The Accidental Pharisee

Anyone who spends even a little time reading the New Testament discovers the only times Jesus got really angry was when he confronted religious people who were so far off the intended track they needed outright and immediate correction or even condemnation. Jesus could judge, after all he was God in the flesh.

Those who didn’t know any better were treated with relative kindness, called upon to repent and instructed to start living a new life.

Even demons were simply authoritatively dismissed by Jesus and told to leave, which they did immediately because they knew who was really in charge.

What was it about Pharisees that drew so much of Jesus’ ire?  They had the truth, but had grown blind and deaf to the message, replacing it with their own structures and standards.  Simply, they should have known better.

If not on constant guard over their own hearts, Christian authors can become modern day Pharisees.

The Pharisees were arrogant and prideful. They claimed to speak for God. They invoked God’s name in situations where they were simply manipulating other people. They worshiped the words written on the scrolls, not the message they carried. They obsessed over the very letters and syntax used in the Hebrew text rather than whether they were understood or applied appropriately. They set themselves as the authorities and demanded adherence to their standards, claiming infallibility. They focused on outward appearances rather than inward holiness.

No wonder Jesus was mad.

When an author invokes “God gave me this message” or “God told me to do this” they open the door to Pharisee-like behavior. There’s a confidence in one’s self that is disconcerting to the rest of us who know we often don’t hear God as clearly as others apparently think they do.

After all, our thoughts are not his thoughts.

In short, we “miss-hear” God a lot, confusing our desires with his. Not always, but often enough to cast some doubt on our ability to discern. Best to start with a humble spirit.

When an author states they will simply rely on God instead of learning how to write, or learn how things work in the publishing world or how to develop a solid author platform, they are really stating they are so special, so talented, so confident in their close connection to God, they don’t need to concern themselves with what others do who must have a weaker connection. Rules for others don’t apply to them.

“I am special, listen to me.”

At this point the road to Phariseeism has begun, heading to a major confrontation with God over their behavior. God doesn’t allow pride to stand for long. Especially in people who should know better.

Not long ago, I was pitched a proposal from an author who pulled out all the stops.

They were a messenger called by God to address a certain issue with the world in a book. God had given them the very words of their manuscript. Not just the Scripture parts, but every other word as well.  They did not need a platform because God was in charge of this process. In addition, God led them to me personally. We were ordained by God to work together and make a lot of money. (They mentioned this in particular)

As I reviewed the proposal, it was poorly written. I confess wondering how the same God who inspired the Psalms could have truly been involved in this project.

When I declined (nicely of course), the prospective author responded with a tirade of epic proportions, calling down God’s judgment on me personally and this agency.

It made me feel better, because I knew I had made the right decision to decline.

This is a complicated issue. I struggled how to communicate the necessity for authors maintaining a balance of confidence in their own ability and the humility needed to become a God-lead and inspired author. It’s a personal issue and no one person is like another.

I do know this, the more you invoke God as your agent, the less chance a human agent or publisher will agree to work with you.

Honestly, you scare us.

Christians understand things unbelievers do not. There is no need to invoke the “God sent me” message to another believer. We get it. If you correctly portray God’s word in your book, we know you are spirit-led. Announcing it makes you a bit Pharisee-like. They enjoyed announcing their holiness as well and thanked God they were not like other people.

So, study writing, learn about publishing, accept correction and humbly work to collaborate with God and others who God places in various roles in publishing. When you do, you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to work with you if you simply put down the façade and let God shine through.



26 Responses to The Accidental Pharisee

  1. Harriet July 19, 2016 at 5:45 am #

    I’m an author and enjoyed your post. It’s something authors need to hear. But I think there are some Pharisee-like behaviors that publishers & agents sometimes demonstrate too. 🙂

    • Dan Balow July 19, 2016 at 7:09 am #

      That’s a whole ‘nuther issue! 😉

    • Tom Salagaj August 9, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

      I so agree! I too had a mandate from God. Not to write a book but to allow myself to be a steering wheel, a glove, an open pipe or any other tool by which he could flow or direct his purpose for my life. But, make no mistake about it. It was truly a walk by faith during the entire process that began in 1966 and continues even today. I had to learn to follow where he led or directed me. The only assurance was the peace I had along the way. His voice to me was rare but powerful when he did speak. I had to believe him. I did. And all things did work out for good because my love for him never faltered.

  2. Robin Bayne July 19, 2016 at 5:47 am #

    This is a great post –and goes along with what I’ve been reading about false teachers. They claim to have direct communications from God– that the revelations they receive are superior to anything we may read in the Bible.

  3. Niki Schrmanski July 19, 2016 at 7:08 am #

    I absolutely LOVE this post. Thank you for taking the time to communicate about a very difficult and sensitive subject. I want to take every bit of it to heart, as I am an aspiring author working to develop my platform and in need of all the help I can get! And the last thing I want is to evolve into a modern-day Pharisee!

  4. Barbara Blakey July 19, 2016 at 7:42 am #

    I shook my head at the arrogance of anyone who would bring such a message to you. I can’t imagine doing that.

    Oops. Hmmm. My own pharisaical weakness is showing.

  5. Davalynn Spencer July 19, 2016 at 8:05 am #

    What did I get from this post? Encouragement and comfort that I’m not alone in my quest for God’s voice in spite of the annoying guilt that accompanies my inability to always know for sure. “In short, we ‘miss-hear’ God a lot, confusing our desires with his. Not always, but often enough to cast some doubt on our ability to discern. Best to start with a humble spirit.”

  6. Carol Ashby July 19, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    Dan, while some Pharisees were wrongly motivated and Jesus cut those no slack, the majority adopted a difficult lifestyle of “perfectly” following the Law of Moses as they tried to worship and please God. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were Pharisees, too.
    Here’s a hypothetical for you. In the days of the prophets, God did speak directly to people. He even told them to say “Thus says the Lord” (in Hebrew, but that’s our English translation). They had extremely forceful personalities and didn’t shrink from claiming they spoke for God in the words God gave them. The prophet Joel writes of a future time when God’s spirit would be poured out on both men and women who serve him and they would prophesy.
    It doesn’t take any imagination to look at the news and see we’re in the end times. So what will you do if one of the end-time prophets comes to you saying “God wrote this,” and it’s the truth?

    • Dan Balow July 19, 2016 at 8:25 am #

      As a believer, the Holy Spirit would open my eyes to see what God is doing through the author. Discernment to know truth vs. error is given to every believer. I experience this every day.

      The message must also be completely consistent with Scripture and not adding one “new” element to it, because if it is new, it is not true.

  7. Michael Emmanuel July 19, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    I enjoyed reading this post. That authors could be on the track of Pharisees was somehow eye-opening. However, I do wonder if alluding to Scriptures as a way of clearing up topics might be off…
    Also, are there particular lines that must not be crossed – minus ‘God gave me this’ – when pitching?
    Thanks for the answers, Dan.

  8. Mary Albers Felkins July 19, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    As a “recovering legalistic Pharisee”, I love love love this! A very necessary and timely message.

  9. David Barkey July 19, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    Good word. I am amazed at how often God’s voice sounds like my own. The facade becomes a sound proof chamber where His voice does not penetrate.

  10. Frenchy Dennis July 19, 2016 at 9:56 am #

    Thank you, Dan.

  11. Christine Henderson July 19, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    Well written and good points made. I especially like that you responded to his submission, rather than merely tossed it in the trash. That shows you honored him as a person rather than merely a name on a page.

  12. Sheri Dean Parmelee July 19, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    Dan, that was a great posting. I think it is important that we listen to God’s guiding in our lives and keep our hearts open to what He wants us to do (and write) but we do not have a corner on the market. He can do His work without us, but we honor Him through our work, as well as through our willingness to listen to feedback. To boldly announce (don’t you love split infinitives?) that we are the sole (or at the very least, a very important) messenger of God is rather bold.

  13. Christine Malkemes July 19, 2016 at 10:32 am #

    Thank you, Dan, for again tackling a hard subject. Writers, preachers and speakers are “teachers.” So as teachers, we are set at a higher standard. You are a gatekeeper. Thank you. Not an easy job.

  14. Evan moffic July 19, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    Dan, the post makes a critical point about humility in religious life. I’m not sure, however, about the way you caricature the Pharisees. There was much more variety in what they believed than to simply say they were legalisms and narrow readers of the text. In fact, it was the Pharisees who stood in contrast to the literalist Sadducees who dominated the Temple. All best, Evan

  15. Linda Riggs Mayfield July 19, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This was a timely post in a way you may not have considered–or maybe you did. 😉 I’m guessing just about anyone going to a writers’ conference is going to run into someone like the Pharisee writer you encountered–I did, and I think it could be shattering to an introverted newbie! A lot of the good things that happen at conferences occur in small group settings, and at my first conference, two such groups in which I participated included people who announced, in only slightly differing wording, that they were speaking for God. I knew I wasn’t–I just had a story with a godly message to share, so what chance would I ever have to find an agent or publisher when I was competing with “His Messengers”? Uh–NONE. But I quickly discerned that the agents were not wowed at all–apparently this is a common thing and they handled it gently and well. So not only was your post a kind warning about our own motives, but could prepare a first-time conference attendee not to be shocked when s/he encounters folk who think they speak for God.

    PS I’ve wondered the same thing as Carol, and am believing the same thing you are about discernment. The Bible says in a different but similar context, “IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, even the elect would be deceived,” so we won’t be. Thanks for that, too.

  16. Shelley Neese July 19, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

    I agree Dan. I hate when people use the “God told me” trump card. When I am talking with someone and they play that card it immediately ends the discussion. Its a way they signal that they are not receptive to other input.

  17. Lisa Taylor July 19, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    Awesome article, Dan. From my own experience I would add, that those times when I’ve been sure God was telling me “write this” — he was telling me to expose my weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that someone else might be helped. My response in those few time has always been, “Ah no… please tell me I’m hearing you wrong.” If it’s about me gaining glory or praise… that’s just me. If it’s about me working out of a place of my weakness, His strength… that’s the first clue I’m on track.
    Sorry you have to go through that experience.

  18. Norma Brumbaugh July 19, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    God is not silent. He speaks. His voice penetrates (cuts) through the multiplicity of voices in a quiet, still way. It has a certain weight to it and always agrees with Scrioture truth. Those who discern His voice will not amplify it, they will be humbled by it Then they will become messengers of His truth and love and known by their humility and grace.
    I can see that you have a challenging position, to wade through the religious sounding voices and then sense God’s divine will in the matter, which means you and all Christian literary agents must also have depth in their own spiritual walks. It is sobering to think about. But this is good.
    Thanks for the insights and advice.

  19. Richard New July 20, 2016 at 4:54 am #

    Great post, Dan. As I continue to learn this writing business in order to satisfy my “need-to-write” affliction, difficulties often pop up in deciding if it’s “me” or “Thee” in what’s written. Many times, I’ve had to back off , do more praying, and considering, then rewrite what I’ve all ready written before it satisfies my correctness factor.

    I’m just saying, perfection ain’t part of me.

  20. Beverly Brooks July 21, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    Dan – I read your post a couple of times … lots of layers to consider.

    Sorry for the negative experience, but it did prompt a pretty helpful piece of writing for the rest of us.

  21. Jo'Anne Griffiths July 22, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    Wow! Wow! Wow! What a wonderful, timely and insightful post. Thank you Dan, for taking the time to write this. When it comes to writing, I am such a novice, but I do try hard. I want to write to encourage and inspire, however, if I cannot inspire myself through my writings, then I shouldn’t have the hide to expect others to be inspired. This post is absolutely amazing, and touches on matters that I was aware of but perhaps was not paying enough attention to. Yes, it is just too easy to be a modern day pharisee. I am slowly learning to pray before I post or add to my writing, but also there is so much to learn about the whole writing/publishing industry. I humbly admit that building up my writer’s platform is something that I need help with and something I must concentrate on. Thanks again 🙂

  22. Roxanne July 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    Good article. Thankfully I am not there since I still wonder if He’s called me at all. I do appreciate the warning. Blessings.

  23. Afton Rorvik July 31, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    Well said! Thanks for this thoughtful reminder.

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