Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Inspiration and the Harvest

I know I talk about Emaline’s Gift a lot, since it’s my first published novel and it’s my most recent published work, but you may have noticed in the sidebar of this blog that I also have a short story available called The Book of the Harvest. I thought I’d say a few words about that, and post the beginning of it right here for those who might be interested. If you like what you see, the story is currently available for Kindle, Nook and in paperback.

Inspiration is funny thing. We talk about it a lot as writers, I suppose, but I can’t get into any other author’s head to find out if it works in quite the same way as it does for me. I’ve actually encountered two different types of inspiration as an author. The first I sort of think about as “regular inspiration.” God made me who I am, and part of who He made me to be is a creative person. Sometimes I have ideas that don’t go anywhere, but sometimes I have ideas that seem to work okay and they turn into a finished story. Most of what I’ve written in my life, including Emaline’s Gift, falls under this category. God gets all the glory and all the credit because any talents and abilities I have are gifts from Him, but these are simply little ideas that came from here or there (I’ve said before how the Harry Potter series was a big influence in The Magi Chronicles) and end up getting fleshed out. I know that God can use these ideas, and He does, and this is what I imagine that many writers (or poets or musicians or whatever) experience as creative people who deal in ideas.

The second type of inspiration that I’ve encountered is much rarer. These are ideas too, but I can’t even take credit for them at that stage. Sometimes inspiration has just struck so suddenly, out of nowhere, and it’s been an idea much greater (or more inspired?) than anything I feel like I’ve just come up with on my own. These are the times when, when I used to write scripts on a regular basis for Stage Right Ministries, I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night with an idea and, thirty minutes later, the entire thing would be written. Reading through the script the next day with my wife, there would be stuff in there I couldn’t even necessarily remember. These were almost always the skits that would have audience members weeping, the ones that always seemed to have the greatest impact. Oh, people liked my other scripts too, for the most part, and they would get them laughing and God absolutely used the others to impact people (sometimes in ways I couldn’t even anticipate), but these “divine inspiration” skits were different. They were special. I can’t take any of the credit for them, except for maybe diluting their impact. I say that because the inspiration would come directly from the Holy Spirit, but it would still pass through my fingers and I’m sure I didn’t always get it all out on paper correctly. Of course, I’m not saying that any of my work is God-breathed like Scripture—just that I feel like I’ve been blessed sometimes with a very special sort of inspiration that really felt that it was directly from God.

This sort of thing  has happened a handful of times as a playwright. I think it happened most often while my family and I were traveling fulltime and relying on God in a way we hadn’t really done before or since. I couldn’t even tell you how we would always have food to eat and a roof over our heads during those days, because I’m almost positive the numbers don’t add up, and I know we weren’t bringing in enough money to make it work. It was all God. And I suppose I think that He blessed our obedience and our ministry and one of the ways was through this special type of inspiration. It’s awesome.

Since I’ve been working more seriously as an author and a novelist, I still think most of my ideas come through regular inspiration. Again, it’s all for God’s glory, anyway—that is why I write—but it may not change your life (although God can still use it; I believe that one hundred percent). But there have been two instances thus far in my life as an author where I believe that special inspiration hit. One of them is actually the novel I’m working on now. I can’t say how much I’ve muddled it up, but I honestly believe the initial lightning bolt of inspiration came directly from the Holy Spirit.

The Book of the HarvestThe first time this happened to me, the end result was The Book of the Harvest. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to praise this short story as the second coming of [insert your favorite author’s name here]. I’m just trying to share with you how it felt like to me when the idea came. I’ve seen people try to tell me what this story meant to them and they’re actually speechless. Every posted review I’ve seen has been five stars. I don’t have that power as a writer. I wish I did! I just believe it’s the Holy Spirit working. And, no, I don’t think that this means the story is going to be for everyone. No matter how great the inspiration was, it still passed through me. It is what it is. But I believed it was special when I first was struck by the idea, and I still do. I’ve seen God use it. And He gets all the glory.

And that’s a ridiculous and foolish amount of buildup, isn’t it? Well, temper your expectations. It’s just a short story! Let me clarify: when dealing with God Almighty, He will exceed every expectation because He is awesome, He is powerful, He is holy, He is perfect and He is truly everything we need! But be understanding when He chooses to work through us frail beings. My only prayer is that I haven’t screwed this wonderful story up too badly. Here’s how it begins:

The Book of the Harvest

by Brad Francis

There are no clocks in heaven.

No calendars, either. Of course not. How could there be? As eternity stretches into eternity, no time has passed at all. Time itself is nothing but a memory. There are no clocks and no calendars because there would be nothing for such devices to measure.

I say this to make the point that I don’t know how long I had been there. It’s not something that can be gauged. As hard as it is to comprehend, the idea is almost gibberish in the endless light of eternity.

When you step foot on those glorious streets of gold and find yourself suddenly in the presence of the One who was, who is, who is to come—well, let’s just say that all your priorities and plans and questions go right out the window. Finding that childhood friend who died too young or demanding to know why this or that storm blew through your life goes right out of your head, and that’s the truth.

Funny, the sense of urgency when the days are infinite, and yet that’s precisely what comes then, without exception: all of a sudden, there, in His presence, your eyes are opened. There erupts a fiercely urgent need to worship Him, to bow down before Him, simply to bask in His presence.

You remember everything you ever held as important your entire life? Everything you ever considered beautiful? Or excellent, or wonderful, or true, or pure? Comprehension hits you like a tidal wave, and you know how utterly, absolutely wrong you were before.

That’s like Heaven Phase One right there: realizing that you were so terribly wrong, the evidence so incontrovertible in the face of the One who is only Right.

I can’t tell you how long Phase One lasts because such distinctions hold no meaning there, and it’s probably different for each person, but at least I feel like I can tell you that there is a Phase Two. The urgency and the awe don’t ever go away. The need to be in His presence doesn’t go away either—it might actually grow stronger—but this isn’t a problem because to be in heaven is to be in His presence. Believe me when I tell you that it wouldn’t be heaven without Him.

The most wonderful truth here, then, is that no matter how much you explore this beautiful and fantastic world He has created for us, no matter how far you seem to travel from His throne, He is always right there. Climb a mountain, explore a rainforest, swim in a sea of crystal and He is always there, close enough to touch, close enough to throw yourself down at His feet and exult in His beauty, grace and majesty.

I daresay you don’t understand, or perhaps you simply think that such an idea is crazy and impossible, but that’s okay. I can’t describe it any better, but I had to try because otherwise the idea of ever leaving Phase One willingly seems beyond the realm of possibility.

I grew to know an angel by the name of Hezekiah. The first time we met, I pointed out that he shared a name with one of the kings of the nation of Judah.

“My name means ‘the Lord gives strength,’” he explained. “All of our names are designed to give glory to Him.”

“I didn’t know that,” I replied.

Hezekiah nodded. “Everything we are is about glorifying the Lord. Everything we do is to that end.”

I felt a little silly going on about mere human kings then, and mumbled something about Hezekiah at least being a pretty godly king.

“Yes,” Hezekiah agreed. “He was. I don’t mind the association. It’s much better than being named Ahab or Manasseh.”

It would probably be fair to say that Hezekiah and I became close friends, at least for my part in it. Angels don’t tend to wear their feelings on their sleeves. In any case, we explored the wonders of heaven forever, although I don’t suppose they were so new and magnificent to him as they were to me. We would talk about many things, about spiritual things. I suppose almost everything seems like a spiritual matter from this vantage, and Hezekiah and I would talk at length, most of our conversations ending by marveling at how good God is.

At times, some moment or experience from my mortal life would strike me with new questions or musings, and so we would talk about that. I didn’t like to dwell on this, because my human life seemed from heaven to consist of failure after failure. Hezekiah’s wisdom shone through even here, however, as he pointed out again and again that this was mighty evidence for the sufficiency of the blood of Christ. Even those conversations, then, would end up like the others: in praise, worship, exaltation.

It was during one of these times when memories from those earthly days seemed so prominent that I made the remark to my angelic companion.

“I wonder what happened to Mrs. Creller,” I said. It seemed like a perfectly innocuous bit of curiosity at the moment.

“Mrs. Creller?” asked Hezekiah.

“She was an older woman who lived next door in the first house I ever owned. Well, the bank owned, really, but anyway. What ever happened to her? Is she here in heaven? Do you know?”

Hezekiah pursed his lips, but did not make any immediate answer. This is one of the other inevitable hazards of dwelling too much in the past. The blood of Christ is all-sufficient, just as Hezekiah said, but so many in life do not truly put their trust in Him and follow Him. In the presence of God Almighty, there is no doubt of His judgment and righteousness. There is not even the slightest question of the justice of hell; we do not doubt for a moment the Great Judge, but our lament for humanity in hell must be everlasting, as is that punishment. Some believe that there are no tears in heaven, and I think it’s certainly true that it’s very different from life on earth, but God is here to wipe every tear from our eyes.

My question hung in the air regardless, and it was not in the angel’s nature to evade or deflect. Finally, he answered, “Ruth Creller is not with us in paradise.”

I nodded my head sadly. Hezekiah’s reluctance had already said this, of course. I would never say that I had been close to Mrs. Creller—frankly, I had no memory of her first name until Hezekiah spoke it—but she was sweet and kind, and even if she hadn’t been, well. . .

“I know I can’t ask why,” I said to Hezekiah. We were walking through a gorgeous, twisting forest path. The leaves above were an array of colors greater than Crayola had ever conceived. It always seemed a little surreal to even admit the existence of such a real and horrific place as hell when surrounded by such endless variety and beauty.

“The judgments of the Lord are without error or injustice,” Hezekiah said.

I nodded. I knew this, and said so. “And it’s foolish to think what if,” I said, “but part of me has a hard time holding back. Remember when Jesus said that the fields were ripe with harvest, and that the disciples should pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers?”

“I remember,” said Hezekiah, grinning. “I saw it happen.”

“I know, I know,” I said, smiling myself. This was a bit of an ongoing joke between us. “All I did was read about it. I’m very impressed. But do you remember what else He said? He said that the workers were few.”

“Yes. This never stopped being the case.”

“That’s what I thought. So—how do I put this? Was there a worker, maybe, who was supposed to spread some seed there? To Mrs. Creller? A worker who could have seen fruit, but they didn’t go?” I paused, then quickly added, “That isn’t blasphemy, is it? I don’t mean to be disrespectful. Does the sovereignty of God even allow for something like that?”

Again, Hezekiah hesitated. I knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t at a loss. Angels aren’t omniscient, but I doubt if any of us could stump one of them even if we put our heads together with the Mensa folks.

“It’s not blasphemy,” he said at last, stopping beside a still pool of crystal clear water next to the path. His attention seemed to be captivated by a purple leaf floating lazily in the pool, but I wasn’t sure whether his eyes were seeing it at all. “The truth is that God, in His wisdom, chose man as His ambassadors almost exclusively. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of changing a heart, but humans were so often included in the process in a crucial way. The workers sent into the harvest are just regular people, after all. Regular people who obeyed.”

I looked up at him suddenly as I realized what he was saying. “So it’s possible then?”

“It’s more than possible. It was always the Lord’s desire for all to come to salvation, but He did not force His grace.”

“But everyone had a real shot, right? Of course they did. Creation proclaimed Him, but we rejected Him. We were enemies of God.”

Hezekiah nodded. “That’s right. There is no one in hell that did not reject Christ.”


“But if the people of God were more obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, then more seeds would have been planted and more people would have heard. Faith comes from hearing.”

My brow furrowed. “But what about His sovereignty?”

He shrugged. “There’s no conflict. You’re thinking of this through the mortal eyes of a man living in time. In eternity, earth’s timeline exists separately. The elect and the ones who give up everything to follow Christ are always one in the same, because all events can occur simultaneously to an eternal God.”

“I think all this would have given me a headache back during my human life.”

“Then you’re fortunate that they don’t exist in heaven,” Hezekiah replied, smiling.

I grinned, but it faded almost at once. I glanced back down at the leaf and then up again at Hezekiah. “Let me ask this carefully,” I said. “On earth, were there one or more Christ-followers who were prompted by the Holy Spirit to visit Mrs. Creller, but didn’t go?”

“I’m confident that this is the case, yes.”

“And if they had gone,” I continued, picking up steam, “would the Holy Spirit have been able to use them and their words to bring about a change in her heart? If they—whoever they are—if they had been obedient, would Mrs. Creller be here in heaven today?”

Hezekiah held up his hands. “Remember that she did have the opportunity to repent and follow Christ. Ruth Creller rejected Him, or she would be in heaven now.”

“I know that—but are you avoiding my question, Hezekiah? I’ve never known you to be evasive.”

“I’m being a little evasive,” he admitted, “but you need to understand that everyone had full opportunity to turn from their sins and follow the Savior. Nothing else we discuss here can diminish that very significant fact. Do you understand that?”

“I do,” I said. “Will you answer my question? Please?”

Hezekiah sighed. “It’s true,” he said. “Mrs. Creller still had free will, you understand, and could still have continued rejecting Christ until her death, which is what did happen—but, if the workers the Holy Spirit had urged had been obedient, then it is much more likely that she would have recognized her need for a savior, and turned to Him.”

“And then she would be with us. In heaven. For all eternity.”

“The blood of Christ is certainly sufficient to cover the sins of Ruth Creller, yes.”

I faltered. I had gotten the answer I had been pressing for, but it seemed so terrible now that it had been confirmed. Was I in heaven now because someone had been obedient when it came to me, and did no one extend that same offer to Mrs. Creller? She had certainly made her choice, but would another opportunity have made a difference? Another two or three, even? She had been my neighbor. Sweet and doting and—a horrible thought suddenly occurred to me.

“Hezekiah. . .do you know who?”

He eyed me with something like suspicion. “Who what?”

“Do you know who was supposed to be used to reach her? Is there some way to find out?”

I had never seen Hezekiah behave quite like this. He seemed almost flustered, almost disturbed. We had discussed a wealth of topics and issues in our relationship and never before had I gotten the slightest impression that he had ever felt uncomfortable; truth be told, I hadn’t had any idea he was capable of feeling uncomfortable. Until now.

“There is a way, isn’t there?” I asked.

He looked up at me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re my friend,” he said. “Let me ask you: are you really sure you want to go down this road? Because I don’t know that I see any benefit to it at all.”

I considered the question with real weight. The truth is that I respected Hezekiah a great deal, and his apprehension seriously gave me pause. He had never withheld anything from me, so maybe this wasn’t a good idea. It wasn’t a sinful idea or anything—that old nature was definitely and delightful purged at last here in paradise—but was there any benefit at all. . .?

Still, eternity is a long time to have a question nagging at you.

“At this point, I don’t know if turning away is really possible,” I said honestly. “This has really grabbed hold of me, Hezekiah.”

He smiled weakly and nodded, as if this was expected. “I was afraid you’d say that,” he said. “Come on, then. We’ll take a look at the Book.”

“There’s a book?”

“The Book of the Harvest. I’ll show you.”

“What’s in it, exactly?”

“Exactly what you’re looking for.”

I followed Hezekiah and he brought me closer to the heart of heaven. As I mentioned earlier, we were never out of the presence of the Lord, but moving nearer His throne still had some effect. It seemed good to me that we delay our quest for the moment to join the throng that lifted their voices in song, and Hezekiah was pleased to join me. We sang and bowed down and offered our praise and worship as a pleasing aroma for some period, and then moved out again, and on toward the Book.

It was in a small, open pavilion not far at all from the throne. I must have passed it hundreds of times, thousands, but never stopped to wonder what it held, or to look within. I had done so much exploring that I marveled that this place never piqued my interest. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but death had been defeated for good.

There was a podium standing in the center of the pavilion and Hezekiah indicated that this was what we had come for. I looked around at all the redeemed souls streaming by the structure; none of them paid us any heed, and I wondered at that, too. Perhaps this place was only found by those who sought it. Odd. I wondered whether there might be other places in heaven like that.

Hezekiah stood in front of the podium but looked at me steadily. “You’re sure you want to open this Book?” he asked. “You may not like what you find.”

“It can’t be changed now,” I said.

“So why open it?”

“Because I need to know.”

So my angelic friend put up no further resistance. He opened the Book, and found that he was already at the correct page. He looked at me again and I nodded for him to continue, so he looked back down at the open page.

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