The Promised Land

I recently spoke with a woman who was frustrated with her writing journey. She hadn’t been published although she’d been toiling for many years. She was working on a new project, an exploration of the idea that God doesn’t always “show up” for us in the ways we want or expect Him to. She felt led by God to write this book. The irony is that the woman was complaining that God wasn’t showing up to help her write her book. It was hard. She was struggling through the process. Where was God? If He asked her to write the book, why wasn’t He showing up to help?

This made me think of the idea of “the promised land.” God may lead us to something and He may be promising something, but there is often a LOT of time and a LOT of hard work to get there. He didn’t open up the promised land five minutes after he promised it to Abraham… I believe it was somewhere near 500 years until the Israelites saw it. The cost and the struggle were legendary. Similarly, it has always amazed me that God promised Abraham and Sarah a child… but it was twenty more years until the child was born. Twenty years! There are dozens (hundreds?) more examples in the Bible that illustrate the fact that God doesn’t make it easy for us to accomplish the tasks He sets before us. And time for Him is so different from how we perceive it.

I think about all the people who follow God deep into the wilderness (both literal and figurative) to accomplish His will, to help others, or to attempt to bring people into the kingdom. There are always obstacles, often life threatening, and there is often failure. Sometimes that person who is doing God’s will NEVER sees any positive results from it before they die.

Does that mean God didn’t show up? Just because he doesn’t remove obstacles and make the path easier, does it mean He’s not in it? Obviously that’s not the case. In fact, feeling led by God to do something is almost a guarantee that it will be hard!

I just want you to keep that in mind as you toil away on your writing, believing you are doing it because He calls you to it. Don’t lose faith because it’s not easy. Don’t question your calling just because it’s hard. Don’t be mad at God for not showing up with a publishing contract.

Most especially, don’t question your calling simply because you’re not having “success” in your quest to get published. Truly, you have no idea what God intends to do with your writing. Traditional publishing is totally a man-made construct; success there bears no relationship to success as God defines it. His definition will be different for each individual, but I think the key lies in obedience. Success is following Him whether it’s hard or easy, whether it appears successful in human terms or not.

Ultimately the “promised land” will be to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.” Beyond that, we just don’t have any idea what God has in mind.

Q4U: Where are you in relation to The Promised Land? Has it been smooth sailing or strewn with roadblocks? Do you feel God shows up?

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Bethany on November 18, 2008 at 1:06 PM

    >This post ministered to me more than any other so far. It always hits home as a child of God to hear how my ancestors fought the same battles I do!

  2. Saundra on November 8, 2008 at 7:36 PM

    >This is a great post.

    I am early in my writing journey and have found that it is filled with many mountains to overcome. Finding an agent that believed in my non-fiction project was a huge mountain. Now I find myself at the entrance of my promised land awaiting the momentum to cross over. (Never knew how slow the process is for a work to pass pub board etc)

    Writing from a Christian perspective has deeper purpose than secular books and requires a internal edification just from the writing process. There are some books I’ve written that really have been more for my growth than publication.

    I feel that sometimes it’s needed to show faithfulness in smaller markets, before the doors can be open for a major book contract.

    Finding times to celebrate along the journey are the key to not losing faith and continuing to enjoy the time of exploration in the wilderness.

  3. Matthew C Jones on October 14, 2008 at 9:59 AM

    >Wow. Fascinating post, Rachelle, and an excellent topic. I especially liked your thoughts on traditional publishing being a man-made construct and having no bearing on whether or not we’re having success as God defines it. Poignant and powerful.

    I’m with lots of other folks right now, standing next to Richard on the mountain watching others go into the Promised Land and doing my best to celebrate with their victories. They all assure me they’ll celebrate with me when it’s my turn.

    I would say that in a lot of ways, my journey thus far has been smooth sailing, but I think it might be simply because I’ve never sailed before. I’m more likely to be asking people, “Is it supposed to be like this?”

    And yes, God shows up. I don’t always feel it, but usually I’m the one who forgets to show up or acknowledge Him. (And I’m not being a smart aleck.)

    Reminds me of James 1:2-4 – Count it joy when you go through trials knowing that when your faith is tested, patience is produced. But let patience do its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

    I got my first rejection slip last week. Very polite. Guess it’s time to find a railroad tie and nail it to the wall.

  4. Sheryl Tuttle on October 14, 2008 at 12:12 AM

    >I enjoy your blog very much. This was an interesting post. I think we all worry too much and instead should focus on our relationship with God. It is in serving God that we reach true success. Everything else and every other measurement is man-made.

  5. Anonymous on October 13, 2008 at 5:46 PM

    >I appreciate your words of encouragement. While I’ve had no problem getting my non-fiction published, I’ve been tugged towards writing fiction — not Christian fiction, but fiction from a Christian writer’s perspective. Because I have yet to find a publisher in this genre it’s tempting to wonder if I’ve misread God’s call. Your words remind me to listen and obey, and leave the results to Him. Thank you!

    Carol Garvin

  6. Ed J. Horton on October 13, 2008 at 5:02 PM

    >Beautiful post, Rachelle. I’ve returned and re-read it more than once today.

    “In fact, feeling led by God to do something is almost a guarantee that it will be hard!” Thank you for sharing that thought. Sometimes we mislead ourselves into believing we’ve “missed” God’s will if circumstances are tough and things don’t go according to expectations.

  7. Pam Halter on October 13, 2008 at 2:39 PM

    >I know the “promised land” is not always right around the corner. I’m hanging in there with a little manna here and a littel quail there. But I appreciate what Kristi Holl said … the promised land doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing. There are still battles to be fought and won!

  8. Anonymous on October 13, 2008 at 1:06 PM

    >Thank you so much for the encouragement. Your words speak to my heart directly, and I can see that I’m in good company while walking through what feels like a wilderness season.

  9. heather on October 13, 2008 at 12:42 PM

    >There’s a cliche that says, “If you feel far from God, guess who moved.” We like it because it gives us an action point. Oh, we think, then I can fix this.
    Then a friend introduced me to Jeanne Guyon. Guyon asked, will you continue to worship God when he’s not close? When he pulls back?
    While God’s omnipresent and never leaves or forsakes us, he may pull back. Consider Job. We don’t know how long Job waited until God showed up (and even then, God didn’t answer Job’s questions).
    Will we continue to worship God?
    Thank you for this encouragement.

  10. Jessica on October 13, 2008 at 12:37 PM

    >Love the second to last paragraph. So true! 🙂

  11. Mid Stutsman on October 13, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    >A friend, who is editing my writings, steered me to your blog. She wants to see me published as much as I do, but she also knows how I have grown, in my craft and as a believer, on this journey. What a blessing to hear your encouraging words, Rachelle. I believe this will be one of my favorite spots from now on. 😉

  12. Lisa Jordan on October 13, 2008 at 11:23 AM

    >I felt called to write at the ripe old age of 16, but I didn’t realize God was leading me down a path of his choosing until much later in life.

    My personal journey has been filled with tragedy, triumph, grief, and joy, but God used each one of these experiences to draw me closer to him.

    Last year, I felt God calling me to surrender my writing to Him and He asked me to stop writing for six months. I had received a rejection from an agent that I wanted badly to represent me. I needed time to mourn and rebuild my confidence in my abilities. God used a friend’s manuscript to pull me out of that mourning period. Helping her prepare her manuscript for a contest gave me the desire and spark I needed to write again.

    Yes, there are times when the words don’t flow easily. There are times when I become discouraged and frustrated. There are times when I wonder if I’m doing my will or God’s will, but God is always by my side.

    When I hear a character speak, I know it’s God’s voice prompting me to make my writing stronger. When a plot comes together, I know it’s God’s doing. When I get published, I know it will be because of God’s timing. After all, I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. 🙂

  13. Kevin Feldotto on October 13, 2008 at 11:06 AM

    >Hey, Rachelle. I too have been drawn out of lurkdom by today’s awesome blog. I agree with you completely. I want to swim up stream (my usual direction) for a moment on the concept of God showing up. I understand what people mean by that phrase, but it seems to imply that God is busy in sub-saharan Africa and stops by to check on me occasionally. I live in Colorado Springs where Pikes Peak looms large over the city. Most mornings, I spend my twenty minute commute listening to music, thinking shallow thoughts and muttering under my breath at people who actually drive the speed limit. Sometimes as I turn off the interstate and point my car towards the west, I am startled by the imposing mass of Pikes Peak rising up. The Peak never “shows up”. It was, is, and always will be there. I simply noticed its existence. I suddenly came to a realization of its awesome, overwhelming presence. That’s God. The real question is whether I show up. Ps 139:7-12

  14. Mindy Obenhaus on October 13, 2008 at 11:02 AM

    >I believe that often times God lays a story on our hearts because of something He wants to teach us. If that story never makes it to publication, yet I’m closer to God through the process, then His goal has been achieved.

    I constantly have to remind myself that His ways are not my ways. No matter how badly I may WANT my way 🙂

  15. Kristi Holl on October 13, 2008 at 11:02 AM

    >I think we tend to forget that once they reached the Promised Land, there were still many battles to be fought and enemies to drive out (and that’s where God stopped providing all that manna!) For some reason, we tend to equate “the Promised Land” with “ease, comfort, and pleasure.” All promised lands (whether it’s finding that marriage partner or having that baby or writing that book) come with sweat and strain and waiting and tough times–as well as the fun parts. It’s just life!
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

  16. Rosslyn Elliott on October 13, 2008 at 11:01 AM

    >I love this post, Rachelle.

    On our journey to the writers’ Promised Land:
    We’d better be sure our reconnaissance is accurate (Numbers 13). Despair and complaining will get us nothing but more years in the desert (Numbers 14). No one’s going to hand us the land of milk and honey on a silver platter. We have to find the right city, lay siege to it, march around it for six days, and then blow the horns and scream at just the right time. 🙂 That’s when the walls come down (Joshua 6).

  17. Camille Cannon (Eide) on October 13, 2008 at 10:07 AM

    >Thank you – I needed to hear “hang in there” today.

  18. Anonymous on October 13, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    >A few months ago I was lamenting to my spiritual advisor over this exact topic. I’d worked hard to write the best book I could. (Biblical Fiction) Queried and finally found an agent. The book went out on submission and disappeared into the mist…no call backs after several months of waiting.

    His comment? “Look how much you’ve learned researching your books. Look at the ways it’s depeened your faith. Perhaps that’s all God intended. You have to let go and let God do with it what he wants.”

    Thy will be done.

  19. elaine @ peace for the journey on October 13, 2008 at 9:54 AM

    >Oh, Rachelle, you’ve hit on a trigger here! Alas, not enough room to construct my thoughts on the matter…something I’ve dedicated an entire series of posts to on my blog entitled “Living our Consecrated Deserts.”

    I believe that most of our walk here mirrors a desert wandering (not a popular view in Christian circles). Why? Because as long as we walk in the flesh, we walk in part. Our “fully whole” and our “fully perfected” comes in our next, not now. Thus, we yearn and grown for our heavenly cloaking because while we are here, we are but naked and exposed.

    Whatever our undertakings, be it writing or speaking or teaching or a myriad of all other callings, God shapes us in our deserts. It is there that we know him most intimately, and in the end, I think He will tell us that they are the ones he enjoyed the most.

    Hard isn’t necessarily bad. Hard, when filtered through the heart of Jesus, can be very good and the very thing He uses to fit us all for life in the Promised Land.

    There is strength to be found in the desert. I am finding it to be a place of welcome rather than a journey of regret.


  20. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience on October 13, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    >Such a post that speaks such truth.

    Quietly clapping in lurkdom….

  21. Cheryl Barker on October 13, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    >Rachelle, what wonderful wisdom in your post today. It reflects what I think and feel about my own writing journey and what I keep trying to think and feel as I press on. It’s just super encouraging to hear the same message from someone else. Thank you!

  22. Dee Yoder on October 13, 2008 at 9:05 AM

    >I appreciate your perspective and encouragement to look beyond ourselves to the real reason we write. Though we often don’t know it, if we’re Christians, His internal urgings propel us to do many of the things we do. Who can explain the mind of God? Sometimes, we don’t recognize or understand our reasons for pursuing certain topics in our writings. I look forward to the day when He reveals all the ways we “fit” within His plan without even knowing why!

  23. lynnrush on October 13, 2008 at 8:50 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. What a great reminder of where our focus should be and on whom.

    In response to your Q4U: I’m still on the road to Promised Land and I feel God keeping me afloat during the rough waters and lifting me as I hurdle the road blocks. So yes, He always shows up if I’m seeking Him out and asking Him to be there.

  24. Tami Boesiger on October 13, 2008 at 8:42 AM

    >Thanks for this, Rachelle. Yes, obedience is the key.

    Still feeling like I’m in a holding pattern in the desert….

  25. Mary DeMuth on October 13, 2008 at 8:33 AM

    >Hey Rachelle, great post. Mind if I use it on my wannabepublished blog?

  26. Timothy Fish on October 13, 2008 at 8:01 AM

    >In my journey, I may be in Numbers 11. “Who shall give us flesh to eat?…There is nothing at all besides this manna before our eyes.”

    Here I am standing under the windows of heaven receiving a deluge of God’s blessings and at the same time, I’m looking around and asking why he isn’t giving me what I’ve asked for.

    I don’t really feel a “calling” to writing that many people feel. I feel a calling to serve the Lord and writing is just one of many thing things I do in trying to do that. I offer my books to the Lord. If he wants to take them and use them with all their flaws, they are the Lord’s. If he wants to hide them away on a back shelf, they are the Lord’s. I have my preference, but it isn’t up to me.

  27. Myowne on October 13, 2008 at 7:46 AM

    >The call to write (or the call to do anything of value at all for that matter) has little to do with the grand stage of public approval but has more to do with the One proclaiming it. We write as a mandate upon our souls to speak a sure word into a broken world.

    And the truth is I write because I was born to do it and have been doing the hard work of putting pen to paper since childhood. So, for me, while publishing would be rewarding, it is not the end-all. It is not EVERYTHING because I cannot afford to base my life around the approval of an agent, editor, publishing company, or even book reviewers. The stories I write, the poetry I press into journals, the blogs I set spinning into the blogosphere, and the gifts of words I give others are the ways I express my praise and gratitude toward God. Yes, I love to write, and yes, I would like to see my words in print but the stories and the poems will keep coming even if the books don’t sit on bookstore shelves (in the pseudo-Promised Land). I was born to do this. And does God show up? He has before, He does right now, and He will again. My life and my writing is a testimony to that.

  28. Melinda Walker on October 13, 2008 at 7:32 AM

    >I’m propelled out of lurkdom this morning. In recent years, Abraham’s journey has been my point of reference in my writing journey and in the rest of my life. Today’s post gave me chills, because I just this morning finished writing out all the interactions between Abraham and God. By my count, in the twenty-five years between God’s call to Abraham and the birth of Isaac, we have recorded seven times when God “showed up.” Not until the last year (when two of the communications occurred), did God give any time frame for the fulfillment of the promise of an heir.

    So for those of us unpubbed, we don’t know when or even if our dream will be fulfilled. For my own journey, I’ve been writing over five years with only the tiniest of public success. All I can do is work my dead level hardest and learn the spiritual discipline of waiting.

    In the meantime, I am so grateful for what I see as providential signs (like this morning’s “coincidence”) that I’m on the right path, because I do not want to be pursuing something that’s my own desire. This is too long already, so I’ll just say: I’ve grown so much on this writing journey that the goal of publication has become much less significant.

  29. Chatty Kelly on October 13, 2008 at 7:30 AM

    >This was one of my favorite posts by you so far. Every word was true, yet encouraging. (Well, as encouraging as wandering in the wilderness can be!!). But is all truth.

    Thanks for sharing.

  30. Jim on October 13, 2008 at 7:05 AM

    >My journey toward publishing a story that came out of my life experiences is actually giving me greater boldness to witness of what the Lord has done in my life.

    In some ways, sharing my story while I don’t yet have a book to sell allows me to deliver the message with “no strings attached”. It provides an opportunity to get the name of Jesus before both believers and non-believers.

    As I mention to someone I’m seeking publication of a book, and hand them a business card with a link to my website as a preview, I pray the Lord uses each that small act to touch other lives.

    My “writing” is different than most since I haven’t been toiling at the writing craft for years and years and I’m not necessarily seeking to keep writing. However, I’m so thankful for the coincidences (“Christ ordered incidents) in my life that have lead me to learn so much about publishing.

    My “daily dose” of wisdom from Rachelle and all of you is making this journey a daily adventure.


  31. Richard Mabry on October 13, 2008 at 6:57 AM

    >My call to writing was associated with a deep personal tragedy, and God allowed the book that came from it to be published. But it was His doing, not mine.

    With my fiction, I’ve stood on the mountain and viewed the Promised Land before me while I watched fellow writers occupy the land and tried to rejoice for them while asking, “When will it be my turn?” But, as you’ve pointed out, a contract isn’t the goal. Obedience is.

    Thanks for putting it all in perspective for us. Rachelle, you are truly a Barnabas–an encourager.

  32. Yvonne on October 13, 2008 at 6:45 AM

    >I think too often we think of being successful as a finished product. I think it is more often our attitude while we journey.

    Are we learning? Are we growing? Are we helping others along the way? Are we doing it for God’s glory, not our own selfish desire for recognition?

    There may be a finished product, but that may not be the main “assignment” from God. It may be the lives we touch while we travel there.

  33. Missy Horsfall on October 13, 2008 at 6:42 AM

    >Rachelle, thank you for more of your encouraging insight. This is exactly why I read your blog everyday!
    In writing, as in life, its so much more about the journey than the destination.

  34. Gwen Stewart on October 13, 2008 at 5:27 AM

    >God calls me to complete transparency in my writing, which is interesting since my whole life I have been reserved, contained, keeping most of me hidden.

    God reaches deep in the words and requires my all. This is true for every word I write: letters, blogging, novels…even responding here.

    That inside-out writing manifests in my “real life” as well, as I live in transparency more and more. People seem to respond, telling me aspects of their lives, sometimes after first meeting, I think they would normally keep hidden. Like the transparency is contagious; like they catch it standing next to me.

    I want to go back to the old me many times, but transparency is how God “shows up” in my writing, and I must keep writing it seems. It’s painful more often than not. I pray that, as you say Rachelle, the pain is confirmation of His call for my writing, and my life.

    Excellent post.

  35. Liz Babbs on October 13, 2008 at 4:17 AM

    >I’m so glad you’ve put this whole publishing thing in perspective Rachelle. I don’t think the number of books I’ve had published will feature very high on God’s agenda in heaven, but how I have loved the unlovely, helped and encouraged others and prayed for those who’ve criticised me.
    Being published is not the Holy Grail, but loving God is. Pursue him, rather than publishing.

  36. Natalie Hatch on October 13, 2008 at 3:39 AM

    >God lets us govern our own path, it wouldn’t be a test if he sat the exam for us. We do the best we can and offer it up before him. What happens next is out of our hands. But letting His will be done is about the hardest thing I’ve had to learn lately. (Yes I’m a control freak)

  37. Anne L.B. on October 13, 2008 at 1:18 AM

    >Feeling led by God to do something is almost a guarantee that it will be hard!

    There’s no way I would have chosen this path for writing. But if the children of Israel took forty years and the long route from Egypt through Edom to the Promised Land, who am I to complain about a long and difficult journey?

    Yet I’ve already been richly rewarded. I’ve had people who’ve read what I’ve written tell me it’s changed them. This is the profit I labor toward first.

    As for the “well done good and faithful servant” … it is good that “when I run, I feel His pleasure” (to quote Eric Liddell); it will be incredible to hear it face to face.

    I’ve gained so much from you, Rachelle. I can’t recall a post better than this one. Thank you.