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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

The edits to The Recovery-Minded Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Additions (IVP) have been substantial and time-consuming, thanks to a talented editor (a shout-out to Helen Lee) performing her job well. The editing process has also kept me away from this intersection for far too long (and I hope to be back soon); but in the meantime, the process of writing, re-writing and editing this manuscript are teaching me a thing or two about the nature of my relationship with God—who in some significant ways operates much like a really fine editor. Here are five lessons from writing, re-writing and editing a book about how God is at work in my life, in hopes that they might encourage you, too, wherever you are (converted, unconverted or under conversion):

1. I need a divine editor—someone to tell me when my story line is going astray and who inspires me to do better, or calls me to the real story I need to write with my life. In the world of writing, I need someone to tell me where my stories can be improved or tweaked, where my writing needs to show rather than just tell, where I can do better reaching my intended audience. I need someone who will trek bravely through a first draft of my work and then tell me honestly (and hopefully graciously) where the book really needs help—or, for that matter, needs to be drastically re-organized. That kind of editor will make me a better writer and will help me write a better book. And similarly, I need the Holy Spirit to whisper the edits, do-overs and revisions into the autobiography I often so clumsily find myself trying to live with a modicum of faith, hope and love.

2. God needs our incompleteness and our brokenness in order to be God. Those of us with straight A’s in theology can let their jaws drop, but I stand by this statement—at least this side of heaven. The Great Physician says He has come not to those who are well but to those who are sick. The flawed manuscripts, not the perfect ones, are those that God can edit. Even the best writers, like an Anne Lamott, for example, will tell you that good books are usually the products of many sometimes painful revisions. So are some of the best lives, I’m starting to think. Redemption doesn’t happen to perfect people who are convinced their first draft on life is too good to be worth being made better. Grace doesn’t let us stay where we are, and neither does a good editor. Redemption happens to those who realize they need a chance at a second draft or at least a re-write of that section on marriage or parenting or…you can fill in the blank.

3. Failures truly are my best teachers—and the means by which God is shaping my life story in the crucible of God’s grace. In this life I have experienced at least a couple big, humiliating, fall-on-my-face failures—and these do not even include the smaller, daily screw-ups where I miss my mark. Maybe you have, too. But when I fail, God is just around the corner explaining once again (in case I have forgotten) that God, not I, ultimately gets to edit my story. The editing process can be painful, most especially because it means that my version of the story is not the best or only one to be told (and may not ever get to be told for that matter), much like the chaff that the wind blows away. And the editing process means giving up my claims to control on my first draft: if I want a better end product, I have to trust my editor knows better. And I have to be ready to accept my failures as the means by which God is telling a better story with my life in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

4. I am not alone—when I have a question, my editor has said she is only a phone call away; and I’m learning that God really is like that, too. Do you ever find yourself asking God where God is? Do you ever feel just utterly alone? On the days when I feel that way, some times I manage to ask God for help and to dial my divine editor—to “reach out and touch someone,” in the words of the old AT&T slogan (though that someone in this case is capitalized). And I confess I have yet to put my divine editor on speed dial or to favorite him in my contact list. But I am discovering that that Someone is the best person to call in the rough patches where my language is choppy and I am stuck in the doldrums asking how these dry bones might ever come alive again. Writing is like life that way: I cannot do this life without the companionship of a divine editor who will breathe new life into my flat, sloppy paragraphs and hold my hand when I get scared or wonder, in fits of existential angst, whether my life manuscript is just kindling for the fire or toilet paper for the next camping trip. The presence of my divine editor assures me I am not alone and that the autobiography He is helping me live has eternal meaning.

5. The editing process asks for my participation, and so does God’s. No, ultimately God does not really need me to edit my manuscript in just the way God wants. If I wimp out or throw in the towel, God will keep on editing the book and the book will eventually come to fruition regardless of my participation; but God wants me to participate. God wants me to be part of the work that God is doing—not just in my life but in a larger, cosmic “divine editing” process, so that in the process I, too, can become a better writer (a better communicator of the story God wants to tell not just about me but about those around me).

Increasingly, I am convinced–and you will see a whole chapter in The Recovery-Minded Church devoted to this subject–that when it comes to divine editing, God is most concerned with the ministry of healing. Healing me. Healing you. Healing those who need a physician and know it. Jesus’ ministry was at heart a ministry of healing. Yesterday I visited the International House of Prayer (IHOP) for the very first time—and no, my medicine did not include pancakes slathered in whipped butter and syrup, although that is sounding awfully delicious this morning. My medicine came in the form of three kind strangers, all women, who sat around me in a small, intimate circle and enclosed me with their prayers for healing—bold, tongue-fired prayers that came in the form of gentle, soft-spoken declarations, with hands on my head as I cried like a baby. And those ladies did this for a whole line of people that trailed out the door of the little white trailer where we, the sick, all hovered together looking for God’s healing touch.

God’s mission is to heal this world that has been groaning in labor pangs waiting for redemption. The world and we (those of us who know it) are waiting for the stroke of a divine pen to write “Be well” across page 1 or 10 or wherever we discover in the journey that we are sick and need God’s healing touch. I thank God for those three women and for all those who have hitched their wagons to God’s divine editing process.

And the Book of Life that God is editing will one day be revealed and we with unveiled faces will behold it in all its glory.