Based on a true story, the movie Freedom Writers is an inspirational story of a dedicated teacher, Erin Gruell, who taught English to inner-city kids during the time of the L.A. riots. One of my favorite scenes is a conversation Erin has with her father over dinner. She laments the toll her job was taking on her marriage and life, and wondered if all her sacrifices were worth it. Her father, recognizing that her calling was equally burdensome and gratifying, said…
“You have been blessed with a burden, my daughter.”
I love that line! You may not be teaching gang members in the inner city, but I bet you know the tension of work that is both a burden to your heart, and that blesses your soul. It’s usually the hardest things we do that satisfy and bless us most. We see this tension all over the Bible. You’re probably familiar with the burden Paul carried for the church (Romans 9:2-3 and Colossians 2:1 to name a few). But the Old Testament also provides an example of a little-known prophet, Habakkuk who understood the burdensome blessing of his calling.
The Burden and the Template
The book begins with a statement of the prophet’s burden. “This is the burden that Habakkuk the prophet received in a vision” (Habakkuk 1:1, NLT). Troubled by the pervasiveness of evil, Habakkuk questioned God as to why he let evil carry on. As God began to unfold his plan, he had a specific assignment for Habakkuk. He was to be a writer, and this was how he was to accomplish it…
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”Habakkuk 2:2
In just 15 words, God laid out a template for Habakkuk (and us) to write. This template doesn’t work for every type of faith-based writing, but it was a powerful tool for Habakkuk, and for writers who want to share the vision God has placed on their hearts. Let’s unpack it…
STEP 1: Write the Vision
“Writing the vision” gets to the heart of “why,” you write what you write. For Habakkuk, writing was an act of obedience. He had to write down what God was about to show him. Do you feel a similar urgency in the message you desire to write?
For years, I had the desire to write, but I didn’t know what to focus on. I had a smattering of ideas I could write about, but I didn’t feel I could add anything new to those conversations. It wasn’t until I read a little phrase in a book that something clicked, and I knew that would be the overarching theme of my writing. If you have the desire to write, but you’re not sure what the message (or vision) is you want to write about, here are some ideas.
- Be an observer: Keep a journal and write down things you’re observing in the world. Where are you struggling (present or past) that you could speak to? Are you an expert in something? Gather up observations even if they have no connections at the moment. This process of collecting, analyzing, and seeing connections or themes often takes time.
- Pray: It sounds obvious, but sometimes we don’t want to “bother” God with our hopes and dreams. (Of course, we know he isn’t bothered, and delights to hear our hearts!) Ask God for clarity and for a vision of what he wants you to share.
- Write anyway: Not all writing has to be published on a website or blog. (This is a huge undertaking and often slows down and discourages the eager writer!) You can start writing, building an audience, and even get paid on some platforms like Medium and Substack. Or you can start practicing by publishing your thoughts on your own social media accounts.
STEP 2: Make it Plain
Once you’ve caught the vision, you have to write it down and make it plain. Don’t you love that that’s God’s standard? Plain writing doesn’t mean it’s ugly or boring. Rather it has clarity and simplicity to it that makes it a pleasure to read.
As writers, we should love language and cherish it for its beauty and precision. Finding the right words is harder than you might think. It requires us to be attentive, courageous, and get out of our comfort zones. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly the first time.” We must try, fail, learn, and try again to get to the point where we can make our writing clear (and plain).
In the spirit of Chesterton, here’s a few “rules” of how to write badly…at least at first. To see the complete list read more here.
- Avoid Alliteration. Always.
- Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
- Contractions aren’t necessary.
- One should never generalize.
- Be more or less specific.
- Understatement is always best.
- The passive voice is to be avoided.
STEP 3: Give Them Courage to Run
Step 1, was about you the writer, Step 2, was about your content, and Step 3, is about your reader. Our goal is the same as Habakkuk’s. We want transformation!
The beauty of writing about God’s Word is that we can stand confidently behind its authority and trust the Spirit will do his intended work with our words. But even so, we must not be lazy. The takeaway lesson is the most important part of your writing.
- Keep it simple: Find one point that’s general enough to apply to most people. (This should be reflected in your headline and takeaway.)
- Be authentic: Be a real person, talking to real people. Don’t be an “expert,” be a fellow journeyman, wanderer, sufferer, fighter, figure-outer, with your reader.
- Be Memorable: Be sticky. Leave them with at least one memorable lesson.
Burden-Carrier to Blessing-Receiver
If you haven’t read the three short chapters of Habakkuk in a while, I’d encourage you to do so. Like many of the Psalms which start in lament, and end in praise, Habakkuk’s heart transforms from being a burden-carrier to a blessing-receiver.
He wrestled through hard questions with God and he came out on the other side rejoicing. The end of the book ends with this proclamation: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).
Writing can sometimes feel like its own wrestling match or burdensome blessing. If you feel called or compelled to write, no doubt you’ve wrestled with how to write the vision and how to make it plain. This is a task born out of love for God, love for others, and love of words. Our hearts are transformed by the challenge of writing, and hopefully our readers find the courage to lace up their shoes and run. It might be a burden to get your words out plainly, but as it goes out, you can be sure that both you and your reader will be blessed.
Write on, friends!
P.S. Writer or not…we can all adopt a holy leisure mindset for our work. Look at your blessings and burdens in light of holy leisure! I hope you’ll check it out!