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If You Knew No One Would Read It, Would You Still Write It?

Last time I asked you to examine why you write. If you’ve settled that, then the answer to this question may come easier. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing of a scenario. Aren’t we passionate about writing so people will read, enjoy, be inspired, educated, transformed or simply entertained? Just because we want to see results and enjoy some success from our hard work doesn’t make us self-absorbed scribes. Doesn’t Scripture say a workman is due his wages? You’ve worked years on your manuscript, pouring time, money, blood, sweat and tears into the thing. Is it too much to want people to read it?

But just because you write it doesn’t mean anyone will read it. Ouch.

Maybe they won’t read it because you can’t get it published. You can’t find a literary agent to represent you. Perhaps you’ve had dozens of “thank you, but we feel your work isn’t a good fit for us at this time” reject letters from publishers. Gasp, could it be that people think your beautiful baby that you’ve labored over and birthed is ugly? Might your writing be just plain bad? It could be any of the above. But what if I told you that it might not be any of the above? It might only be a matter of timing.

One of these things is not like the others: Emily Dickinson. Edgar Allan Poe. Herman Melville. Anne Frank. Henry David Thoreau. Johann Sebastian Bach. Zora Neale Hurston. Oscar Wilde. John Kennedy Toole. Vincent Van Gogh. These individuals were all called to create and were gifted with divinely inspired ability, but none of them achieved success or recognition for their work while alive.

Some of them tried their best to achieve success but failed at every turn. One wrote for the joy of it but stuck 1,800 poems in a drawer for someone else to publish. Three of them were driven to suicide by despair—one of them before winning the Pulitzer Prize for his novel. But what is the one thing not like the others (besides a painter and a composer in this list of authors)? Only one of them professed to write with unimaginable energy and joy, unfazed by the lack of recognition he received in life. He only cared about giving credit to God for his work, signing it ‘Soli Deo Gloria’. Today he is known as one of the greatest composers in history: J.S. Bach.

“Ahhhhh, Bach.” What if God doesn’t intend for readers to find your work while you’re still around? Maybe the readers for which He has inspired you to write won’t be born for a hundred years. Would you still be willing to write, knowing you’ll never hit the New York Times bestseller list, get fan mail or have even one stinking book signing?

God is teaching me this lesson. While I am blessed with a nice readership, the marketer in me knows I’m barely scratching the surface. When I get letters from parents who tell me their children have fallen in love with Jesus, history, or reading because of my books, it makes me greedy for more—not more money, fame or recognition, but for more readers to fall in love with Jesus, history or reading. “God, if I can bring ten kids to Christ, wouldn’t it be even better to reach a hundred? A thousand? A million?” Makes sense to me. “God, if I can inspire three kids who now love American history and understand how our great country was founded, wouldn’t it be even better to have every kid in America do the same?” Makes sense to me. I pour every dime and ounce of energy I can into promoting my books. Yes, I see results and I’m grateful, but the results are small in my book. Maybe I dream too big. But I’ve been conditioned by a big God, so I make no apologies for that.

But He is telling me to work with excellence and pour my all into my writing, regardless of who will ever read it,and leave the readers to Him. This is liberating. He’s taught me two things:

If you’ve given your work to God for His glory alone, then the results are none of your business.If you make a big deal about God, He’ll make a big deal about you, but in His time, not yours.

So relax. Just write. Sure, do your best to gain readers. But if you’re writing Soli Deo Gloria, you’ve already got the only Reader who truly matters. I’ll take the solitary applause of nail-scarred Hands over the #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list any day.

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