I doubt there’s anyone who writes or teaches about God who hasn’t fallen into the comparison trap. We’ve all read a piece of writing or heard a sermon and wished we could communicate like that.
When it comes to writing about theology and Christian living, what makes a good writer? We could talk about techniques and the long years of experience it takes to hone your craft. You might suggest writing every single day or getting feedback from editors. And those are important pieces of the puzzle.
But we need to look deeper. Or rather, we need to look backwards. Because the crucial piece comes before you’ve scribbled an outline or a messy first draft. It’s a matter of the heart—you need an experience of grace.
After all, what’s our goal when we write about the Bible? It’s more than information transfer. Along with Paul, we have a greater task: to proclaim “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). We can never plumb the depths of Jesus’s riches, but with each article we labour, by the Spirit, to awaken our readers to some facet of his glory. We want them to “[behold] the glory of the Lord” so that they’ll be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). We want to showcase Christ’s beauty.
But we can’t feed people grace we haven’t feasted on ourselves. John Piper wrote a book about the poetic efforts of three influential Christians, titled Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully. His order is important—we must see beauty before we can say beautifully. The best Christian writing happens when we experience the worth and glory of Christ and let that overflow into our words.
So when we read a magnificent piece of writing we still might wonder, “What did it take for you to write like that?” For the answer, look beyond the author’s storehouse of writing techniques to what they’ve experienced of grace. And seek to enjoy that grace too: Never let your writing pursuits get in the way of your Bible reading, prayer, or church involvement. Never let the fires of your affection for Christ burn low, lest you grow to love likes, comments, and shares more than you love your Saviour.
When It Hurts to See
Recently, I read J. C. Ryle’s classic book Holiness and was moved to tears many times. Ryle wrote of Jesus with such genuine love—he truly believed that “Christ is all” (373). I wondered how I could ever write like that.
Then I read a biography of Ryle, and it all made sense.
From great tragedies to daily pressures, this biography showed how Ryle’s life was marked by suffering. His first wife died after only two years of marriage. Twelve years later, Ryle buried his second wife. I can’t begin to imagine his grief. But in his sorrow, Ryle looked to Jesus and found him to be enough. He writes in Holiness, “Oh, you who want unfailing comfort, I commend you to Christ! In Him alone there is no failure” (384).
We can hear of Jesus’s goodness, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it. Often, it takes the loss of earthly goodness to open the eyes of our hearts. Perhaps if Ryle hadn’t faced such sorrow, he wouldn’t have seen such beauty in Jesus, and his writing wouldn’t have changed so many people.
Instead of asking what it takes to write beautifully, maybe we should instead ask, “What did it cost for you to write like that?” The answer may prompt us to seek more of Christ instead of more comfort and ease in this life.
So, how can we become better writers or teachers of God’s Word? By all means, study the writing craft. Read good books and listen to good sermons. Find skilled editors and practice as much as you can. But remember that the most important thing you can do is behold Jesus.
Of course, there’s a caution here. Beholding Jesus must never become merely the means to an end. Look upon him, love him, and praise him—not for the sake of writing the best article or sermon, but because he is worthy. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8)—only then can you invite others to the feast.