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Friday, June 20, 2014

Stay with God ~ Allen Arnold

Allen Arnold loves the epic adventure God has set before him. From the mountains of Colorado, he leads Content & Resources for Ransomed Heart Ministries (led by John Eldredge). Before that, he spent 20 years in Christian Publishing - overseeing  the development of more than 500 novels as founder and Publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction. He was awarded the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. But that doesn't really describe the man. Allen savors time with his family, craves the beach, drinks salsa by the glass, is hooked on the TV series "Once Upon a Time" and is passionate about helping storytellers tell better stories from an awakened heart.

- Stay with God -

As a former Fiction publisher and part of the Christian publishing community for twenty years, I heard (and used) the word “stay” quite frequently.  

Authors were encouraged to:

* Stay with one publishing house for the long term (even though little within publishing houses or the industry stays constant)

* Stay the course – writing the same type of story again and again (even though God rarely invites his followers and co-creators into a life of sameness)

* Stay relevant (a treadmill of impossibility because the social media tools held up as the way never stay the same. Chasing relevancy will wear you out.)

* Stay productive (which can be good – unless productivity replaces your ability to rest in God’s presence)

* Stay on top (God never promises us endless stories or rising sales with each book – nor does he measure our worth through bestseller lists)

Rarely did I hear the most essential use of the word.

Stay...with God.

Why isn’t that the number one shout-out we as creators hear every day? For some, it may feel unnecessary. Like encouragement to breathe.  Even in writing this post, I had to push through the feeling that these words were not needed. That your reaction would be a shrug.
Thanks Captain Obvious. We’re good on that front. 

Except that we’re usually not.
Not when it comes to staying close to God in a deep way as we create.

Every night as I tuck my children in bed, I tell them I love them. They sigh, “I know, dad...you tell us that allllllllll the time.”

Good. Exactly. Yes!
Because it is the most important thing I can tell them.

And to stay with God?
That is the most important thing I can tell you.

I now grasp how essential – and unfortunately rare – this encouragement is within the Christian creative community.  I know because I’ve worked with more than 500 authors. I regularly speak to both first-time and best-selling novelists at writer’s conferences. Many of my best friends are writers.

And I see, just below the surface, how many are overwhelmed, disheartened, and burnt-out. Or their validation gets tied to the success of their stories, with good or bad days being determined by Amazon rankings or hitting word counts rather than how well they stayed with God that day.

As I looked back at my time as publisher, I asked myself why I didn’t offer these words of life more often to authors. The honest answer is I didn’t really understand how to go after the hearts of writers then. It’s hard to offer to others from a well you yourself haven’t learned to drink from yet. At that time in my life, I didn’t feel I needed the reminder to “stay with God” each day. I was good, thank you. Doing work for God, thank you. Trying to be the best publisher I could and too busy running a division to slow down, thank you.

And maybe I unconsciously assumed within Christian publishing that staying close to God just kind of happened to us all through osmosis. We’re Christians who are busy writing and publishing. Books are hitting the bestseller lists. We’re good. Now, let’s get on with the work.

That was then.

God has since given me a passion to go after the hearts of writers – offering them an invitation to not primarily write about or even for God...but to write with him.

We get so busy doing that we can forget how to be still and approach our art as holy ground. Maybe that’s why some Christian speakers, books, and conferences end up focusing almost all of their time teaching writers about craft and how to get published – and so little time on how to actually create with God.

Both are needed – but one is foundational. Yes, we need Christian writers at the top of their craft. And the world of tips and techniques seems so practical and productive while the part about creative intimacy with God seems nice but, well, a bit...fuzzy or soft. Do you feel the subtle pull? Resist it – because what we most need are storytellers who have first been transformed by their walk with God.

Learning the art of creating with God is at the heart of your calling.  Enter into his presence, savor his gift of storytelling, and run together on the playground of ideas and imagination. Stories of eternal significance are only born as we spend time with the Creator – thinking his thoughts, following his lead, dancing at his rhythm. 

The Staying Psalm

When we stray from this primal “stay”, we will always find ourselves in a creative desert. The path that got us there may be one of great success or painful rejection. Either way, we end up weary and alone in the burning sand. Thirsty for living water.

Staying with God is your way out of isolation, out of formula and out of striving. Far more, it is your way to never write alone again.

Psalm 27:14 offers us four deep truths for a life of freedom and intimacy with God. It says:

Stay with God!
Take heart.
Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God
(The Message)

I find it fascinating how the psalmist offers only four steps – yet the invitation to stay with God is both his first and last plea. Why repeat these words instead of offering us something new at the end?

I think it’s because we forget. That and sometimes we, like the blind man with Jesus, just need his second touch to see more clearly what is before us.

So may this serve as your invitation to remember.

What God most wants
is simply for you to stay close.

He desires it enough to say it twice.

Think of the huge difference it would make in your life – and your writing – if you could really stay with God, truly take heart and finish well (not quit).  It could change everything.

Dan Walsh and I will be expanding on these topics in four keynote messages at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference August 4th – 7th, 2014. We’d be honored if you could join us for what promises to be one of the most significant events for writers this year. 

27 comments:

Dina Sleiman said...

Allen, thank you so much for bringing this vital message to Christian writers. I know that I, and everyone there, was so blessed by your class in Colorado this year. I wanted to learn more about awakening the heart, and so I've been reading Desire by John Eldredge. I also shared about the creative partnership with my local ACFW group, and they were blessed as well.

Ane Mulligan said...

I love how you keep us grounded, Allen! I'm so glad we have you on the Novel Rocket team. As I've grown older, I have the benefit of hindsight, and I see how God has guided, led, and pushed me along. The one thing He has never done is leave me. Like a toddler, I may pull against His hand, trying to go my own way, but He always reins me back in. I've seen miracles big and small, and it always makes me STAY. It's a good reminder for me to add that to my blessings list. :)

amysorrells said...

Oh my goodness, you got more than a shrug from me out of these words, Allen. Thank you SO much for your amazing gifts of wisdom and encouragement. In addition to Psalm 27:14, I've been especially mindful of one of the names of God lately, Jehovah Shammah. He is always with us. We only need to stay with Him, because He never leaves. Hard to remember in the cacophony of the industry. Thank you again for this awesome reminder!!!

Amanda Dykes said...

Thank you so much for these words. This, the heart of the whole message, the heart of this whole road: "What God most wants is simply for you to stay close." ...Thank you. I'm writing that down and placing it at my desk right now. Praying today for you, too, as you continue to encourage the hearts of writers, urging them closer to the One who created and called them! I first heard the heart of your message at Mt. Hermon in 2012, and every time I read a post from you online, it so resonates with the strength and truth of what this is all about. What He's all about. And what we're to be all about. That was the very beginning of my writing road, and I can't tell you how thankful I am for the way God used you to help in the refining work He was doing in me, the dross that He was so faithfully skimming away inside me in His gentle strength. I'm grateful!

Jim Rubart said...

Wait a minute, Allen. Are you saying the focus of life shouldn't be what God is doing, but God himself? So Mary was right?!

What a powerful reminder that it's not ABOUT God, it IS God.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the reminder!

Allen Arnold said...

Dina. I think you will love the book Desire. It was disruptive in all the right ways for me! How cool that you are discussing the concept of Creative Fellowship with your local ACFW group. It sets a foundation of intimacy and expectancy from which everything else flows. Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate your encouragement!

Allen Arnold said...

Amy - thank you for sharing about the name Jehovah Shammah. It's amazing to me how throughout Scripture - God continually desires intimacy with us and from us. And we (humans) continually get swayed and distracted by other, lesser things. I love how Moses was so determined to stay with God that his posture was - God, if you don't go with me and are not in this, let's call the whole trip off. Whether it is in our writing or in our day to day activity, what a great way to walk through life…to do everything with God and to constantly sense his direction and pleasure and fathering. In the pages we are writing and in the life we are living. It changes everything!

Heidi McCahan said...

At the end of a week in which I devoted too much time and energy focused on an Amazon sales rank, this is the post I needed to read ... the message I needed to hear. Thank you, Allen.

Allen Arnold said...

Amanda - your words brought such joy to me. Nothing is more important in the life of a story than how it is born. Creating with God is like entering into the wild with Him... running together on the playground of ideas and imagination and intimacy. With your great heart and hunger for God, I have no doubt your writing is making an eternal difference for the Kingdom. Stay with Him!

Allen Arnold said...

Heidi - yes, so true. Amazon rankings really don't offer us life or help in our intimacy with God. Information can be good…but at the end of the day, they are a poor measurement of what God is really up to in our writing or calling. Stay true to what God is inviting you into…and then be expectant for all that will come on your journey with Him!

Katie Ganshert said...

Love this post and love your heart, Allen!

So often, when writers ask the question, "Is this really what God called me to do? Did I hear Him wrong?" it comes after a rejection or a bad review or poor sales or what have you. I know I've been there before. But I'm realizing that if the journey is bringing me to my knees, if it's making me rely more and more on Him, then that is EXACTLY where God wants us. He doesn't care about sales. He doesn't care who is published with awards and who isn't. He doesn't call us on journeys for accolades or "success". He calls us on the journeys He calls us to so that He can draw us nearer to Him.

It's something this writing journey has taught me....but even more so, it's something our adoption journey has taught me, especially when I start to question whether or not I heard Him wrong.

Thank you for the encouragement!

Allen Arnold said...

Katie - yes, so many writers find themselves asking those questions when they realize they are stuck in a creative desert. Overwhelmed, dry, weary, disheartened, burnt-out, unvalidated, etc. The way out of the desert always begins with drawing near to God. He may have a lot planned for our stories - but we must begin by remembering WHY he invited us into this calling. And it's humbling and mind-blowing to realize he gave us our calling primarily so we could spend time creating with Him! Before our words and stories can touch other lives, our own life has to be touched first. And this is how it begins. Hope we can catch up at ACFW so I can hear about all God is doing in your life and through your stories!

Lillian Humphries said...

I love this article. Even if you are not a writer this is wonderful for us to be reminded to stay with God. Shared it on Twitter, Facebook, and my Blog. Thank you.

Joanne Bischof said...

This is such a fantastic post, thank you Arnold! Such truth and wisdom and a reminder of what all our efforts should hinge on-- God. Everything else comes and goes and changes, but God is that constant. I've had such doubts chasing me lately, doubts of failure and insufficiency and lately I've been realizing that I don't have to be enough. I just have to follow God and He'll do what He wants done with my stories. It's quite a lifted burden :) And it allows the joy to trickle back in amid an industry that's not often easy.

Joanne Bischof said...

Amanda, I adore you. You have such a heart for your readers and your God as you walk this writing and publishing path. You inspire me every day.

Allen Arnold said...

Joanne - yes, we have to remember that the publishing industry tends to only give industry answers (what is popular now, etc.). But these aren't necessarily the answers that make our hearts come alive or that help us rest in God. I don't say that as a knock against the industry. I was in it for 20 years and it accomplishes many good things. But at the end of the day, our validation cannot come from any industry or sales data or review. It comes only from being sons and daughters in passionate pursuit of God and the calling he has given us to draw us closer to him. In him, we are always enough.

Allen Arnold said...

Thanks for your kind words, Lillian! I really appreciate you sharing it with others. I agree with you - regardless of our calling, it's a reminder we can all use.

Jim Rubart said...

Allen mentioned he'll be at the Oregon Christian Writers conference talking more about the subject of his post ... excellent conference: http://oregonchristianwriters.org/category/summerconference/2014-summer-conference/

Nicole said...

Nailed it. Boom.

Julie Lessman said...

WOW. Kinda wish I'd read this article last year, but God managed to get me to this exact point nonetheless, albeit dragging me all the way. This is a critical message that all Christian writers need, so thank you, Allen, for following His leading with this crucial ministry.

Ian Acheson said...

Allen - we need to hear more of this message. Thank you for sharing it. As I got stuck with my WIP I found myself trying harder and harder to make it work. It took me a little while (too long) to stop and listen to the quiet voice that was simply saying, "Let go and let me in". God made us to need Him, He wants our writing to be a collaborative effort with Him.

I so wish I was able to attend the Oregon Writers Conference to hear more. I do wish you, Dan & Jim (he's on it too, I expect) would write your own book about this. It's such an important message.

Grace and peace.

Dan Walsh said...

Can't wait to hear Allen expound on this theme in his keynote messages at the Oregon summer conference. We've been chatting about it on the phone the past few months. Excited for those coming, expecting God to do big things in many hearts.

Allen Arnold said...

Ian - what a great story of how God spoke to you in the midst of your writing. He gave us this creative gift ultimately as a way for us to know him more and do this with him. That revelation changes everything! I wish you could be at the Oregon conference as well. By the way - I have written a book on this topic. It is being pitched to publishers now and my hope is it will be available next year! I'd welcome your prayers on that front.

Ian Acheson said...

Allen - great news about the book. Congratulations! Be assured I'll be praying for you.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I will be parking my mind and heart on Psalm 24:17, Allen. Thank you for the encouragement -- it is so timely.

Linda Horarik said...

Dear Allen,
Thank you for your encouragement and class at the "Write His Answer" conference. I've found that I like the color blue. I'm still sorting through what works with my writing and what does not. The writing is a gift from God, not a weight. I've struggled,at times, with it, running from it. Today, the writing flowed and I believe God is smiling pleased.
It was fun watching you in class when the guy sitting in the back moved out of the orphan realm. You were beaming! Thank you for your excitement over our growth.
I also enjoyed the reminder to play with God. I know we both miss it.
God is using you, shining His Son-beams through you. Thank you.
Linda Horarik