Charles Spurgeon has been called The Prince of Preachers. Yet his ministry was anything but glamorous. He suffered from various ailments and fell into serious depression at times. Spurgeon had rheumatic gout that eventually took his life at the age of fifty-seven. Nevertheless, "his graphic and emotionally charged sermons, changed the face of evangelical Christianity. Today, one hundred years after his death, there is more material in print by Charles Spurgeon than by any other Christian author - alive or dead."
Had Spurgeon known about the trials and difficulties of the ministry, would he have chosen it?
When I contemplate this issue of calling -- especially the "call to write" -- I think about Charles Spurgeon. In his, Lectures to My Students, the preacher said this to his class of aspiring ministers:
Do not enter the ministry if you can help it... If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fullness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.
Did you get that? Here's one of the greatest preachers of all time dissuading others from becoming preachers. Unless "his inmost soul pants" after the ministry, Spurgeon advises the young man to put his hands to another plough.
The wannabe writer would do well to heed this advice. Of course, the call to shepherd souls and proclaim the Gospel is infinitely more important than the call to write. Nevertheless, the writing life is such that, unless our "inmost soul pants" after it, the tedium and drudgery and isolation and disappointment can well become a ball and chain.
Stephen Koch, in The Modern Library Writer's Workshop, strikes a similar note of caution:
Lorrie Moore begins her famous short story "How to Become a Writer" with this blunt recommendation: "First try to be something, anything, else." Though vocations, like talent, can be damaged, they are rather hard to destroy. "I still think," Moore says, "you should become a writer only if you have no choice. Writing has to be an obsession -- it's only for those who say, 'I'm not going to do anything else.'"
I love that line: you should become a writer only if you have no choice. That's what the Prince of Preachers said: Do it only if you can't do anything else. Which brings me back to square one. Is destiny something that chooses you, or is chosen by you? Is the call to write something that lays hold of you, or something you lay hold of? Is it a trail you blaze, or a road you follow? The apostle Paul put it this way:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12 NIV).
In this sense, calling works both ways. It is the taking hold of something that's taken hold of you; it's the working out of something that's been worked into you; it's the apprehending of Someone who's apprehended you. Or in the case of writers, it is the birthing of words conceived in you.