Writing Poetry for the Glory of God and the Blessing of Others

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Brittany is married to Todd Born, and the two currently serve in a foreign country. Before moving overseas, Brittany worked for Sovereign Grace Music. You can check out music she has written and recorded on Spotify and Apple Music by searching for artist “Brittany Hope”.

When and why did you start writing poetry?

I got my first taste of the joy of poetry in high school when I was assigned to create a book of poems over the course of a semester. However, those were mostly light-hearted (e.g., “I had two earthworms as my pets / One’s name was Mitz and the other Metz…”). I think if I could pinpoint the origin of the type of poetry that now flows from my heart, I’d find it nestled in a season of life nine years ago when my sister was going through intense relational difficulties. I didn’t know how to process the pain I felt for her and that’s when I started writing.

What has inspired and informed your writing?

As I said, that spark of pain was really what initially—and has continually—inspired my writing. It was a desire to express shared pain and speak hope into that darkness. It took a number of years for me to find a bridge from writing very hymn-like (consistent meter and rhyme, chock-full of theology) poems and songs to finding words and rhyming patterns that were more easily accessible to others. In addition, my whole family has been filled with good music and songwriters. Honestly, that’s where the inspiration to hone the craft came from. My imagination and ambition were captivated by songwriters whose lyrics expressed feelings so vividly that I actually felt what they described—people like Andrew Peterson, Sarah Groves, Brooke Fraser, Holly Arrowsmith, and Josh Garrels. Being exposed to their creativity gave me a vision for what poetry can actually accomplish. As I was met with truth at the heart-level, I desired to write poetry and songs that did the same for others, connecting passionate emotion to hope and truth.

How has writing poetry contributed to your worship of God?

Poetry has been a massive gift for me in being a stepladder from emotion to Truth and from Truth to biblical feeling and devotion. I’ve lived with regular bouts of depression since 2011. Poetry has been a gift and tool I’ve used to guide my wayward, unfeeling (or too-much-feeling) heart to the Lord more times than I can count. One problem with being a deeply feeling person is that emotions are so vague and unreasonable. So putting those feelings into words that express what’s going on in my heart and head is the starting point. Then, facing those words, I can address/refute/affirm my feelings with truths from God’s Word. Here’s an example from a poem I wrote one recent, anxious morning:

When anxious waves rise
Against my weary heart
And fearsome thoughts fly
Like arrows in the dark,
The future’s clouded over
With bleak uncertainty
And darkness creeps in closer
A constant threat to me,

I will trust; I will fight;
I will cling to the light,
For Your truth is my guide
And Your presence, my life.

So, fight through the fog;
Don’t turn and don’t stop.
Keep stumbling on;
He’ll not let you fall.

Moving from feeling to faith, I’m able to lead myself back to faith, and, generally, once there, God-glorifying feelings follow (feelings of joy, peace, hope, etc.).

What’s some advice you would give others who write poetry or who want to start writing but feel like they might not be gifted in that way?

So far, I’ve mostly talked about poetry in a devotional sense, being used to draw our hearts closer to the Lord. Because poetry is most often closely linked to the heart, it’s a powerful tool that must be stewarded well. There are so many pitfalls and dangers that exist in the world of personal poetry writing (for example, an unhealthy amount of introspection, giving free reign to sinful expressions [Psalm 73:15], an easy way to obsess over something). If you have a gift in writing poetry, I’d encourage you to think through ways you can use it to bring glory to God and blessing to others. This doesn’t mean all your poetry has to be about God. But it should all be done as a pleasing offering to God (psalms of lament are as pleasing to God as psalms of praise). It is, in a way, a tool for meditation. So I guess I’d simply encourage you to follow the command of Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

If you want to start writing poetry but aren’t sure where or how to begin, I’d encourage you to focus on the tools and the heart. Get familiar with the tools of poetry:  rhyme, meter, assonance, imagery, alliteration, rhythm, etc. Read poets that wield those tools well. The more you work hard at using these tools, the more familiar and natural using them will become. Study the heart of poetry—what do you want to write about? What do you want to say? And then just start writing—free form, adding in lines and breaks where you want to emphasize thought changes or pauses. The great thing about poetry is there aren’t really many rules.

Lastly, as you complete them, share some of your poems with friends who might be blessed by them or friends who can help you grow in your gift. I’ve sent many poems to friends for their encouragement. Nothing fancy, just, “Hey, I wrote this and thought it might encourage you.” I think you’d be surprised by how God can use your poetry to serve others.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I guess I’d just add a disclaimer: the range of poetry that can be written and enjoyed is as wide and deep and varied as the human experience. I’ve just focused on a few types here from my limited experience, more so as a testimony of how God’s used it in my life than as a guide for how God will use it in yours. Thankfully, God is vastly more creative than I am!

Bible Study Tip

When studying your Bible, hold off using notes in your study Bible, commentaries, articles, books, sermons, etc., until you have mined the text for understanding on your own (and with the help of the Holy Spirit!). Once you have spent time wrestling with the text, then turn to these external sources to enrich your understanding and answer questions that came up. Also, always remember that we are finite beings. Even the ability of the smartest theologian on earth to understand God’s Word is limited. We won’t find the answers to all of our questions, and that’s O.K. We rest in what we can know—the sovereign, omniscient, creator, good Father God holds all things together, has saved us from sin and death through the precious blood of His Son Jesus Christ and has raised us to new life together with Him, has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us and keep us, and will bring about the consummation of all of His promises in His Word at the return of Christ. God’s Word is so rich that we can study it our whole lives and still not know all there is to know within its pages. This is cause for praise!

Recommended Books

Links in this section are Amazon Affiliate links to books we find helpful

Every Moment Holy
by Douglas Kaine McKelvey

EVERY MOMENT HOLY, Vol. 1, is a book of liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life—liturgies such as “A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends” or “A Liturgy for Laundering” or “A Liturgy for the First Hearthfire of the Season.” These are ways of reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose even when, especially when, we are too busy or too caught up in our busyness to notice.

Check out this video about the book published by Andrew Peterson’s creative community, the Rabbit Room. The Rabbit room also has a section dedicated to poetry. Follow this link for more.

The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems
by Leland Ryken

Christians throughout the ages have written poetry as a way to commune with and teach about God, communicating rich truths and enduring beauty through their art. These poems, when read devotionally, provide a unique way for Christians to deepen their spiritual insight and experience. In this collection of over 90 poems by poets such as Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, and over 30 more, literary expert Leland Ryken introduces readers to the best of the best in devotional poetry, providing commentary that helps them see and appreciate not only the literary beauty of these poems but also the spiritual truths they contain. Literary-inclined readers and first-time poetry readers alike will relish this one-of-a-kind anthology carefully compiled to help them encounter God in fresh ways.

Recommended Media

From Matthew to Revelation—poets, pastors, parents and even children have read Scripture aloud over a hip-hop score so that anyone and everyone can understand and internalize God’s Word. This was not a work done by the Streetlights team alone; this was in fact a work of God’s global church body, for His glory alone. You can download, listen, share, and purchase the Streetlights Audio Bible on the Streetlights App and anywhere music is sold and streamed.

DesiringGod devotes a topic on its website to poetry. It includes poems written by John Piper, articles about the importance of poetry and how to write poetry, and recommendations for poets. DesiringGod and the Rabbit Room (see above under Recommended Books) are both great places to start or to continue your poetic journey.

For the Kids

Grammar of Poetry is a homeschool curriculum. You don’t have to do anything this intensive, though, if you feel it doesn’t quite fit your family. You can do something as simple as finding poems online or buying a book of poetry and just reading one each day with your kids. Many hymns begin as poems. Bobbi Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada have written a series of books titled Hymn’s for a Kid’s Heart that could be a good place to start.

Question 9:
What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?

Answer:
First, that we know God as the only true God. Second, that we avoid all idolatry. Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence.

“God can raise the dead by any means he pleases. He can waken dull hearts to the reality of his beauty any way he desires. And one of the ways he pleases to do it is by inspiring his spokesmen to write poetry.”

– John Piper, from his article “God Filled Your Bible with Poems”

I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
– Psalm 119:111

 

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