Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Last time you talked to writers, and I want you to do so again. Talk to those of us who are writers (or those of us who aspire to serve the church as writers) about calling. Most Christian writers it seems, write to self-express, not from a conscious conviction that God has called them to write — certainly not in a formal sense of calling to ministry like pastors. So speak to writers. How would I know if God is calling me to this work?

God’s calling in the New Testament is mainly our calling out of darkness into light. You know that. Lots of people know that. It is mainly our calling in conversion. So when we talk about calling, that is the way the New Testament mainly talks about it.

But it can also refer to our life work, like in 1 Corinthians 7:15. When it does, it may mean the place God has put us whether we like it or not. In other words, it is not driven by our desires, like slavery. Paul deals with that in 1 Corinthians 7. If you are in the horrible position of slavery, that is your calling in the moment, whether you want it or not. It may also mean what you are able to choose, like freedom from slavery, which he also addresses in 1 Corinthians 7. Most people in the world, by the way, do not have freedom to choose their life work and yet they still have a calling. I want to make sure I say that, because we Westerners have so many incredible options — at 15, we are dreaming up 10 things we might be when we grow up. Most people in the world do not have that kind of freedom, yet they have a calling. Wherever they are, they can have a calling.

However, I am addressing those who have some measure of freedom in which we can discern among possibilities of things to do. So my understanding of this kind of calling is that it is a work of God in our minds and hearts and abilities and relationships that results in a recurrent, not temporary; long-term, not short lived; compelling, not merely interesting; benevolent, not selfish; Christ-exalting, not self-exalting desire to write, which proves fruitful in the lives of others. That is my definition of a calling to write. I will say it again: It is a recurrent, not temporary; long-term, not short-lived; compelling, not merely interesting; benevolent, not selfish; Christ-exalting, not self-exalting desire to write, which proves fruitful in the lives of others.

So let me illustrate the emergence of this calling through levels of impulse to write that many of us pass through. It is good to write for the sake of discovery. We learn as we write and we write as we learn. This process is good. It is one of the main reasons for keeping a journal, say, when you are younger or older — an idea notebook where you can work out your ideas and your thoughts. This impulse, however, is not yet God’s calling to write. That impulse is on you. You don’t know yet whether you have a divine calling to be a writer.

Second, it is good to write for the sake of craftsmanship or beauty. Human beings love to create things. Some create delicious meals, beautifully served. Some create homes of beauty with everything decorated in a pleasing way. And some create machines that accomplish amazing things. Some create lesson plans for teaching. Some create paintings, carvings, songs, patios, porches, decks, and on and on. We are makers by nature. It is properly satisfying to create things. And many people aim to make something beautiful by writing — something interesting, something compelling. And that is good, but that is not yet a divine calling to write. Just to have that impulse is not a calling.

Then there is the impulse to write, not only to learn and not only to create something beautiful or interesting or compelling, but also the impulse to instruct and awaken and delight and transform people into obedient worshipers of Christ. When this impulse takes hold of a person, he is experiencing a call from God to write. Then the impulse to write, to discover and learn, is never enough. It is good. It is real. But it won’t satisfy. The impulse to make something beautiful and interesting and compelling is never enough. It is real and it is good, but it won’t satisfy the person that has a divine calling from God on his life to write.

A divine calling to write is a calling from God, through God, and for God. Until the writing is for God, it is not a calling from God. So we move from truth discovery through writing to creative expression — through writing to the role of a servant in writing — which I described earlier like this: the impulse to instruct and awaken and delight and transform people into obedient worshipers of Christ. Instruct in the infinite expanse of truth, awaken to the glory of God radiant through all that he has made, delight with craftsmanship of poetry and diction and style and story, transform people into those who enjoy God with us and walk in a way that pleases God.

All of which means that the calling to write is by all means a calling to influence and transform, awaken, instruct, delight. And it is a calling, therefore, to pray and trust God, because we can’t do that by writing. Writing must become an instrument in the hand of the Holy Spirit and his miracle-working power. So a person with the calling from God to be a writer is a person called to do in the lives of others through writing what only God can do.