When Does Inspiration Come?


This week there will be loads of marvelous articles on being thankful. This is not one of them.

Anything involving rhythm or great timing pretty much catapults me out of contention. My baseball career ended my sophomore year. I couldn’t time my swing to hit the straightest of curveballs or the slowest of fastballs. I don’t think, at any point during the season, I threatened to break anything but my glasses.

My musical career ended the moment I bellowed at birth. I have the videotape evidence taken during a lively Caribbean church service that crushed any lingering thoughts that I had rhythm.

Appropriate seasonal thoughts, such as being thankful at Thanksgiving or merry at Christmas, tend to hit me a month or two later. I figure out the perfect Christmas gift for my wife Ellen by my birthday in February. By her birthday in March, I’ll have forgotten what it was.

So during this week of Thanksgiving, with no attempt at an apology, I’m writing about inspiration.

An inspirational moment...

My friend Roger, not to be confused with my brother Roger (they don’t even look alike), asked how I found inspiration as an author. I said, “If I waited until I was inspired, I’d still be waiting.”

What!!!? You aren’t inspired when you write?

Now I didn’t say that. I didn’t even write that.

I said, “If I waited until I was inspired, I’d still be waiting.”

Inspiration comes as I write.

In the summer of 2011 (better known as last summer), I cycled to a small town down the road. I had my computer stuffed in my backpack with every intention of writing my next chapter for my current WIP (author-speak for latest stab at writing a novel or “work in progress”). I had no idea as I pedaled along what I’d write.

God and I had a talk.

Me. “I have no idea what I’m going to write.”

Him. “Just start.”

Me. “Start?”

Him. “Yes, start.”

Do you know what I did?

I…

…stopped at a motel and set up camp in their lobby.

…turned on the computer.

…sat there and thought.

…went over to the water fountain (several times).

…went to the “facilities” (several times).

…and did pretty much everything else except write.

I wasn’t feeling inspired.

Then I did something radical. I typed a word…another word…a bunch of words…bunches and bunches of words.

Inspired?

A little.

Then a little more.

Then enough to write several chapters.

I thought about Roger’s question against the backdrop of Scripture. One biblical scene in particular came to mind.

When Israel ended their 40-year journey through the wilderness (and having eyeballed the Middle East wilderness in the summer of 2011—still known as last summer, I shiver to think of 40 years trekking through that dry, desolate world), they had to cross the Jordan River during flood stage in order to exit the wilderness and enter the Promised Land.

God said, “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river” (Joshua 3:8b NIV).

Okay, now, remember we’re talking “stand in the running-over-its-bank-with-rip-your-arm-off-currents-swollen river.” I wouldn’t even attempt to cross our little Pine River at flood stage much less plan on standing in the middle of it. But God said, “Stand in the river.”

The events unfolded in this order.

Flooded river continues to race toward the sea.

Priests step into the racing, swirling waters.

River dries up.

People stroll to the other side.

Let me repeat the order of events.

River rises. Priests step in. River dries up. People walk over.

For me, God says, “Start writing.” I start writing. Then inspiration comes, an initial trickle but then a flood (okay, flood might be pushing it, but more than if I’d done nothing at all).

Based on Scripture and experience, here is what I suggest.

1)      Learn to listen for God’s voice. The psalmist writes, “The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded…” (Psalm 18:13 NIV). We need to develop ears to hear and eyes to see what God is saying and doing in our world today.

2)      Respond in obedience. If God says, “Write,” then write. If God says, “Give,” then give. If God says, “Pray,” then pray. If God says, “Drop your weapons and come out with your hands up,” then you better drop those darn weapons and come out with your stinkin’ hands up.

3)      Don’t wait for inspiration later. Take the appropriate steps now. Those priests didn’t wait for the river to dry up before they stepped into it. God said, “Go and stand.” They went and stood.

Here are perhaps a few words God is speaking to you.

Share Jesus.

Pray.

Preach.

Teach a class.

Write a note.

Visit the sick.

Comfort the hurting.

Search for the lost.

Correct the confused.

Feed the hungry.

Ask for forgiveness.

Offer forgiveness.

Give thanks.

(Oh, that timing thing again. Maybe I do have rhythm. Cue video evidence.)

Question: How does God speak into your world and what’s He been saying lately?

About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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8 Responses to When Does Inspiration Come?

  1. He has been telling me to stand in the river, strike the rock with my staff. He has been telling me to step on faith and the “inspiration” will come. Thanks for being another voice that has been leading me to do just that.

    God bless,
    Michael

  2. Chris Patton says:

    Tom, this is my first visit, but I have to say that was a fantastic post! I have been exactly where you described (“motel lobby”) without inspiration. I have even “started” before and found inspiration there. Yet, I still seem to wander back around to waiting.

    Your advice is solid and I appreciate you sharing it. Thanks for your wisdom!

    • tnealtarver says:

      Experienced writers understand this principle and it certainly applies to more than writing. I’m never inspired to do laundry before I do it (well, unless the bath towels start to smell; is that inspiration or motivation?). Thanks, Ava, for sharing your wisdom here.

  3. Ava Jae says:

    Really lovely post–I’m glad you got the link working! I absolutely agree that if you sit around and wait to be inspired, you’ll be waiting a long time (possibly even forever). Sometimes inspiration comes before you start writing, and those times are great. But more times than not you have to get the ball rolling before the inspiration really starts to come.

    Expect that you’ll be inspired after you start writing, and I suspect you might find that once you get going, the inspiration starts to hit. 🙂

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