The Dancing Puritan

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

5 Helps for Writers

Census Report

I am writing a book. I should say that I am trying to write a book. All that is required of me to do so is to open up a vein every morning. That's all. Just a vein. Its not just writing and research that presents challenges, the rest of life doesn't just neatly clean up its problems so that I can work. A few minutes ago, comforted by soft piano music on Pandora, I read an article in The Atlantic titled, "The Book He Wasn't Supposed to Write" by Thomas Ricks (language alert). Ricks describes an encounter with his editor:
At one point on an earlier book, when I told him [editor] how stressed I was feeling, he had replied, a bit airily, I thought, 'Oh, every good book has at least one nervous breakdown in it.' 
What if you are having a nervous breakdown every day?

I am not a famous author. I am small potatoes, struggling to craft even one grammatically correct sentence that makes sense.  I have no visions of grandeur. However, I do understand nervous breakdowns.

During today's Bible reading, I sought to apply the text to my writing challenges. I found this a helpful exercise; maybe it will help you also. Here are my five helps for writers:

1. Remember that there is a God. The fool says, "There is no God." I don't want to be a fool. The chief end of writing is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Therefore I must: A. Tell the truth. B. Pursue excellence. C. Craft creative sentences. D. Find ways to make God known as I dip my quill into the inkwell and press its nib to paper.

2. Christ Succeeded For Me. I have failed. Christ has not and will not fail. I am chosen, accepted, loved, forgiven, and adopted into his family. The success of Christ is not a motivation for me to be content with failure, but to remember that when I fail, Christ is sufficient. I can trust him. My worth is in Christ alone. I tend to forget that truth.

3. Seek God. I need his help. Behind me is a whiteboard marked with names, dates, and places of dead folks. I am finding that those dead, who left no record, do not offer up much information. I prod and bribe them to no avail. For weeks I have immersed myself in census reports, land records, hospital registers, and old newspaper articles just trying to piece together parts of a story that are missing from other published accounts. I need for God to strengthen me, to help me to see Jesus, remember my purpose in writing, and to lead me to truth. He can awaken the dead!

4. Love Others. What do I owe Susannah Spurgeon (the subject of my biography)? I owe her memory the honor she deserves. To love her is to "write the truth in love." I also owe love to those who will read the book. That means that as I write the narrative that I must help my readers to: A. See the beauty and greatness of God. B. Learn from Susannah's life. C. Enjoy the ride. I want everyone who spends his or her hard earned money to purchase Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon to have a great time reading her story.

5. Rejoice! I have a God-given opportunity to write Susie's story. My family, church, and friends are supporting me. God is constantly reminding me: "Fret not, Fret not, Fret not." (Psalm 37) Not one page in the book will be more interesting by my fretting. My message to me (as I am having a nervous breakdown) is, "Rejoice, enjoy, have fun, be thankful, and fret not."

Ray Rhodes is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries where he leads Bible conferences, marriage retreats, and teaches about Charles and Susannah Spurgeon.  He is the author of several books and numerous articles. To schedule Ray, contact him here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Turning Pain Into Blessing: A Lesson from Susannah Spurgeon

It was difficult on some days for Susannah Spurgeon to lift her head, her affliction was so great. However, from her chamber of sickness she bore much fruit for God's kingdom. How? In part it was because she was tethered to rich theology and was therefore able to maintain a godly perspective. Listen in:

When depression and sadness come to me, by reason of the sin within, or the discouragements without; when the thorns and briers of daily cares and vexations prick and tear the weary pilgrim's feet and hands; then you turn my footsteps to where the pines and myrtles of your loving mercies grow, and in their shelter and fragrance my troubled spirit finds rest.
No, more than this, dear Lord, your power is so great that you sometimes transform the very things that hurt and grieved me into means of grace and blessing to my heart and life. Disappointments in my work, obstacles to its performance, the estrangement of friends, conscious incompetence and weakness, and often an overpowering sense of deepening responsibility--these experiences are like thorns and briers, which irritate and worry by their persistent and close contact; yet all these vanish when you, my gracious God, give the word, and I wonder as I find myself walking peacefully among the fir trees, where the pine needles lie thick upon the ground, spreading the softness of carpets under my tired feet; and where the myrtle's snowy blossoms and glossy leaves promise perfume and sweetness even to those who bruise them. Your ways, O Lord, are past finding out, but they are very gracious and tender; and this turning of seeming evil into good, of making your children's trials grow into triumphs, and their pains into pleasures, is a wonderful proof both of your pity and your power.

Are you afflicted? Are your already weary feet ripped time and again by "the thorns and briers of daily cares and vexations?" God's grace awaits you in the midst of your trials. Find shade beneath "the pines and myrtles of his loving mercies."

Ray Rhodes is the author of the upcoming book: "Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon" from Moody Publishers. For scheduling Ray to speak for your next event, contact him here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

30 Years of Beauty

10,000 delights of my years with you are ready to flow from my quill to paper. London was one of them: a large door opening into the hallowed Chapter House that turned to a new page in our marriage.

Seeing your face light up when the Tower Bridge opened to a passing ship was priceless. You met the Imperial War Museum and a boat ride down the Thames with wide-eyed curiosity and excitement. A quick glance at the saints who lay low, along with the kings and poets resting at Westminster Abbey was not enough; you had to read each inscription. You lamented that our tour was so brief at the British Museum. And, you even shared my excitement at seeing the 1854 dinosaur models at the Crystal Palace Lake. The view from our room at the County Hall Marriott captured the London Eye almost brushing against our window as the Thames waved below and Big Ben towered across the way welcoming the world to the Palace of Westminster. You just stared, sighed, and basked in the glow of majesty. Could anything have been more beautiful?

The Abbey, the old river, the sweet music of Ben, and the haunting majesty of the Tower, all served as a fitting background to the real beauty near me during those days. That beauty smiled beside the Palace dinosaurs where a love story was reignited that day at the very spot where one began over 160 years ago.

London, Oxford, Cambridge, and the villages separating them were at the same time charming, majestic, intimidating, and strikingly beautiful. However, dig up Abbey's bones, drain the Thames, silence Ben's chimes, and tear the Tower Bridge down if you will, for as long as there is the Queen in her robes of gold, beauty lives.

In the last months of Charles Spurgeon's life, a dream came true. For almost a quarter of a century, he had longed for Susie's presence with him at his favorite resting place on the coast of France. The Lord heard the cry of his servant and gave Susie strength sufficient to journey 1000 miles with her dear husband to visit the waters and gardens of Mentone. She described their time together as "the oil and wine of His [God's] choicest consolation." She reflected on those rapturous days with her beloved by recalling, from the vantage point of a lofty perch, the story of her marriage to Charles. This is what she saw from her hill as she gazed at the French Riviera below:
I can see two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand-heart linked to heart. True they had rivers to ford, and mountains to cross, and fierce enemies to fight, and many dangers to go through; but their Guide was watchful, their Deliverer unfailing, and of them it might truly be said, 'In all their sufferings he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted up and carried them through all the years.'
She told of their days of singing, their love for Jesus, and their final stop together, "to a place on the road where two ways met." It was from that place that their company was divided and one was transported to heaven while the other, "battered and bruised by the awful tempest, henceforth toiling along the road," was left alone. Yet, though her prince departed, her King came near.

Darling Lori, I pray that we have yet much highway yet before us. I pray also that we will traverse the path with joy. Though there are mercies behind us left unsung, may those mercies be reignited in garden songs. Whether olive-groves, mountain vineyards, or breathing in the fragrance of choicest flowers, may we go the remainder of our way hand-in-hand singing of his goodness to us. Our children are near, our grandchildren are just a few doors down, and the scratches on our floor and the watercolors hanging on our walls are reminders of a life lived together with Christ as our Lord. It is beautiful.

The beauty of England is beyond my ability to describe. And yet your beauty surpasses the spires, steeples, palaces, and country hamlets of England's sacred ground. 30 years of beauty. And can it be that you are more beautiful today than you were on August 15, 1987? Indeed you are. Though London will soon feel the chill of winter wind, I hear that the coast of France is rather nice this time of year. And, they say that the waters of Mentone are clear blue and can make "even the stones sing a constant song of joy." Maybe we will find out one day. If so, we will not be able to gaze too far across the sea for the light reflecting off of the Mediterranean waters will be too dazzling. Yet they say that beyond them "there lay a beautiful summer-land, where the rigors of winter are unknown, and the icy winds of the North never blow." By faith, we know that it is there, for He is there. His beauty at once blinds and then gives sight so that, for the first time ever, we behold the fullness of his beauty unhindered. Reflections of that beauty I see in you my dear. I have seen it for 30 years. It's clearer today than ever before. Happy Anniversary.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Avoid Compartmentalizing Your Devotional Practices

Susannah Spurgeon writes of the temptation to either confine one's devotional practises to the Lord's Day church services or to neatly compartmentalize them into their daily schedule. While one should not deny the importance of either congregational or private spiritual disciplines, such practises, isolated from a larger devotional life, are empty. At church one may "perform various pious genuflexions" only to leave the church building and then "cram into the rest of the day, and all the subsequent days of the week, as much of gain and greed and worldly enjoyment as is possible." However, for those who go a step further and include with their weekly visits to church a daily regimen of Bible reading and prayer, they are also in danger of compartmentalizing their faith by confining their devotional exercises to a set time each day.

Susannah quotes Andrew Murray:

How much of our Christianity suffers from the fact that it is confined to certain times and places! A man, who seeks to pray earnestly in the church, or in the closet, spends the greater part of the week or the day in a spirit entirely at variance with that in which he prayed. His worship is the work of a fixed place or hour, not the blessed outcome of his whole spiritual being.
Do you see yourself in either context? Is your devotional life confined to weekly church activities? Or do you limit your time in Scripture reading and prayer to a set time each day? Again, it is important to worship on the Lord's Day and to set aside daily times that are designed to focus on God. However, one's devotional life should be more comprehensive than set times and places. How often do we leave our "quiet time" to go about our daily work only to find that our piety from earlier in the day is swallowed up in the day's demands?

Susannah lamented that her high thoughts of God earlier in the day were often soon forgotten:

I have allowed the fogs and gloom's of earthly cares, aye, and even the smoke from the altar of sacrifice and service, to obscure my soul's vision, and hide, for a time at least, that glorious goal towards which my heart pressed when I felt myself to be in the presence of God.

Do you relate to Susannah's lament?

How can you fight against compartmentalizing your exercises in piety?

Confess your sin and  struggle of compartmentalizing your devotional practises. 

Meditate on God's Word. Meditation is closely connected to memorization. When you hide God's Word in your heart, then you can meditate on it throughout the day (see Psalm 119). Psalm 16:8 is a reminder that we are to keep God always before us. Memorization and meditation will help to fulfill that command.

Remember that the Holy Spirit indwells you and "a different state of things is not only possible, but it is enjoined upon you."  The Holy Spirit will help you to be God-focused throughout the day. 

Ask God to help you to walk with Him throughout the day. 

Prepare your mind each morning for the fact that "the burden and heat of the day" will certainly "oppress both soul and body."

Engage your daily activities by purposefully seeking to apply Scripture to your decision making, conversations, and all other activities.

Susannah asserted:

What a revolution there would be in all Christian circles if each one of us carried into every though and word and action of the day the fragrance and freshness of our seasons of sweet communion with our Master! It is good to talk with God; it is far better to walk with Him.

Idea for the post and quotes are from Susannah Spurgeon, A Basket of Summer Fruit.
Ray Rhodes, Jr. is the author of the upcoming book: Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, Moody Publishers. Contact Ray via Facebook here if you would like to schedule him to speak for your next event.