It is hard to believe that this is my 100th blog. Wherever and however we have connected, know that my heart is full of gratitude for your willingness to read, to comment, and to share these writings over the last ten years.
Integral to this journey of encouragement has been my life verse: "The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will" (Isaiah 50:4 NLT). When that Scripture was first shared with me by a dear friend in 1999, something deep within me cried out, "Yes! THAT is what I want to characterize my life."
In many ways, those words re-dug an ancient well. And as fresh water began to flow, a word of exhortation spoken to a floundering high-school freshman in 1980 bubbled to the surface of my life. Responding to a formal "thank-you" that I had sent, Mr. Blatt, our Assistant Principal, unexpectedly pulled me aside and said, "I really appreciated your letter. It was well-written and reflected a lot of maturity on your part. People need that kind of encouragement. You should keep writing."
While recalling that exhortation stirred a sense of purpose, reflecting on that Scripture evoked a sense of destiny: to comfort the weary. Not with warm, fuzzy, persuasive words, but rather, with God-given, Spirit-instructed words of wisdom.
So, in celebration of this 100th blog, I felt nudged to share some of the ways that I am still learning to live into this Scripture. While not all of these exhortations may be helpful, I do pray that they would offer a word of freedom and release to write in "unforced rhythms of grace" as the Holy Spirit leads you. (See Matthew 11:28-30 MSG). Put less eloquently... eat the meat and spit out the bones.
Journeying through the creative process of writing, I am learning to:
- Percolate. My mom's old coffee put would circulate bubbling hot water through the grounds many times before it was palatable. Allow thoughts to percolate a while. Ponder, reflect, and sift ideas through the filter of the Word. When thoughts come, write them down - even if they are just bullet points or phrases. Live with them for a while. Is there still something substantive there after a few days? Then run with it!
- Embrace ebb and flow. If an idea pops into your brain, write it down as soon as you are able. For me, ideas often come when I am driving to work, so when parked, I usually pull out my cell phone and jot a few thoughts down on the notes app. However, if nothing is coming, don't put pressure on yourself to write. Self-imposed yokes tend to choke the vine of creativity.
- Listen. Be attentive to God's voice throughout the day. The phrase from Habakkuk 2:2 sets a beautiful example. "I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me..." (NIV). Pay attention and be watchful. The missing piece to finish what you are wanting to express may be just one conversation, email, t.v. commercial, or roadside billboard away!
- Keep Crafting. Don't give in to pressure to just post something. Sleep on it. Come back to it. Step away from the computer and take a walk. One afternoon, frustrated with the time it was taking to write a particular blog, I plopped down into my desk chair and sighed deeply. In those quiet moments, I sensed God's gentle voice. "As the artist uses paint, writers use words. It takes time, son. Depths of color and shading are expressed in many visits to the canvass. The richness and breadth of your writing will come in many visits to your laptop. Child, I delight in our conversation each time you write." As He finished, the words of the Prophet Habakkuk came to mind. "Though it tarries, wait for it. It will surely come..." (2:3). Peace, precious one. Your blog, your book, your essay, and even your sermon, will surely come. And, I am confident you will know when to hit, "publish."
- Look Through Multiple Lenses. Sometimes we can inadvertently wound others by careless words. Whiny references to the "difficulty" of your job may alienate the person who just lost theirs. Glib comments about the "burden" of parenting your kids can crush the tender heart of the parent who is grieving the death of their child. While I know that we cannot be held hostage by every "what if" in the lives of our readers, I do believe that we can sensitively acknowledge the breadth of life-experience of our audience.
- Vary Your Sentence Structure. While it can be an effective technique, generally, building a paragraph with sentences that all begin the same way tends to bring a level of monotony that can quickly disinterest readers.
- Make Use of a Thesaurus. The thesaurus is our friend. Instead of using the word "felt" three or four times, consider using a variety of words to express that sentiment. "Sensed," "believed," "discerned," or "perceived" may add texture to your story.
- Explore Different Bible Translations. In the same way that the thesaurus may help add color to our writing, different Bible translations may add richness to our understanding of the text, allowing for greater breadth of expression in our writing. Lately, I am appreciating The Passion Translation, The Voice Translation, and The Message paraphrase.
- Avoid Personal Absolutes. As in any relationship, "always" and "never" statements tend to exclude rather than to engage readers. Prefacing with, "For me," "Often," and "Sometimes," give people freedom to consider our thought and to potentially allow it to broaden their thinking rather than to immediately dismiss it because it is not true for them.
- Risk Appropriate Vulnerability. It is easy to sugar-coat our experiences and to gloss over less-than-glamorous portions of our journey. Genuinely sharing our struggle allows readers to connect with us. While we don't need to include every gory detail, share enough to at least let folks know that you are human! Our authenticity will offer hope to readers who may be feeling like they are the only one struggling with that issue.
Though this list is clearly not comprehensive, I do pray that these simple reflections both encourage you and challenge you to step into a place of further breakthrough, freedom, and creativity in your writing... and in your speaking! This very day, may we offer a word in season to the one who is weary with this blessed assurance: "The Lord, the Eternal, equipped me for this job - with skilled speech, a smooth tongue for instruction. I can find the words that comfort and soothe the downtrodden, tired, and despairing. And I know when to use them. Each morning, it is God who wakes me and tells me what I should do, what I should say" (Isaiah 50:4 VOICE).
Thank you, again, for reading this blog. For more encouragement, you can visit the archives of jonathancdow.com. You can also order a hard-copy compilation of most of my blogs, conveniently formatted to keep one and share one at the on-line store.
As we continue this journey together, join with me in praying that the Apostle Paul's words below will become all the more descriptive of the way that God uses each of us. "For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago" (Ephesians 2:10 VOICE). You have been, you are, and you will be, blessed to be a blessing. Thanks be to God!
Volume 3 of 31 Days of Encouragement is now available! Co-written with my daughter, these keep one - share one devotionals will inspire you and equip you to encourage others!
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