I am using the 20th year remembrance of the death of Clifton Hillegass as inspiration to make a larger point about the direction an author’s life can take.

Clifton (pictured above is his statue in Kearney, NE) was the creator of CliffsNotes and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 83 on May 5, 2001.

I assume most of you reading this post are aware of CliffsNotes and also of how much some educators and literature purists hated them and how much their students loved them. But you might be interested to know Clifton Hillegass’s original intent for the summary books was to point out the subtleties and nuances of great literature that might have been lost on a high-school or college student. He was a lover of great literature and plays, with no intention of diminishing them in any way.

To make a long story short, instead of CliffsNotes being used to illuminate, they were used instead of reading the actual book. So the apparent “scourge” of CliffsNotes rampaged over the decades, now consisting of 300+ titles with sales exceeding 100 million copies worldwide. In 1999, a similar type of product, SparkNotes started and is currently owned and sold by Barnes & Noble Bookstores.

By the way, there is a CliffsNotes version of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the complete Bible. Think of the time you can save!

So what’s the point today?

It doesn’t matter what your original purpose was for writing. You will be defined and directed by what you are successful doing. Even mild success has this effect.

In one sense, writing is no different than any other profession or pursuit. You might start out desiring something specific for your life and find a measure of success doing something else. Many people start off doing what they are educated and trained to do; but through success, end up doing something else for their lifework.

If you notice, I am not using theological words like predestined or gifted. Things like this are not always that dramatically spiritual. However, your life journey is never a mystery to God!

You had an idea. But God had a little different idea, involving a bit of Proverbs 16:9:

In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps (NIV).

And also a good dose of Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).

There are pastors who started out ministering to their congregation, but found themselves with a fertile ministry in a specific area. Then after focusing their efforts there, they are heretofore known primarily by that fruitful ministry. They held tight to God’s providence, but loose to their plans.

Our future on this earth is driven far more by what God allows to be fruit-bearing than by what we want to be successful doing. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a vision behind what you do. Just don’t be surprised if God does something with your writing and life different than you originally planned.

Keep your mission big and eternal. Keep your plans small and flexible.

26 Responses to Success

  1. Shirlee Abbott May 5, 2021 at 4:49 am #

    I wrote these statements in my journal this morning:

    “Hold tight to God’s providence, loose to my plans.”

    “Keep my mission big and eternal, my plans small and flexible.”

    Thank you, Dan, for these words of wisdom!

  2. Roberta Sarver May 5, 2021 at 5:23 am #

    Isn’t that just like our God? Sometimes He likes to surprise His children.

    • Denise Kohlmeyer May 5, 2021 at 6:22 am #

      Love this! So insightful, practical, and applicable.

    • Jennifer Saake May 5, 2021 at 11:40 am #

      “Keep your mission big and eternal. Keep your plans small and flexible.”
      Thanks for the great reminder. Shared your article on Pinterest! 📌

  3. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. May 5, 2021 at 5:37 am #

    Thanks so much for your insight, Dan. What a great story!

    This has nothing to do with your posting, but I wanted to share something that God has used in my life this week. I have Covid and a sinus infection,, being diagnosed last week. As someone who runs 10 miles a day on my treadmill, it was quite a shock to go from that to barely having the strength to make my breakfast (and having to take a break and rest after making my breakfast shake, before I could even eat it). As I was taking that rest time to do some Bible study, the song “His Strength is Perfect” kept running through my mind. I realized that the Lord had something to say to me, as I remembered the words of that lovely song. “His strength really is perfect when our strength is gone. He carries us when we can’t carry on. Raised in His power, the weak become strong. His strength is perfect. His strength is perfect.” Stephen Curtis Chapman has a guitar-only version of the song on YouTube that is fabulous. Thanks for letting me share.

    • Dan Balow May 5, 2021 at 5:57 am #

      Great song. I looked it up this morning and noticed he wrote and released that in 1988. The Chapmans have experienced many ups and downs since then and I am sure the Scripture which forms the foundation for the song and the song itself have been read and sung many times by them. Thanks for reminding me about that song.

    • Kristen Joy Wilks May 5, 2021 at 6:03 am #

      Hang in there, Sheri. What a difficult struggle. But what a sweet word from the Lord about His strength in you time of weakness and illness. The Lord did something similar for my mother as she was my step dad’s caregiver when he had cancer. He did not heal him, but He was there and once she got into a pickle and couldn’t lift him and prayed and someone just knocked on the door asking if they could help! So many things like this happened as the Lord walked with them in a really hard time.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 5, 2021 at 7:18 am #

      Sheri, this is for you.

      When your strength is leached away,
      when you are laid low
      and dare not face another day,
      there’s something you should know…
      that out here on the internet
      in this writing place,
      you have friends you’ve never met
      who take to heart the grace
      and flowing wisdom of your thought,
      so skillfully expressed
      through these words that you have wrought
      even though you’re so hard-pressed.
      Thank you for reaching out, to share,
      and to let us say how much we care.

      • Linda Riggs Mayfield May 5, 2021 at 3:07 pm #

        Oh, Andrew. That sums it all up, and so very eloquently! Definitely one of your best. THANK YOU!

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 5, 2021 at 6:41 pm #

          Linda, I’m just so honoured to give back to this wonderful community.

  4. Kristen Joy Wilks May 5, 2021 at 5:59 am #

    That is such a good reminder. I spent several years as a camp counselor, and I was a good one, but growing up and having a family makes the 24/7 requirements of a counselor impossible unless you can find someone to live with your children, ha! Since I wanted to raise them myself, I stepped away from that part of camp ministry and did a few things in the background. Over time, I took more and more photos and developed my skill in that area. Eventually, the Lord called me (one of the few times I’ve had an actual call from Him regarding writing) to start a blog for the camp where we live and my husband works. I took more photos and blogged and eventually realized that no one was posting anything whatsoever on social media for the camp. Now I have stumbled into the perfect facet of camp ministry for my gifts and personality. I stand in the background and take photos as the wildness of camp occurs. I post some every day so that parents can enjoy what their kids are doing. Then I sum up the week of ministry in a blog post with tons of pictures to illustrate. It was not what I thought my part of camp ministry would look like, but the Lord has used it greatly and I love it.

    • Shirlee Abbott May 5, 2021 at 7:01 am #

      I don’t think you “stumbled” into your perfect camp ministry, Kristen. You were “redirected.” You didn’t see it coming. God, on the other hand, saw it before you were born.

      I enjoy the stories you tell — in photos and in words.

  5. Karen May 5, 2021 at 6:03 am #

    This is just what I needed to hear – God spoke to me this morning through your words, and I am grateful!

  6. Dan Balow May 5, 2021 at 6:04 am #

    You thought you could get away without giving a link to the camp?

    Great work.

  7. Tim Shoemaker May 5, 2021 at 6:13 am #

    Excellent, Dan!! A great reminder. I look back and see how many of my “plans” didn’t work out so well. But those unexpected, unplanned, unforeseen opportunities the Lord put in my path were a different story! His plans were always better than mine!

  8. Wendy May 5, 2021 at 6:43 am #

    Wise words, and interesting timing. Romans 8:28 has been my life verse since I was in my early 20s. I’ve spent the last several weeks going through old emails from the early 2000s, and I talked about Romans 8:28 a couple of times in conversations with three friends, during a pivotal year for each of us. It’s interesting to look back and see how our individual dramas played out, and how God was there in the midst of it all, even the dark times.

    Several years fast forward, to another pivotal year for me, a social media giant sent a “highlights” video to its members, containing most-liked posts. Seeing the events in sequence, they played like a story and it makes me think how all the events of our lives might play out before us one day in Heaven when we will see how the puzzle pieces all fit together for our good and God’s glory, just as He promised.

  9. Lynda Irons May 5, 2021 at 6:59 am #

    Sheri, may the Lord send forth His word and heal you!
    Thank you, Dan Barlow for this encouraging word.
    Thanks to a group of like-minded, like-spirited fellow-writers

  10. Brian P Murphy May 5, 2021 at 7:34 am #

    Thank, Dan. Your closing line was especially profound. Loved it!!

  11. frank May 5, 2021 at 8:03 am #

    Well said!

  12. Joel Comiskey May 5, 2021 at 8:23 am #

    Very encouraging and insightful. And I’ve noticed that God works this way in my own life and ministry.

  13. Kristi Woods May 5, 2021 at 8:29 am #

    “They held tight to God’s providence, but loose to their plans.”
    Amen. May we keep in focus “the” focus. Thanks for the shot of encouragement and the consistently frank and insightful posts, Dan.

  14. Cindy Fowell May 5, 2021 at 9:33 am #

    So true! I still pursue the craft of writing and a particular story that won’t go away. At the same time I see how God has used the journey of writing and creativity to enrich Bible study and teaching Discipleship classes at our church. To God be the glory!

    Thank you for the message this morning.

  15. Lancia Smith May 5, 2021 at 9:44 am #

    Dan, thank you. I so appreciate this good reminder today. Blessings to you!

  16. San San Hoi May 5, 2021 at 9:57 am #

    Thank you for sharing. Yes, I agree keep the mission eternal and flexible. I love it. Very great post.

  17. Paula Geister May 5, 2021 at 11:21 am #

    What a great reminder of how God leads us in ways we know are His, but also how He will allow us to interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading.

  18. Kathy May 7, 2021 at 1:43 pm #

    Thank you for the reminder that God may lead us in unexpected paths. Life with God is an adventure, indeed!

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