God gave me this blog post.
By invoking divine inspiration, I have guaranteed that you will read this post and possibly give me money to read more.
Sound like a stretch? Then what if I just wrote or said:
“God spoke to me.”
“I was led to write this.”
“God revealed this to me.”
“I have been called to write this.”
“I believe this is an inspired post.”
In the Christian publishing industry, editors, publishers, and literary agents hear these phrases all time. (And I suspect they are heard in the aisles and parking lots of churches every week.) I’ve heard them on the phone, in person, and in writing … in varying degrees. Everything from “If you don’t accept this book idea you are not a Christian because God gave it to me” to “The Lord has laid this on my heart.” Obviously, the first is outrageous; but what is wrong with the other one?
Often a writer will approach me at a writers conference, lean in, and say in whispered tones, “I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I truly believe that God gave me this story.” I know what they mean. They are trying to express their passion for their work and their sincere belief that it is life changing. I do not doubt their earnestness or their truthfulness. But it can be a problematic thing to say, especially when prefaced with “I know I’m not supposed to say this.”
Granted, some of this comes out of an author’s nervousness when pitching to an agent or editor. Many told me later they didn’t remember a single thing they said during those few minutes. But still, it is important to guard your tongue.
The Bible is very clear that God speaks to us via His Spirit, sometimes through other people in writing, speaking, singing, or actions. We are admonished, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5: 19-20). But note in the next verse (v. 21) the apostle Paul wrote, “Test everything.” The apostle John wrote further, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).
But to invoke divine inspiration in a pitch session with an editor or agent can be seen as an attempt to force acceptance. In other words, if I say no to the project, then I’m guilty of impeding the work of God Himself.
I have had authors tell me, point-blank, that God told them I should be their agent. Bold? How do you think that sounds from my perspective?
Therefore, the next time, before casually or intentionally using this type of language:
- Consider your motive. What is being accomplished by invoking divine inspiration? A legitimacy that was somehow missing before the statement crossed the lips? An expression of passion and sincerity? Is the phrase being used as manipulation?
- Consider your audience. The publishing professional being addressed has already made the assumption that God is inspiring a lot of people a lot of the time. That is intrinsic to the artistic process. We assume that you are passionate about your work or that you feel it is inspired in some way; otherwise you would not be showing it to anyone. An honest, sincere, devout person may have been inspired to write something. That is normal.
(By the way, I’ve yet to have someone invoke the alternate form of inspiration (“the devil gave this to me”)!)
A few of the more sarcastic among us may be tempted to respond, “God told you but forgot to tell me” or “Really? God did that? Please sign this dotted line so we can get busy with publishing it!” You see how silly and mocking this can get?
- Consider your source. Annie Dillard wrote, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?” (Teaching a Stone to Talk, page 40). Are you really speaking for God? Are your words supplanting God’s? Or adding to them? That is a danger of invoking God’s name in order to validate one’s material. “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God … so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). And, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
So before anyone takes offense, I’m not trying to “quench the Spirit.” Instead, I’m encouraging a bit of caution when talking this way among publishing professionals.
Would you be surprised to know that I heard this in 1992 at the very first writers conference I attended as an editor? I was a newbie faculty member. I’d been in the industry as a bookseller, but had never been at this type of conference or knew what a one-on-one pitch session was all about. That first day, a person sat across from me and with glistening eyes and a shaking voice declared, “God gave me this.” It didn’t feel right back then either.