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Posts Tagged ‘Philippians 2:3-4’

I knew it wasn’t wise, but I did it anyway. This week, I took on board two facts about other authors and their books and promptly compared their efforts to mine. Yes, I believe I can learn from how other authors go about promoting their books. But is it a good idea to take their excellent sales figures to heart, without recognising the differences in our situations, personalities, style of books and calling from God? I don’t think so.

Comparison Number One happened in the course of a conversation with my husband about a friend’s book.

‘Oh, I think he’s sold about five thousand copies,’ I commented.

‘No, it’s about seven thousand now,’ my husband told me.

Instead of being happy for this particular author, my heart sank a little. Never mind that this person is with a large, overseas publisher. Never mind that his book is entirely different from mine. All I heard was that seven thousand number. And that was enough to cause me to feel more than a little downhearted.

Comparison Number Two occurred as I was idly flipping through Facebook. There I noted how another author is managing to sell her books by the hundreds as she travels around the country. How does she do it, I wondered grumpily. Again, instead of being pleased for her, I began to feel inadequate, wondering if my feeble efforts at selling my books and speaking here and there are enough. And again, I completely lost sight of the fact that her personality and her books are entirely different from mine.

As I sat wallowing in self-pity, I managed to think clearly enough to realise one fact at least. I am doing all I can, to the best of my ability right now, to honour God with my writing and speaking. I am continuing to promote my non-fiction book Soul Friend that was released last year and my novels as well. I have a good number of speaking engagements in the next two months and have spent hours and hours in recent weeks, preparing for these. My sixth novel is being released in September. I write my own weekly blogs and comment regularly on other blogs and on Facebook. I am trying hard. I believe I am listening to and doing what God wants me to do. I cannot do more.

Then I managed to keep thinking clearly enough to do the most sensible thing of all. I reached for my Bible, where I was up to Philippians 2. And sure enough, God had something very pertinent to say to me about the whole situation. In verses 3 and 4, I read:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Hmm. Yes, Lord, I hear you. Why focus so much on my desires and ambitions for my own books? Why not cheer my fellow authors on, rejoicing at their success? Surely this is what is meant by putting their interests above my own? How about cultivating a little more humility, just as Jesus did? It wouldn’t go astray.

I’m hoping I don’t fall into that silly trap again—for a while at least!

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Recently, I discovered that my fourth novel Jenna has been shortlisted in a competition for Christian authors. Now I’m very happy about that, of course. Even if I don’t make the finals list, at least I’ve succeeded in getting this far. Yet as I read the names of the other authors whose novels are on the shortlist, I began to have second thoughts about the whole idea. You see, I discovered I know some of the other authors personally – and that raises some issues for me. I expect each of them entered this competition in the hope they would at least be shortlisted. And I also expect that they, like me, are now waiting rather nervously to see if they have made that finals list. But if my novel makes it and theirs doesn’t, how will I feel then? I’m not sure I want to be involved in bringing such disappointment and perhaps even discouragement to a fellow author.

On the other hand, however, no one forced me to be part of the competition in the first place. Rightly or wrongly, I was the one who filled out that form and sent my books off. Perhaps I should have put more thought into it then and emulated a good friend of mine who does not even like to play board games because of their competitive nature. She became quite distressed on the one occasion I suggested we play a game of Scrabble together and simply could not find it within herself to try to trounce me – something I suspect she could easily have done. Perhaps her strong dislike of such competition is rooted in the heated arguments she and her siblings had over such games in the past, but whatever the cause, she finds it very hard to think of gaining any satisfaction from winning over someone else.

There were several reasons I decided to enter this competition. I believe in my novels – I feel they contain good stories, interesting characters many people can relate to and also clear messages about God and faith and related matters. I would not spend a large part of my time writing them if I did not feel they were worthwhile. Secondly, there is the publicity aspect to be considered, as mentioned. And last but not least, like any Christian author I know, I would be very grateful for any monetary prize this competition offers!

So what’s to be done? Perhaps the best way forward in it all is to trust God with the results, whoever makes that finals list and ultimately wins, and leave it at that. But also, I suspect this might be a good opportunity for me to take on board a little more of that humility Jesus showed in making himself nothing, coming to this earth for our sake and giving his very life for us that Paul writes about in Philippians 2. Come to think of it, Paul’s earlier instructions wouldn’t go astray either:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

So however competitive or non-competitive we might be in life, let’s make sure we have the heart attitude God would want us to have. Let’s be glad when others succeed and gracious in defeat. And above all, win or lose, let’s learn to be completely humble, just as Jesus was.

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Have you ever had the experience of seeing something on display in a shop that you want so much you simply have to buy it?  It’s happened to me only a few times, but fortunately, in each of these cases, the particular item has turned out to be relatively inexpensive.

Take, for example, a greeting card I saw in a gift shop over fifteen years ago now.  I was with my sister and both of us groaned out loud as we identified with the words printed in bold, black brushstrokes on the front.

She who trims herself to suit everybody will soon whittle herself away.

For me, it was one of those moments when you are brought face to face with issues inside you in a way that is impossible to ignore.  I was at a time in my life when I was feeling pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions, when I was trying to meet people’s expectations on every side (or was it my own?) but losing myself in the process.  I was aware there were things deep down inside me causing me much frustration and angst, but somehow could not find the courage to speak out.  Yet, in a split second, this simple card opened my eyes to what was happening inside me and around me and empowered me to begin to approach things in a different way.

For years, I had the card on display in my workplace and later at home, but today I moved it into my new study where I can see it from my desk.  And as I did, I reflected on those words again.  They still impact me – but God has done a transforming work in me and I have definitely moved on.  Now, by God’s grace, I believe I am much more secure in who I am and much less dependent on the opinions of others.  Not that I ignore others’ needs and selfishly go through life ‘looking after Number One’ – after all, Paul warns us clearly in Philippians 2:3-4 that that isn’t the way to live:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But that doesn’t mean trying to please everyone and fit in with what they believe or how they want us to act, at the expense of our own integrity and wellbeing.  I think now at this stage of my life, I understand much more clearly that it’s as I look to God to tell me who I am and am constantly filled with God’s Spirit that I am best able to reach out from this place of strength and truly encourage others.

So how about you?  Feeling a bit fragile – as if there’s not much left of you?  Remember, God is the one who gives you strength.  God is the one who tells you who you are.

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