and it was coming out in my actions) that my mistakes and suffering were due to some malicious streak on God’s part. To God, I was saying serve me and my writing! If you really loved me, you would give me success. Yikes.

When I began measuring my success by my ability to get words down on paper, impress people, and earn money, I realized I was building an unstable pedestal and putting myself at the top. I needed to step down and find my success in the completed work of the cross. I needed to trust that God would sustain and support me when I felt like a failure. His grace is sufficient for me, but I wasn’t living out that truth. I felt trapped.

I didn’t want to give up my idol. My desire to succeed in my writing began to interfere with my other commitments. I put off sleep and time with people I cared about. I rushed my projects to accommodate my own pride. I knew God had called me to these commitments, but I was determined to pave my way toward the success I wanted. While I pursued my own success, I felt unsettled. I knew I should be doing something more important, but my own comfort and inflated sense of self-worth was more valuable to me than obedience.

Antidote to Idolatry

God was faithful despite my stupidity. In his mercy, he rescued me from my idolatry. He pulled me out of the situation I had gotten myself tangled in and gave me the tools to keep going. He stripped me of my pride and realigned my perspective. Even after I recognized what I was doing, I could not let go. So I turned to God for help. If idolatry causes us to selfishly hoard our gifts and talents, the ultimate antidote to idolatry is complete submission to God and his plan for our writing.

Habitual submission to God changed my writing from a self-serving act to a self-giving act. Instead of desiring glory for myself and my writing, I began to want to glorify God with my words. By pointing to God with our talents, gifts, and actions, we resist the allure of making an idol of our writing. There are two main ways we can seek to glorify God in all that we do:

1. Praise God for Who He Is and What He Has Done

When I realized I had been questioning God’s goodness, my sulkiness evaporated. I thought all along that I had been doubting my own strength, but I had really been doubting God’s dependability. I had been searching for ways to buoy my self-esteem and self-worth in my writing and not in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, and it is no wonder that I began to doubt.

Praising God involves acknowledging that all you are and all you can do originated with and is fueled by him. Practically, this means engaging in worship. And guess what? If you acknowledge that God gave you the desire and ability to write, your writing can be an act of worship!

Be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have in Christ, and do so in your writing as in your everyday life. If God has called you to it, your writing is a mission to show others the truth of Christ.

Our writing skill, our love for the craft, our competence in fields and genres and styles—all of it is a gift. So whether you experience a setback, complete a project, discover a weakness, or learn a new writing technique, you can do it for the glory of the one who created you. It’s so much more satisfying to achieve great things when we know that our goals are aligned with God’s!

2. Thank God for your Struggles and Victories

Another way we can fortify ourselves against idolatry is with gratitude. Remember God’s faithfulness. I keep a dated prayer journal to help me do this. As humans, we have short and faulty memories for the good things that happen to us. It’s far easier to remember struggles and difficulties than it is to remember our victories—but both shape who we are as people, so we should be grateful for both.

When you receive a critical review, a personalized rejection, or a closed door—rejoice! When you get a five-star review, a request for your manuscript, or another opportunity—praise God! When you spend an hour staring at a blank page, have difficulty revising, or get lost in research and forget to actually write—give Jesus glory! As Christians, when we suffer in doing good, we participate at some level in Christ’s suffering. When we experience success in doing good, we participate in the joy of Christ’s resurrection. For both, I am incredibly grateful.

I am grateful for my successes, because they give me the hope and motivation to keep going. I am grateful for my mistakes and setbacks, because without them, I wouldn’t be half the writer I am today. My strength and skill are from God, but his power is made perfect in my weaknesses.

When I choose to be grateful despite my circumstances, I am reminded that God is in control, that he loves me, and that I have been given the peace required to weather these difficulties.

Allow the Creator to take his rightful place at the head of your writing journey. Let him be your why and your how, and he will dismantle your idols and enable you to serve Christ through your writing with a joyful and repentant heart. Your path, as paved by God, is as rich and full and amazing as the stories you want to create.

This is the third installment of my Faith and Fiction Writing blog series. If you’re interested in the introduction and the year’s topic overview, visit the first installment.