Only Jesus gives life.
For those of you who read my
humble column regularly, you know that this is a statement I like to
quote often. The reason is simple. Not even the best writer can give
life. Only Jesus gives life. Not even a church ministry, no matter how
wonderful it might be, can give life. Again, the same rule applies—only
Jesus gives life. Accepting and then understanding this simple truth is
perhaps the most important key to developing a fruitful writing
I first came to understand this
vital concept after attending a weeklong training program, Sumer
Institute, in my early years with Youth for Christ. I went to the
training with a terrible attitude. I was forced to leave behind my poor
wife, who was in her third trimester of pregnancy, to care for our
overly rambunctious toddler son on her own. Moreover, I also had to
leave my Campus Life ministry and my church youth group in the hands of
my leaders, each with busy lives of their own.
“This is a waste of time,” I
complained to a colleague before I left. “What are they going to teach
us that we don’t already know?”
After arriving in Denver I
quickly identified a few faces I knew. Like me, they wore the same
I-don’t-want-to-be-here expression on their faces that was encrusted on
my own. Anyone who has been forced to attend one too many conferences
and seminars where the same information is parroted again and again and
again will understand what I mean. Even worse, crowding around me were
hundreds of thoroughly excited, newly minted youth workers. Most of
these seemed like babies to me, hardly old enough to begin a career in
youth ministry. But likely as not, these kids looked at me in reverse,
wondering what the old guy (I was thirtysomething) was here for.
I remember walking into the
lecture hall and securing a seat as far removed as I possibly could. I
cringed as the meeting started with a typical youth-oriented,
crowd-breaker exercise. Rah-rah-rah! By the time the main speaker
stepped forward, I was doing my best to shut him out by going to my own
special happy place, hundreds of miles away, with my darling wife and
children. But somehow, the speaker’s words filtered through.
“Hello! My name is Bill Muir,
and I am the Executive Vice President of Youth for Christ USA, and this
year I was selected to give the ‘only Jesus gives life’ message. Please
open your Bibles to John, chapter fifteen and verse one. Let me begin
by saying that you
can be the best youth leader in
the world, with
thousands of kids coming out, but only Jesus can give life. Or you can
become the best pastor in the whole world
and you can have a hugely
successful ministry, but only Jesus can give life.” Then he had us
follow along as he read aloud the passage: “I am the vine; you are the
branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).
Mr. Muir explained that our
number-one duty as ministers of Christ was to focus our lives on our
relationship with Jesus, and only then would the fruit follow. It was
not about how great we were in our own strength. In fact, we could be
the best preacher in the whole world and even have hoards of highly
entertained followers, but the only fruit that counted was tied to our
personal relationship with Jesus.
As he continued to speak, it
felt as if scales had fallen from my eyes. Suddenly, I could see it all
so clearly. In all the years of my ministry, I had sought to do the
best job I could—believing that by working and praying hard, I could
build a successful ministry. I prayed silently in my seat, asking the
Lord to forgive me. It didn’t take any convincing to get me to see that
I had been too busy doing the ministry God had called me to rather than
spending time with God.
What happened to me that day in
Denver, Colorado, in early 1990 has forever revolutionized my ministry
as a youth minister and also now as a writer. My success, as measured
by God, pivots on the state of my relationship with God. Only by
investing time nurturing my walk with God by reading His Word, praying,
and submitting to His discipline am I guaranteed to bear fruit.
It is the hope and prayer of
nearly every inspirational novelist that God will use his or her work
to change the lives of readers. Yes, it has everything to do with
writing well. If not, nobody would even care to finish our novels. But
above all else, the most important thing we can do as inspirational
novelists is to abide in Christ—in other words, to nurture a life of
relationship with Jesus.
That’s all for this month. Until
next we cross our paths, don’t forget: Only Jesus gives life.