But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
– Lord Byron
I am a writer. Or at least I claim to be. A university’s computer system lists me as such. It even knows the date I became one, the day I declared my identity: a writer. One day I wasn’t a writer, and the next day I was.
It reminds me of faith. I am a Christian. Or at least I claim to be. If the church had an electronic database they would list me as such. It wouldn’t know the date I became one, because I don’t know it myself. But my parents remember. They could tell me—one day I wasn’t a believer, and the next day I was.
But it’s not that simple. Repeating a prayer does not make me a Christian any more than declaring a major makes me a writer. It is only the first step in the process, the decision to begin. The initial decision only reorients my heart and my mind to follow a path. It doesn’t bring me to the destination. Thousands of steps lie between. Countless decisions still need to be made. Every day I face the choice to stay on the path, to walk a little further down the road. I have to choose to become.
The day I declared my major will remain meaningless unless I learn to write. I have to pick up the pen and start scribbling something or else the term writer will be nothing more than an empty title. I have to sit down at the keyboard and type. I have to practice crafting words. I have to actually write.
So too, the day I became a Christian will remain meaningless unless I learn to follow Christ. I have to start reorienting my life or else the term Christian will mean nothing more than an empty title. I have to change my heart. I have to practice obedience. I have to actually follow Christ.
The journey of becoming is a process. It requires time, effort, and attention to detail. It must be worked at relentlessly. No matter how often I write, I can always write more. No matter how much I learn about God, there will always be more to discover. No matter how many times I edit a piece, there will always be improvements that can be made. No matter how many times I correct the faulty tendencies of my heart, there will always be places in need of further refinement. Whether writing or living by faith, the process is never complete.
Writing once will not warrant calling myself a writer. Repeatedly pointing a finger toward the past, at a handful of words I wrote five years ago, will not confirm my skills as a writer today. I must offer proof. What did I write last week or yesterday? What am I writing today? My identity should be defined by who I am, not who I was.
If faith is a part of who I am, there will be evidence etched within the way I live. Expecting one prayer, muttered in years long past, to be the extent of my faith cheapens the work of God’s grace. A life of works cannot achieve salvation, but stagnant faith is dead. Active belief must be written into my life every day. Though the script will be imperfect, it must be written. Any rough form will suffice as long as the manuscript is current, defining who I am, not who I was.
The rough draft is the first step in the process, messy and imperfect. Writers are not expected to produce works of publishable quality at the first stroke of the pen. The finished product is accomplished through editing, the refining of ideas and sentences already written. Revision is half the process.
Faith too requires editing. It is tedious and painful, but necessary. Like writing, the revision of my faith requires stepping back and reevaluating, defining the purpose of my story, validating the authority of my voice, reorganizing ideas, removing the extraneous, adding the words that are missing.
As a writer, I have unique tendencies, patterns of habit, favored words. Sometimes they are effective, strengthening my voice. But there are other times when they do not fit the context, crowding the intent of my pages with frivolity. In these cases, the extraneous words must be removed, carefully extracted for clarity. The process of cutting my work can be painful, deleting words I took time to write, admitting what I loved fell short. But enduring the pain makes the end result more satisfying. It makes room for what truly needs to be said.
The editing process of my faith can also be painful. Some seasons feel more like surgery than editing. The stubbornness of my heart clings to its selfish tendencies, the preferred habits of frivolity. Yet, they must be removed to achieve the coherent manuscript. Room must be made for the best words. Each must be carefully chosen for a single purpose, every decision made to obtain the finished work: a life well written, read to the glory of God.
The end goal is slow to arrive. The path is strewn with little moments of accomplishment along the way, finished pages, words of encouragement, glimpses of hope. They stand as markers of progress by the roadside. But there will never be a sense of complete arrival as long a life persists.
True writers will never be content with idle thoughts and fingers. They do not finish a work and content themselves never to create again. If I am truly a writer, I cannot be discouraged by delayed arrival. I cannot use it as an excuse never to begin. I cannot be daunted by the giants who have gone before me. I must allow perfection to goad me onward. I want to be challenged. I desire to improve, to hone my skills to the sharpest possible point, to achieve excellence. The drive to write compels me. I will keep writing no matter how many pages I pen. It is part of who I am.
True children of faith will never be content to stop searching for God. They are not satisfied to step inside the gate of heaven’s kingdom and explore no further. In the words of A.W. Tozer, “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.” Simultaneously yielding complete satisfaction and insatiable desire for God is the secret to faith well lived. The moment the child of faith ceases to search after the infinite expanse of God, the question remains: Where does their identity lie?
There are days when the drive to write does not come easily. There are seasons when the struggle to believe is acute. During the moments when I stare for hours at a blank computer screen, I verbally have to remind myself that writing is what I love to do, who I want to be. When the voice of God seems distant, or the pain of following His hand stretches my heart’s resolve, I have to retrace the truths of who God is, regaining confidence in what I know but can no longer feel. Whether writing or believing, the process takes hard work, determination, perseverance. It requires more perspiration than inspiration. But our identity depends on the continuation of the process. There is more left to write, more yet to believe.
Too many Christians have stepped onto the path of faith and stopped. Their story was never written with intentional purpose after the first sentence or two. Life after conversion hasn’t been lived well, and the church has suffered as a result. The lack of authenticity is felt by both those on the street and those in the pew. Time after time, the way the church has chosen to live has invalidated the authority of her voice. The discrepancy is easy to see. Her words write one story, while her life writes another.
In western society, many children of faith have been trained to be satisfied with the initial composition of their conversion. While the children of God are supposed to be satisfied, their satisfaction concerns choosing God over the world; it does not concern being content to stop growing, to stop crafting a story. The invitation of Christ leaves volumes yet to be written. There is still a journey to embark upon. There are discoveries yet to be made. It will take a lifetime and an eternity to explore the vastness of who God is. Conversion is only the beginning of the beginning.
I’ve spent hours rewriting these pages. Countless times I have cut, copied and pasted, searching for the right way to organize my thoughts. Tomorrow I may do the same. The best possible words are yet to be found. But that is the process of writing. The importance of my story as a writer is not to achieve perfection; it is to learn from the refining process. My identity relies upon the fact that tomorrow I will write. Whether I rework this piece again, or pen the rough draft of something new, I will write. It will be imperfect, but it will be written.
My faith relies upon the same principle. Today I will not find the best possible way to live, to believe. But the goal is not perfection so much as to engage the journey resolutely. The tedious process of removing the excess and adding what is necessary is worth the effort. It is the process of faith. My identity lies in the fact that tomorrow I will continue to believe, to write my story of faith. It will be imperfect, but I will not be content to leave it unwritten.