Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writing and The Role of Patience and Waiting

I am so thrilled to share Joseph Bentz with you this week here at A Pen for Your Thoughts. Joseph will be offering us a wonderful feature on the character trait we all so desire--the art of living with and showing patience in our lives...especially with our writing.

At the close of Joseph's feature is a reflective question for you. Joseph will be sharing his his book/DVD combo on patience with the winner who is selected at random at the end of his time with us. We look forward to hearing from you this week.

Who is Joseph Bentz? 

Joseph Bentz is the author of four novels and three non-fiction Christian living books. His most recent book is God in Pursuit: The Tipping Points from Doubt to Faith (Beacon Hill Press, 2010). His book When God Takes Too Long: Learning to Thrive During Life’s Delays (Beacon Hill Press, 2005) is available as a stand-alone book or accompanied by a DVD that guides small groups through a six-week study of the book. All of his Christian living books include free Study Guides that are ideal for small group use.

Among Bentz’s novels are A Son Comes Home (Randall House, 2007), contemporary novels published by Bethany House, and a fantasy novel, Song of Fire, published by Thomas Nelson. Bentz is a professor of English at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, where he teaches courses in American literature and writing. More information about his books and speaking is available at his website,

Writing and The Role of Patience and Waiting
by Joseph Bentz

A writer may often have to wonder, why do I always seem to be waiting for things to happen? Why do I so often feel that the most important events in my life are just beyond my reach?

My book, When God Takes Too Long: Learning to Thrive During Life’s Delays, sprang from what I consider one of the most frustrating aspects of the Christian life: Waiting. Why does God seem to take so long to accomplish His purposes in my life? As I researched the book, I decided to read the entire Bible specifically with the idea of Waiting in mind. As I studied the stories of the great men and women of faith, I looked for patterns. I wanted to know, what principles of how God works in the lives of His followers can be drawn from these people? What can how He worked in their lives tell me about how I might expect Him to work in mine?

The ideas about waiting on God that I explore are not limited to writers, of course, but because the writing life includes so much Waiting, these are principles writers in particular can relate to. Consider the chapter titles alone and see if you can see the connections between these ideas and the writer:

Expect some frustrating detours if you’re going to follow God.

• Assume that God is at work—even when you don’t understand what He’s doing.

• Remember your identity in God during the long days of waiting.

• Trust God—even though you’re likely to feel His way is not the best way.

• Wait and obey—even as things seem to get worse.

• Have faith that in His good time God will sweep away the obstacles.

Remind yourself of what the Lord did for you in the past.

• Wait when it’s time to wait and act when it’s time to act.

• Know your enemies—their names are Restlessness, Complaining, and Disobedience.

• Cling to God’s purposes—even if you have a quicker plan of your own.

Do any of these resonate with your life as a writer? I wish I could discuss all of them, but right now I will focus on one that has been especially meaningful to me as a writer: Wait when it’s time to wait and act when it’s time to act.

One of the most exasperating aspects of the writing life is how many things are out of my control. The unknowns feel endless: Do I have what it takes to write this book? Even if I manage to get it written, will anyone publish it? If someone does publish it, will anyone read it? If people do read it, will anyone like it? If some readers do like it, will it sell well enough for me to publish another? If I do publish another, will that one merely prove that the first one was a fluke and that I should have stopped a long time ago? Am I really called to be a writer? Is the publishing industry imploding? Should I quit? Should I write more? Should I market more? Is there any future in this?

Writers at every level, from bestselling authors to beginners, struggle with these questions, and I know very few who get beyond all their insecurities. I know even top-selling authors who fear their best days are behind them. In the “Wait when it’s time to wait and act when it’s time to act” chapter of When God Takes Too Long, I examine Moses and the Israelites shortly after they have been freed from Pharaoh as they begin their extremely long odyssey through the desert toward the Promised Land. This should be the happy part of their story, since they have finally gained their freedom, but it isn’t. Up to now they have already endured terrible struggle—hundreds of years of slavery, a forty-year “detour” of Moses’ life as a shepherd in Midian, Moses’ reluctance to take the lead once God calls him, Pharaoh’s crackdown on the people once Moses demands their freedom, and plague after plague that almost convinces Pharaoh to free them before he changes his mind.

But finally—they’re free! They want to rush to the Promised Land, but God takes them the long way instead. They don’t get it. Pharaoh doesn’t get it either. God’s plan for the Israelites doesn’t look too bright to him. The ruler of Egypt misses his huge slave workforce. He decides it’s time to send out his army to bring them back. After all, they appear to have lost their way. He says of them, “They are confounded in the land. The wilderness has closed round them” (Exodus 14:3).

So far, to me this sounds very similar to the writing life—years of struggle followed by frustration and second-guessing. My first novel took me ten years to write, followed by another year to find a publisher and another year for revisions and editing before publication. During that time there were plenty of second-guessers, people who thought I was “confounded in the land.” In fact, I told few people that I was even writing a book because I shared their skepticism. Who was I to write a book? Why was it taking so long? Why did it have to be so difficult? How realistic was it that the outcome of this struggle would be good?

Pharaoh’s army bore down on the Israelites as they waited, disappointed and bitter, by the Red Sea. They panicked. They turned on Moses. They complained extravagantly. In that dire moment, Moses gave this advice, in one of my favorite portions of scritpture: “Do not be afraid. Take your station and see the Lord’s deliverance that He will do for you today, for as you see the Egyptians today, you shall not see them again for all time. The Lord shall do battle for you, and you shall keep still” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Do not be afraid.

Take your station.

The Lord shall do battle for you.

You shall keep still.
We all know how the story ends. God comes through for the Israelites in ways their own plans could never have come close to matching. As the army draws near, Moses stretches out his hand over the sea, and the Lord causes the water to split apart to form a dry area for the Hebrews to cross. The Egyptians follow, but their chariots get stuck, and they panic. The Lord orders Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea again, and the water floods down on the Egyptians and drowns them. They have many challenges ahead, but their fight with Pharaoh is over.

As a writer, my station is at the computer, where I sit without fear each day to do the work I feel called to do. I cannot control the outcome. I can’t predict the future of the publishing industry. I can’t predict the responses of editors or readers. I can’t control sales. I write because that is what is in me to do. I trust the Lord to do battle for me. I trust Him with the outcome, even if it’s different from my expectations. I’m tempted to panic at times, tempted to give up, but instead I keep still. If He wants to call me in a different direction, I’m ready. Until then, I take my station. Day after day, I write with joy and anticipation.

Reflective Question (for you):
As a writer, how hard is it for you to “take your station” and “keep still” while the Lord fights the battle for you? What are you tempted to do instead?

And for the rest of you who don't believe you are necessarily called to be writers:
What in this feature ministered to you most this week?

Congratulations to Jan Cline of Spokane Valley, Washington! Watch for your book. It's on its way soon.


  1. I am not a writer but this blog was very timely. I have been waiting almost 20 years for something and it get's hard. I am putting this book on my list to read. I am very impressed that Joseph read the bible through with the intention of looking at patience. That is cool.

  2. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Joseph. I appreciate your heart to help others find peace through the waiting times, which seem to comprise most of our lives!

    Patience is the area in which I need the most growth.

    As a writer, my biggest challenges come in the form of doubts while I'm waiting. Who do I think I am to compete with the likes of (you name him or her)? Did I receive a call from God or did I decide on my own that I wanted to write? Is my voice/content/grasp of language compelling enough to gain a publisher's attention? If I let them, the doubts cause despair. I've learned to say, "NO. I am not going there. Now shut up!" But I still have to wait...

    I would love to win this book/dvd set. Thank you for offering it!

    Blessings on your writing and walk with the Lord,

  3. This was an excellent post. As a writer, I've felt this way so often but recently decided I wouldn't take any short cuts and wait on God and take my time. Not an easy thing to do by any measure but trying to:)

  4. Is reading a book on patience the same as praying for patience??? Either way, I could learn patience more. Please enter me. Thanks.
    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  5. I have been wrestling with these issues for some time. I am new at this having only dabbled all my life and then being a serious writer for about 2 years. I often wonder how I will ever learn all I need to learn. I love writing, but want to be a part of a bigger picture - leaving a legacy, sharing my faith and making a difference. I may not feel patient but it's what is required of me and I try to embrace it. Not easy - but necessary. Loved this post.

  6. Thanks so much for your comments. It's true that these issues are part of the writing struggle but go far beyond it, into other areas of life.

    Reading through the entire Bible with the idea of Waiting in mind taught me more than any other research. The Bible often shows the biggest moments in the people's lives it records, but for most of these people, there was lots of Waiting and wondering in between.

  7. I also wanted to comment on what Jeanette said about doubts about writing--comparing yourself to others, doubting your call, doubting your skills. I know very few writers who don't face those doubts, even those who have had tremendous success. It's hard--but necessary--to shut off those voices of doubt long enough to simply WRITE!

  8. I am definitely NOT a patient person. I want it and I wanted it yesterday. So your article was most helpful and timely.

  9. I don't write but I love to read and I love to keep learning. And patience is one trait I've yet to get a handle on. Thank you for all you shared. Nothing but valuable information that we all need, but especially me.
    Betty Fimple
    Windsor, CA

  10. i needed to read this posting...thank you for your words of wisdom.

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com