Q&A with Randy Alcorn About His Writing
How does God influence your writing?
God influences my writing in every way. As writers, our worldviews permeate both our fiction and nonfiction, and if all we soak in is popular culture, a few hours a week at church won’t be sufficient to give us depth and durability.
We need to meditate on God’s Word daily, and read great books by great Christian thinkers. Read Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Packer, and Piper, writers past and present. Immerse yourself in God’s Word, and study sound doctrine and good theology. (One great book, for reference or to read all the way through, is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, or his abridged version of the same, called Bible Doctrine.)
You can write a novel without quoting a single Bible verse, but if God’s Word is daily at home in your heart and mind, your writing will take on a perspective, and an air of solidity and permanence it won’t otherwise have. God promises His Word won’t return unto Him empty, without accomplishing the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11). He does not promise that about OUR words, but HIS. If we want our words to have lasting value and impact, they need to be touched and shaped by His words—and that won’t happen without a daily choice to expose our minds to Scripture.
My calling, I believe, is first to find my purpose and joy in Christ, and second to transfer that purpose and joy to others. I want my life and writing to be full of what Jesus came full of—grace and truth. My desire is that He would so permeate my life as to flow over to others and draw them toward Him. My life calling and my calling as a writer are the same. I want my imagination to be baptized by and grounded in God’s Word, which has a power and authority my own words don’t have. As an author, I am very aware that I’m a steward of words, and I labor to get them right.
Is there any connection between your awareness of God’s presence and the writing process?
I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic. Without a doubt, the greatest lesson I’ve learned through it is to depend on God, not myself. (I believe it’s no accident that it appeared the same month my first book came out in 1985—so I wouldn’t credit myself for that which God graciously empowers me for.)
Every day I take insulin injections (for many years manually, more recently with a pump) and blood tests, and am reminded of my own frailty and inadequacy. In an immediate sense I’m dependent on my insulin to live. In an ultimate sense, I’m dependent on God to live. As Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Usually I live a normal life, running and biking and scuba diving, but sometimes I’ve lain helpless, not in my right mind, needing my wife to get sugar in my mouth. Low blood sugar clouds my judgment and leaves me with a memory of having said stupid things, like a drunken man.
This humbles me. But I can honestly say I’m grateful for it—even delight in it—because my weakness draws me to greater dependence upon Christ.
Now, writing isn’t a disease, but like my disease, it shows my weaknesses. In my writing I hit dead ends, wander in cul-de-sacs, and waste days headed the wrong direction. I’m never more keenly aware of my dependence on the Lord than when I’m writing a book.
Charles Hummel wrote that “the root of all sin is self-sufficiency—independence from God.” God has taught me that whatever it is we do, He wants us to yield our gifts to Him, and depend on Him for the next step, even the next breath. I don't always succeed, but that's what I seek to do in my writing.
When Paul asked God to remove his disability, which he called a “thorn in the flesh,” instead of healing Paul (which might have resulted in him becoming self-sufficient) God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I’m challenged by these words from Charles Spurgeon:
Be not self-sufficient. Think yourselves nothing, for you are nothing, and live by God’s help. The way to grow strong in Christ is to become weak in yourself. God pours no power into man’s heart till man’s power is all poured out. Live, then, daily, a life of dependence on the grace of God.
If you want to think through this further, check out these blogs on Martin Luther and John Newton:
What routines or rituals do you use to focus your heart on Christ prior to or during the writing process?
I seek to spend time each morning in Scripture, though occasionally that time comes later in the day. Throughout most days I open my Bible periodically, to reference and meditate. Sometimes I use a Bible program to search for and study a certain text, etc.
It has always been difficult for me to spend great lengths of time in prayer, and sometimes it’s been a cause of discouragement. On the other hand, God has graciously taught me about prayer and dependence on Him throughout the day. I often get on my knees for brief periods in my office. I pray as I hear of needs. Nanci and I stop and pray together various times throughout the day. I ask God to help me see prayer as an adventure in which I come into His presence and behold Him, and become so absorbed with Him that I don’t want to do anything else. I’ve had tastes of that, but long for more.
I often think about how wonderful it will be on the New Earth, as resurrected beings, to see God’s face, to consciously delight in everything around me as a direct extension of God’s magnificence. I will never have to guard my eyes, restrain my thoughts, question my motives, or wonder what else I need to confess. In short, I’ll be free of my sin-tainted self, and fully free to be the Christ-empowered righteous self God designed me to be, in continual conscious recognition of Him. This is at the heart of prayer, I think, and I ask God to help me taste that not only in the short sessions throughout the day, but in longer prayer times as well.
Taped to my computer is the verse, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” I’m always keenly aware of this truth, but never more than when I write a book.
How are your writing goals affected by your relationship with Christ?
Everything I write is to further an eternal perspective: “We look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen; for the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
My writing is a ministry, because ministry is service, and every aspect of our lives is to be a service that glorifies our Lord:
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” -1 Cor. 10:31
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” –Col. 3:17
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men...It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” -Col. 3:23-24
Is writing included in the “whatever” I do? Yes. And therefore, I do it with all my heart, to the glory of God, as a service to the Lord first and to others second, aware that I must seek to please the Audience of One, whose judgment seat is the only one I'll stand before, and whose opinion of my life is the only one that matters. I do this service giving thanks to God for the privilege of being His errand boy, His messenger, His servant. By viewing writing as a ministry first and a vocation only second, I remind myself it's not about me, it's about Him
Does the current state of your spiritual health have any influence on your writing skill, style or productivity?
I was raised in an unbelieving home, and came to Christ as a high school student. My walk with Christ is more important to me than anything, and by His grace I have enjoyed the presence of Jesus ever since high school. That He would use me, with all my faults and weaknesses, is a testimony to His kindness and power. My faith in Christ is central to my writing and—I hope—to every part of my life.
Our spiritual health affects every aspect of our lives. I have had some very discouraging times during writing where I stayed up half the night and asked, “Lord, is this going to make a difference? Is it worth it?” God graciously assures us that it is, but it’s really something you have to accept by faith, trusting that the pay-off (a measurable result you can see with your eyes, e.g. the letters from changed readers) will come, even if that book isn’t read by people for another two years. Perseverance is essential in writing...especially on larger projects, I sometimes get stretched to the brink. (And that’s good, because it takes me to my knees, and to my writing prayer team, to ask God for help—apart from Him we can do nothing.)