31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Writing By Faith

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Elisabeth Elliot2

Today I am just taking excerpts from a chapter titled “One Difference Between Me and Sparrows” from Elisabeth’s book Love Has a Price Tag. It has always meant a lot to me as an aspiring writer:

The Bible says the just shall live by faith. The “just” is not a special category of specially gifted or inspired saints. It is the people whose hearts are turned toward God. The people who know that their own righteousness doesn’t count for much and who therefore have accepted God’s. I belong in that category. Therefore the rule for me is the rule for all the rest: live by faith. So I have been pondering, up here in this quiet room, what it means for a writer to live by faith. It was easy enough to come up with some things it doesn’t mean. It does not mean that my intellect need not be hard at work. It does not mean that I trust God to do my work for me, any more than for a housewife to live by faith means she expects God to do her dishes or make her beds. It does not mean that I have a corner on inspiration that Norman Mailer, say, or Truman Capote don’t claim. (I don’t know whether Mr. Mailer or Mr. Capote live by faith–I haven’t come across any comments by either on the subject.)

The great prophets of the Old Testament lived by faith, but they were certainly divinely inspired. Does this mean that God alone and not they, too–was responsible for the work they did? Even though they were acted upon in a special sense by the Spirit of God as I don’t ever expect to be acted upon, they had to pay a price. Each of them had to make the individual commitment when he was called, and to offer up then and there his own plans and hopes (and surely his reputation) in order that his personality, his temperament, his intellect, his peculiar gifts and experience might be the instruments through which the Spirit did his work, or the console upon which he played. All this, even though I am no prophet, I must take seriously.

But there is one other thing that living by faith does not mean. This is the thing that makes me furrow my brow and sigh, because I can’t help wishing that it did mean this. If in fact I have sided with the “just,” if I am willing to work as hard as I can, if I arrange things physically to contribute to the highest concentration and if I discipline myself to sit down at the typewriter for X number of hours per day (even when the fresh perfume of the balsams comes through the windows, calling me to the woods; even when the lake glitters in the sunshine and says, “Come on!”), may I then expect that what I turn out will stop the world, bring the public panting to the bookstores, shine as the brightness of the firmament?

I may not. There are no promises to cover anything of the kind.

…And here’s comfort. Abel’s name is listed in the Hall of Fame of Hebrews 11. Like the others in that list (and a motley assortment it is), he is there for one thing, and only one thing: the exercise of faith. The demonstration of his faith was his offering. The thing that made his offering acceptable while Cain’s was unacceptable was faith. Faith did not guarantee the “success” of the sacrifice. In human terms it was no help at all. Abel ended up dead as a result of it. But the manner in which he offered his gift–“by faith”–made it, the Bible says, “a more excellent sacrifice” than Cain’s, and qualified him for the roster of Hebrews.

For me, then, for whom writing happens to be the task, living by faith means several things.

It means accepting the task from God…Here is a thing to be done. It appears to be a thing to be done by me, so I’ll do it, and I’ll do it for God.

It means coming at the task trustingly. That’s the way Abel brought his sacrifice, I’m sure. Not with fear, not with a false humility that it wasn’t “good enough.” What would ever be good enough, when it comes right down to it? “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” All that distinguishes one thing from another is the manner of its offering. I must remember that the God to whom I bring it has promised to receive. That’s all I need to know.

It means doing the job with courage to face the consequences. I might, of course, write a bestseller. Most of us feel we could handle that kind of consequence. (God knows we couldn’t, and doesn’t suffer us to be tempted above that we are able.) On the other hand, I might fail. Abel was murdered. Jeremiah was dropped into a pit of slime. John the Baptist got his head chopped off. These were much worse fates than being delivered into the hands of one’s literary critics… Is the faith that gives me the courage I need based on former literary success? Not for a moment. For each time I sit down to begin a new book I’m aware that I may have used up my allotment of creativity. It’s another kind of faith I need, faith in God.

It means giving it everything I’ve got. Now I have to acknowledge that I’ve never done this. I’ve never finished any job in my life and been able to survey it proudly and say, “Look at that! I certainly did my best that time!” I look at the job and say, “Why didn’t I do such and such? This really ought to be done over.” But “giving it everything I’ve got” is my goal. I cannot claim to be living by faith unless I’m living in obedience. Even the miracles Jesus performed were contingent on somebody’s obedience, on somebody’s doing some little thing such as filling up water pots, stretching out a hand, giving up a lunch. The work I do needs to be transformed. I know that very well. But there has to be something there to be transformed. It’s my responsibility to see that it’s there.

See all the posts in this series here.

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10 thoughts on “31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Writing By Faith

  1. There are two things I love about this-doing your job with courage to face the consequences and giving it everything you’ve got! You hit it perfectly and Elisabeth certainly gives inspiration to do that. Great words and encouragement today.

  2. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing these nuggets from Elisabeth Elliot. They have all been excellent but today’s selection was something I particularly needed to read. I really appreciate you posting these.

  3. Pingback: 31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot | Stray Thoughts

  4. My favorite line: “These were much worse fates than being delivered into the hands of one’s literary critics…” Yes! Yes there are :). But that’s what keeps me from moving out in faith. Thanks for the push!

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