Living Water: Lessons from Esau

When I was reading the excellent Living Water some months ago I’d planned to write blog posts for each chapter. After discovering Kindle didn’t allow chapter-only exports I had to delay my plans. Because of this post #1 on Repentance sat alone for a long time.

Chapter 2 of Living Water is entitled ‘Lessons from Esau’. Months ago I sat looking at this chapter, trying to extract my blog post. It wasn’t coming to me, no matter how hard I tried so I planned to skip writing about the chapter. And yet, now as I see my post for chapter 2. Clearly my heart or mind wasn’t in the right place at the time. This post, therefore, is chapter 2, ‘Lessons from Esau’ (which relates to Genesis 25:29-34).

The chapter starts by quoting Revelations 3:11-13, 19. The first two sentences stand out to me.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

If Jesus tells us to ‘hold on’ and ‘to overcome’ then there is an adversary who is trying to take ‘our crown’ from us. Satan will do all he can to steal our identity in Christ, to weaken our faith and to make us ineffective spiritually. I don’t think he cares how he does it: it could be through physical distraction, emotional injury or spiritual apathy. We need to realise the tug of war is real, ongoing, and the costs of losing are personally high.

Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Godly rebuke and discipline is given to us because of God’s love for us. But discipline is only beneficial if we accept the correction. I paraphrase that, ‘Listen carefully and respond accordingly.’

When I was first trying to find my ‘post’ I was looking at the chapter too narrowly. I read it as primarily talking about sexual sin, pride and greed and how they’ve derailed so many high-profile Christians. However, that isn’t what Yun’s talking about. He writes, “Satan is an expert at tempting us to fall.” I’ve heard it said before that Satan isn’t all-knowing, but he’s had plenty of experience in working out which buttons to press. Yun recounts from his own life how his pride resulted in him being imprisoned in Myanmar because he stopped listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, we need to guard against the enemy exploiting it. As Yun writes the following (taking Esau’s bowl of stew as a metaphor):

“There may be a bowl of stew in your life as well. If you make a wrong decision and partake of it, it can destroy your life and bring you untold misery and pain.”

Which raises the question, what are the ‘bowls of stew’ in my life? What are the things that are more likely to distract me from the things of God? I think it’s important identify the areas of vulnerability and bring those areas before God in prayer and surrender. It could be rewards (e.g. promotion, money, fame) or pleasures (activities, sports, relationships) or even attitudes (cynicism, independence from God, selfishness). Yun advises,

“This doesn’t mean that we control ourselves, but it means we must submit to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and who helps us to fear God and hate sin. …it is only the grace of God that can help and train us to overcome temptation.” (italics his)

I know that there are areas which I need to reflect on, and take to God. Two scriptures stand out to me.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This passage does not say that there isn’t a speck in our brother’s eye, but that we first must see clearly before we can reliably help our brother. And also,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7).

It is all too easy to get tied up in worry, even worrying about ‘good things’. We aren’t supposed to worry; we should take things to God. Worry crushes our spirit, faith that God’s looking after something can give us peace and confidence.

Advertisements

Escaping

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell, my faith-based story. When I announced the re-write I mentioned my goal was to lengthen the story in order to smooth out the abrupt ending, which almost universally caught readers by surprise.

(Side note: Now that I think about it the abrupt ending was kind of ironic given that the character dies abruptly at the beginning of the story… and that our own deaths can come equally without warning. The unintentional irony works with my dark sense of humour; but that doesn’t mean it makes for a good writing quality).

The story has gone from approximately 9,000 words up to 23,000 in this first draft. I expect it to contract a little as I tighten my prose. The original story wasn’t formatted for chapters; now there are a total of 7 chapters, 3 of which are entirely new content.

The most important question though: is the story better for it? That’s the question I’ll be asking myself (and soon, alpha readers) as I let it’s melody play in the foreground while I do another editing pass. There are definitely elements in which the story has improved: the story has more depth and the ending is smoother now that it has more of a story and character arc. And yet, I’m still a bit apprehensive.

The first few chapters (the pre-existing chapters) that I wrote while highly inspired sing to me. I’m not sure yet if the other subsequent chapters are singing in harmony.

Even my choice of metaphor is suspect: who’d think I’d ever be any kind of singing conductor…

Distracted

With the rare exception, I have written a blog post every week for a long time. Except it’s been over a month since my last post. So what has happened?

Distraction. Some of what has distracted me has been good-distraction in-and-of-itself. Like maintaining and strengthening relationships, or good stewardship of what I’ve been given (i.e. maintaining the garden), or beneficial long-term (i.e. occupation focused work). Other distraction has been less-good and less productive: gaming, avoidance and other time investments that will never pay dividends.

There’s also been a big block of stress during that period, which mentally constipated me and had me reaching for any mind-numbing procrastination as though it were Valium. And more recently illness that quite literally put me on my back. Thankfully both of those issues have now been resolved.

The truth is the distraction began earlier in the year. At the start of January I was more focused on the things of God and faith. And then like a man heading out for a distant port, I heard the siren’s song of temptation. I started to have more ideas for stories, and my hunger for other hobbies grew too. Now I know that God has given me giftings to use for his glory but that doesn’t mean they should overshadow my desire for him. These were not his blessings, but the enemy’s temptations. I have allowed these other activities to absorb more of my time, thoughts and heart than they had any right to. It’s time for me to re-evaluate my priorities.

I have recently been pondering this passage from Colossians 3:


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

What does this mean for my life? How does it translate to how I spend my time? On if and what I write? If I am God’s servant, his adopted child, how is my life different in a day to day, hour by hour fashion. My life is not my own, I was bought with an incredible price.

That’s actually a danger that I face as a creative person. My mind can spin a dozen ideas out of thin air – and each of those ideas could easily absorb hundreds of hours of writing time. But I want to make sure that I’m not spending my life on something inconsequential.

All that matters is that which lasts for eternity.

Escaping from Hell

I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell in the last week (hence the pun in the blog title). I’m currently working through the 5th and what was the final chapter of the original story.

The observant among you might notice that doesn’t match my progress bar on the right (and it’s not because I’ve been lazy in updating it… this time). The 50% indicator is because I am strongly considering extending the story by approximately another 4 chapters. In fact the first version of the story didn’t have ‘chapters’ at all. It was a single block of 9,700 words. I’ve broken it into chapters because the text naturally divides into chapters. Plus chapters are friendlier for the reader. If I’m torturing the character in my story, the least I can do is make it convenient for the reader 🙂

There was a time, now thankfully in the past, where the mere idea of lengthening a story would be enough for me to do it. After all, word count was the measure of success, right? Now the important question of any addition or reduction is will it make the story better?

I believe that it will. By lengthening the character arc I can be more nuanced in telling the story and make the ending punchier. I can also explore the themes more. I’m just about ready to sketch out the next few chapters…

Writing Again

In the last week I’ve been doing some writing again (it’s been a while).

I’m revising my novelette, Escape from Hell. A novelette is longer than a short-story, but smaller than a novella (sitting in the 7,500 to 17,500 word count range). Escape from Hell is definitely a personal favourite. It’s a first-person faith-inspired trip into the afterlife. If I remember correctly I wrote it in a very short time frame, the whole story coming together in a few days. That is to say, I felt inspired to write it and the words flowed out of my brain and heart onto the page.

The only point were I slowed were the violent scenes, of which there are a few. It is literally Hell, so it’s not full of Sunday picnics with butterflies and rainbows. It’s a tricky balance to strike though. It’s hell: I want it to be horrific – and yet I don’t want it to be so overwhelming that the reader disengages.

Because of how excited I was by the story I didn’t revise it much… I just put it onto my website to share in a rush of endorphins. (I’ve removed it now, pending publication). So now, with a year or more writing experience behind me, I’m taking another look at it to see how I might revise it.

There is a part of me that wants to significantly expand it, though that will come after much careful deliberation. I’ve thought of a few different places where I could lengthen the story arc – and make it more gripping to read – but it’s balancing that disengage factor. Perhaps I will write the extra story arc and have a few alpha readers test it? (The words after all are not wasted, they count towards the ‘million practice words’ every author needs).

I’m going to be more structured in my revision process this time. I envision a three-pass process. The first revision (which I’m currently in) is looking at the broader story arcs. The second revision I’ll look at the detail, trying to tighten each sentence and the third pass I’ll be hunting for typos etc.

A Real Miracle

This is a true story of a real-life miracle that happened a month or two ago. While I might paint the scenery around the foreground to make the blog post more interesting, the core of the story is entirely true and without exaggeration.

To comprehend the situation fully you first need to understand something about my wife and for that let me use an analogy: women are like vehicles. Some women are shiny, sleek racing cars; others are reliable SUV mini-people-movers; still others are utility vans. As different as the vehicles are, they all have their good qualities. Notwithstanding my wife’s beauty and lovely personality, she’s definitely an M1A2 Abrams Tank. She probably averages about 0.8 sick days a year. If you cut her arm off she’d stay home only long enough to cauterize the wound with the heated base of a fry pan and only let out a barely audible hiss of discomfort while doing it. Then she’d be at work without delay. Such is my wife; one tough unit.

So about a month or so back I told her I was experiencing some minor back pain. Not too uncommon for me, just enough to let make me uncomfortable and let me know I’d better not overdo it. I’d give it a 1/10 on the pain threshold. She said she too had a bit of back pain. Not unheard of, we’re both aging :). Throughout the week neither of us said much about it but we were both still dealing with it, without much in the way of visible signs.

On the Wednesday night she didn’t play basketball because of her sore back, which clued me in slightly that this was more than just discomfort. (I’m not the most observant man). I suggested we didn’t need to do a food shop this week. She replied we did have to because we were having dinner guests on Friday night. I offered to do the food shopping if she needed me too; she went ahead and did it herself anyway.

At work on the Friday I got an email in which she told me her back was really quite bad, and she’d just cancelled our dinner plans for the evening. Our outing for Saturday (adventure rooms) was also in jeopardy. For her to tell me she was in pain I knew it was bad. I offered to leave work early and catch a bus to her so I could drive her home. I suggested she leave work early. She declined both. Only later did I find out that “bad pain” actually translated to excruciating pain like:

  • I can’t stand up from my seat
  • I’ve been holding back tears all day

That’s my wife – a real unit of strength and tight-jaw suffering. I wasn’t sure what condition she’d be in when I got home. I certainly didn’t expect what I found.

I walked in the door to see her standing in the centre of the lounge room with tears of joy in her eyes and worship music blaring on the stereo. “Watch this,” she said as she lifted her knee up to her chin, and then the other one, followed by other displays of radical flexibility.

As she tells the story, she’d been suffering with the pain all day. As a colleague was leaving for the day she prayed with her for healing. Nothing overly special: just a prayer. A few minutes later my wife was driving in the car and realised she could lean forward without any pain. She tested it, moving around as much as she could and there was no pain. When she was at home she tested it fully: 100% movement, 0% discomfort. A miracle. Praise God.

Some might say it was just a fluke, some movement which cleared the pain. It’s possible, but unlikely. What’s the chances that after a week of pain, and a whole day of excruciating pain, it just happened to go within mere minutes of prayer? It could be a coincidence but once “coincidences” stack up continuously, then you have to believe it is something more.

We have faith and know that God can and does listen to our prayers. Why he answers some times, and not others, who can say… but what a wonderful example of God’s love demonstrated to my wife.

The Man in the Pit

That partly explains why I missed last weeks’ scheduled post. And almost again this week. I found myself in a deep pit and have had to climb out centimetre-by-centimetre. Which isn’t easy when you’re short and disabled. In some ways I’m not yet fully out of the pit but I’ve reached a height where the WIFI signal has returned.

How did I find myself in a pit? Part carelessness, part circumstance beyond my control and also just the part of the journey I’m on.

Work at the moment, and until December 2019, has intense timelines to meet. Every week there are deadlines. This leaves me feeling mentally exhausted by the time I get home. Compound that tiredness with my almost-routinely bad sleep and it’s a recipe for feeling like you’re being sucked down a whirlpool.

Most unusual for me, this resulted in me not even wanting to turn the computer on. Or if I did it seemed far easier to anesthetize myself with mindless games. The idea of programming or writing after a hard day was not on my schedule.

Publishing Vengeance Will Come made me super-excited. To see all of my hard my work in a format that others could read spurred me onward. I went from ‘I’m not sure I’m going to publish this’ to ‘I definitely have to write more’ within 24 hours. It was just thrilling to reach an endpoint on the project.

And yet as the weeks go by and the sales remain extremely humble (to use a phrase that is more palatable) it is disappointing. I never had expectations of making lots of money or generating a huge fan base. I was smart enough to realise that was unlikely. I just hoped that some readers would enjoy my story. A story teller doesn’t craft a story and then never tell another person: the joy is in the sharing. I’d assumed that Amazon being so large, and my books being low-priced, would give me at least a small audience. So far, that has not been my experience. Full disclosure: I have done no marketing. Still I had expected more.

God-stuff though is what put me in the pit in the first place. I’d been complacent and lazy and hadn’t been dealing well with a few things. Every time I tried to spend time with God, I’d end up thinking about other issues which would rile me up… Soon it became easier to not think about it. Except that didn’t solve anything.

Good spiritual disciplines were bent a little each day, and eventually began to buckle as less-helpful habits filled the void of easy distraction. My distance from God meant that I was no longer receiving his refreshing and the transforming of my mind. I wasn’t living out Jesus’ character but increasingly my own. Which has far less to commend it.

Thankfully, in the last week I realised the state I was in. I wasn’t just sliding down a a hill, I was actually in a pit that I didn’t know how to get out of. I’ve made more of a conscious effort to get my spiritual life back on track and there’s been a huge improvement, thank God. I knew he was always with me even through the difficult and painful times but I missed the sound of his voice.

And so now I’m working my way free of this pit. It’s dark, and I’m still feeling disorientated, but I’m taking directions from the Big Guy who has the Compass.