7 A.M. rolled around, and I felt fresh. God’s words were alive. Ideas flowed fast. I would dig through Scripture until something caught my eye that I could carry to my desk, and then I spent an hour typing up pages in my pajamas. Those pages worked nicely for Sunday blog posts. I sometimes wondered if a big Christian website might peek at them.
And do you know what?
Being a young Christian writer wasn’t such sweaty work after all.
But this past year has scrubbed away all the makeup to reveal what’s beneath my Christian writing. It started with my mentor telling me the truth about an article I’d written:
“Just because you see writing like this being published doesn’t mean it is good writing.”
For the first time, I realized how easy it is to give my readers a few pretty paragraphs but leave my thoughts tangled. Sure, the words sound nice, but they’re like billowing clouds that never rain on parched fields.
Jesus tells me I will give an account for every careless word I speak (Matt. 12:36), and as a blogger who sends those words across the world, it sobers me. So I’ve been praying something specific over myself as a writer from Jude’s sober letter:
God, help me not be a waterless cloud.
Billowing but Waterless
Jude talks about the ungodly— those people who creep in unnoticed and twist God’s grace. They’re like stars that mislead sailors, or withered trees with rotten figs, or waterless clouds (Jude 12-13).
Promising, but empty.
In her study of Jude, Jackie Hill Perry uses Matthew Poole’s definition:
Great swelling words of vanity; i.e. big words, full of sound, and void of sense, at least of truth… which made a show of some rare discoveries, or deep mysteries, whereas indeed they were empty of anything solid, or tending to edification.
Christian writers should look nothing like wayward stars or withered trees, because Jude pasted those labels on evil, God-hating men.
And yet— it’s unbelievably easy to wax poetic. It’s even easier to leave the poetry “empty of anything solid.” I like big, soundful words that make me look a little like Jane Austen on the outside. But “Lyricism can only get you so far if you’re not giving a coherent vision,” another writing teacher left in the comments of my assignment.
My billowing words had no water inside.
Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give (Pr. 25:14).
The people Jude called “waterless clouds” in verse 12 were the same people he called “loud-mouthed boasters” in verse 16. They promised greatness they couldn’t give. Jesus said our words spring from our hearts (Matt. 12:34), and these peoples’ hearts were bloated with pride.
It’s eerie how I can write about God with swelling words that could as well say, “See what a great writer I am?”
Scripture calls out my pride:
Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom… but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD… (Jer. 9:23a, 24a)
A Humble Spring of Living Water
The Bible doesn’t just tell me, “Boast in God,” but it shows me people who did. Paul comes to mind, because he was a writer whose name people knew.
…To declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Col. 4:3-4).
Razor-sharp clarity was key to his preaching, teaching, and writing, because how could people grasp the gospel if Paul was in the way?
A Christian writer needs to die to their desire for readers to clap at them, that the Spirit might breathe life through their clear and humble words.
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual… [We] have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:12-13, 16).
What is the mind of Christ?
Honoring our readers before ourselves.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves… Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-5, emphasis added).
A writer who looks like Jesus is a writer who uses their creativity to love people, not impress them— whose words spring from the source of Scripture and rain living water on parched souls.
God, Help me Speak Life
A few days ago, I read this description of a Puritan preacher named John Flavel, spoken by one of his parishioners:
“I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching; of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture… his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications…”
Plain. Genuine. Clear. And Powerful.
John Flavel had a goal like Paul’s: Make the gospel clear.
Eighty-five years after hearing Flavel preach about God’s wrath, an American immigrant named Luke Scott was converted. He was then 100 years old. The Spirit used Flavel’s exposition of his Word eight-and-a-half decades earlier to shake a man’s soul years later.[iii]
Oh, may that be true of me.
God, may my writing be clear and genuine and powerful and lasting.
Don’t let me be a waterless cloud.
Make me do the sweaty work of speaking the life you first spoke into me.