SOUJOURNERS IN A STRANGE LAND
Encouragement for Creative Souls
By Leslie J. Sherrod
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? (Psalms 137:4)
Christian fiction author. Dancer. Artist. Playwright. Songwriter. If you have a gift or talent that you see as a ministry for the Kingdom, the idea of creating for Him probably excites you. You live, move, and breathe off of inspiration and can’t wait to share with the world the gifts He’s given you.
However, what happens when your gifts seem bound and you are not free to express your talents? What happens when the platform you thought you’d have to share your creative ministry is nonexistent? What if you have writer’s block, or a pile of rejection letters, or doors continually slam in your face? Funding has dried up, nobody’s contacting you, or the tools you need to grow your craft seem nowhere to be found. What do you do when you’ve reached a place of discouragement so profound you don’t see any way for your gifts, skills, and talents to ever be free to thrive?
Here’s encouragement just for you.
Jeremiah 29:11(NIV) says “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says the LORD, “thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Yeah, you know this verse. Perhaps you’ve read this scripture before and heard sermons or Sunday school lessons about it. Did you know, however, that this was a prophetic verse given to a people in captivity? Furthermore, have you ever looked at who exactly was being held captive?
Earlier in this same chapter, Jeremiah clarifies that this message of comfort and encouragement was directed to God’s people who had been carried away captive to Babylon. The captives included, in verse two, “the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the smiths.” Did you catch that? The people who were the skilled, creative types were counted among the ones bound and carried away captive. The ones who could use their gifts and talents to make instruments of praise, of warfare, of practical use – artisans whose gifts were most needed for the welfare of all – were targeted by the enemy. These skilled creators were taken out of their homeland, out of their familiar place, away from their shops and materials of creation, to Babylon, a place whose very name means confusion; a place known for its pride and idolatry. A place that symbolized all that was dark and ungodly. The creative people were being held captive by the dictates and expectations of a worldly system, far from the sacred temple where God’s presence was known.
And God let this captivity happen.
At the time of this captivity, the people of God were being led by an evil king, Jehoiachin (2 Chronicles 36:9). Perhaps you feel that the leadership figures in your life have kept you bound because of their poor decisions or outright evil actions. Maybe you’re trapped under supervisors at work who don’t recognize your potential and seem intent on stifling your talents. Maybe your childhood was traumatic and the parents who should have nurtured you hurt you instead. You’ve felt limited by the absence of positive role models and leaders in your life and now you don’t know how to even begin living out your creative calling. Well, here’s a message specifically for you: King Jehoiachin’s name means “preparation” and “established by YAHWEH,” meaning that all that you have endured under the cruelty of others has been part of your preparation process and Jehovah Himself has been establishing you to do His work.
There is more encouragement. Read on.
In Jeremiah 24, the prophet talks of a sign God shows him: two baskets of figs in front of the temple; one of very good figs, the other of figs so bad, they could not be eaten. God likens the people in captivity to the basket of good figs. Those who had not been taken captive were likened to the bad figs that would be thrown out, cursed, and destroyed. Those who were in captivity were promised a different outcome (verses 6-7): “For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.” Long story short, you may feel like your talents and creations are not going anywhere right now. You may feel bound and trapped. But God. He has a plan that He is working out that supersedes our understanding. His timing, not ours, is shaping the events of our lives. And, He promises that you will one day be established and prosper. Note that this prosperity is focused on the rich relationship He wants with us, claiming us as His own as we seek Him wholeheartedly.
While it’s great to know that there is hope for the future, how do you handle the present reality of dreams deferred? God’s word through Jeremiah has a message for people in a holding pattern, for people waiting for the promise of fulfillment that will eventually come. Do you throw up your hands in defeat and stop everything you are doing? Absolutely not! In verses five through seven of Jeremiah 29, God tells his people in captivity to build, to plant, to tend to their families – in essence, to keep moving, growing, and taking care of business. He also says to seek and pray for peace where you are so that you will have peace yourself. Even when you are not in the place where you want to be, you can still enjoy peace on your job, in your home, in your neighborhood. Seek it. Pray for it. God will answer.
Lastly, there is a word of warning. Back to Jeremiah 29, in verse 8, the LORD of hosts says, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD.” Basically, in our desperate state of captivity, when our dreams for our gifts and talents feel stale and dry, it is easy for us to want to hear what we want to hear from people who sound like they know what they are talking about. Be careful of listening to anyone who is offering a quick fix or false hope; who doesn’t understand God’s timing and purpose in your life. Everything said at a retreat or conference or from a pulpit that sounds good and promising is not necessarily a true word from God. There is no skipping over the waiting period God might have set up in your life. There is no substitution for seeking Him with a clean heart. There are no short cuts or cutting corners. God is preparing you and preparing the place where your ministry will be established. If you bypass His timing and get out of your time of captivity too quickly, you’ll be among the “bad figs” that get thrown out and you may possibly miss the promises He has in store for you.
Dear wordsmith, crafter, or creative ministry leader, stay encouraged. God’s vision is bigger than us. His timing is perfect. The preparation period is necessary. You have not been abandoned. Indeed, God is calling you to a closer relationship where He is holding you tight in His arms, naming you as His own. At the appointed time, you will be planted and not plucked up. Fruit will grow and this world of confusion and darkness will be better because of your obedience, patience, and trust in Him.
Now, read those familiar verses again:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity….” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV)
Leslie’s Latest Book Release
Free Exclusive Excerpt (First Three Chapters): http://bit.ly/sweetviolet
Synopsis: It’s a few weeks before her fortieth birthday, and Sienna finally has the life she’s dreamed of: a husband who loves her, a private practice that’s flourished, and an extended family that has finally put its skeletons to rest. However, when a homeless, older woman named Sweet Violet comes under Sienna’s care with nothing on her but broken memories and a pocket watch stopped at 5:11, Sienna knows the peaceful life she’s been enjoying is coming to a screeching halt. Despite her best attempts not to get too involved, Sienna quickly discovers the dangerous past of Sweet Violet, and decades-old secrets and shadows come creeping into the present with violent results. Further complicating matters is a shocking midlife surprise for Sienna, and an unwelcomed guest her son Roman brings home. Life and death, love and loss remain on the line as Sienna seeks answers, ducks bullets, and tries to be a good wife.
About The Sienna St. James Series: Love, Loss, and Dangerous Clients…Sienna St. James is more than a sharp-witted social worker. She’s a problem solver who keeps getting pulled into life-and-death mysteries that only complicate her already complex life. With a head-strong teenage son and a missing, estranged husband – who could be anywhere on the globe – Sienna has to figure out what gets her focus first: the questions she has about her own love and loss or the dangerous quirks and dark confusion of her current clients… And then there are the eligible men around her who are jockeying for position, waiting for her to make up her mind about it all. Find mystery, drama, and soulful inspiration in The Sienna St. James Series: Losing Hope, Without Faith, and Sacrifices of Joy.