This year I connected with two more of Patrick’s Confessions. For the uninitiated, Patrick lived in the 400’s AD and has two surviving writings, the Letter to Coroticus and and his Confession. (Read the Confession here, in English—or Gaelic—for free!)
On St. Patrick’s Eve I’ve made it my practice to read the Confession. Each time, I find more to make mine.
First, is Patrick’s Confession 6. It’s the reason Patrick wrote and the reason I write.
Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.
That’s why. I want to be real and vulnerable enough in the blog that you get a sense of what I’m really like, not because I’m worthy of your time, but so that you can “see what it is that inspires my life.” In other words, I want to make God look big.
Which brings us to that other connection I have with Patrick.
It’s all about strength. Confession 30 is another way to say what Confession 6 said. Because what “inspires me” is what empowers me and makes me strong.
For that reason, I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people.
Patrick knew God’s strength when he risked his life over and over to preach the Gospel in Ireland—the very land where he’d once been enslaved. He felt it when he dealt with the hurt of his “very dear friend” sharing decades old dirt (See Confession 32). Patrick wrote his Confession so that his readers would know the source of that strength.
That’s also why I write. I write because I sense “no little strength” from Christ. Any act of forgiveness or repentance, any evidence endurance or love is through “no little strength” from Christ. I want you, kind reader, to feel it in your life too.
Let’s celebrate today. Because Patrick knew what Paul knew and what you know and I know. He knew what all of us saints know.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.
Read it out loud. Read it again.
Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?
It all depends.
It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.
But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.
Because there is plenty of ground to go around.
On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.
Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.
You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.
Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.
Yes, I know. Ug-ly.
Tend Your Territory
Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.
Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.
Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…
If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.
Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.
Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.
Two Prayers: Both/And
Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,
Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.
Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?
Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.
After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.
Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.
It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus?Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.
He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.
All Glory Be To Christ
That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.
God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.
And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.
In the best of ways.
Should nothing of our efforts stand No legacy survive Unless the Lord does raise the house In vain its builders strive To you who boast tomorrow’s gain Tell me what is your life A mist that vanishes at dawn All glory be to Christ