J17- A Meaningful Legacy: How Journaling Helps You and Helps Others

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(Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

Today my Creative Writing assignment is to answer these questions: In your opinion, what is the value of regular journaling, if any? What is your favorite way to journal? How often? Do you think you will maintain your writing blog when class is over?

Journaling is an art that keeps your life breathing when your lungs have ceased to breathe. The world craves for honesty, wondering what’s behind a person’s masqueraded smile. It’s so hard to dig out the truth of a person sometimes. Inscribing the details of your life lets people of the future (including yourself) learn, laugh, and cry at your own real-life ponderings jotted forth from pen to page.

I prefer to journal whenever my emotions or ideas particularly press on my heart. I admit it’s not a regular habit. I probably write 3-5 times a year, but that’s okay. Journaling is about your life, and what you want people to remember. I esteem those who journal on a daily basis, but I also believe journaling is much more than a report on your life. It’s your heart and soul. Your true smile. Your genuine tears of heartache.

Even if no one ever sees your journal, the process is so refreshing. Sometimes I realize things I didn’t realize before I started writing. Maybe it’s God helping me make sense of my life and filling me with peace.

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33a

When my creative writing class comes to an end, I still plan to write on this blog whatever God places on my heart. The hurting people in this world need writers more than they realize. Writers entertain, inspire, and teach people.

And when it comes to journaling, we testify to the God who is working in us for our greater good, and we show them that they are not alone.

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J15: Waiting For Him to Come

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(Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash)

Today I will tell you about a particular Christmas tradition my family has and what it means to me. 

The carols. The lights. The greenery. The smiles. The joy. The gifts. The hot chocolate. The birth of one life-altering baby boy.

These are some most of the things that I love about Christmas.

Lately it’s hard for me to appreciate Christmas like I used to when I was a little kid—with Santa and his reindeer and all the magic they brought to the holiday. Now all of those illusions are gone.

What’s left is the reality. That the Son of God descended to a lowly manger to bring us eternal joy and a relationship with our Heavenly Father is something I will never fully appreciate until perhaps heaven.

My family has a tradition, called the Jesse Tree, which is named after King David’s father. The idea is that Jesse is an ancestor in a long line of ancestors leading up to Jesus.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” — Isaiah 11:1

Every day in December you hang a new ornament on the Jesse tree, each ornament representing a different event in the history of Jesus’ ancestors, leading up to the birth of Jesus. For example, the first ornament is a little globe, and this is when you are supposed to read about the creation of the world. The advent of ornaments continues on to symbolize different events in the Bible, especially highlighting the characters in Jesus’ genealogy.

The Israelites waited for a long time for the Messiah to come, just as my family waits for Christmas day by decorating the Jesse Tree. Placing one ornament on the tree each day in December is sort of like waiting for Jesus to come. Imagine the excitement. The anticipation. The uncertainty. Will He ever come at this rate? Before Jesus came, the Israelites probably doubted that their Savior would ever come and rescue them from sin and death.

Before He came, the Israelites were running out of hope.

But today we have an advantage: we know that He came! We know that He was born, He died, and He rose again. We know that He performed miracles, told parables, spoke against the legalistic Pharisees, and even was put to death on the cross so we might live, symbolizing His humility. Now we have hope of an everlasting relationship with our Heavenly Father.

If the holy, worthy, powerful Lord of the Universe descended to a filthy manger and even a criminal’s death, how can we begin to complain to God that something is too “demeaning” or “hard” for us, if it’s His will for us to do?

Christmas, as we all know, is not about the getting. It’s about the giving. Give your heart and life to Jesus, and in return pour out His love into anyone you come across with.

We don’t have to wait as long as the Israelites did. But when we experience the waiting for our Messiah by hanging up symbols of the past on the Jesse Tree, perhaps whenever we accept that the Son of God came to earth for our eternal reconciliation with God, Jesus will mean more to us than just a baby in a manger. Maybe the magic of Santa is nothing but a fantasy, but Jesus is the ultimate reality.

May God truly be with us this Christmas. May He be the carol on our tongue, the Christmas tree in our spirit, and the steaming hot cocoa of our weary hearts.

Because Christmas isn’t about magic, it’s about miracles.

J14: 3 Tips on How to Write Powerful Fiction

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I’m far from being a bestselling author, but I have been working on a book for three years, along with writing stories, poetry, and articles on this blog during that time span. Through those things, I’ve gathered some ideas about how to write well. When it comes down to it, if you want to write well, you probably want to write powerfully, making an impact on your readers’ life long after they’ve read your words. I could write on and on about how to write in general, but I thought these were the most important tips I have learned for how to write the most inspiring, long-lasting writing that fills both a reader’s mind and heart.

1. Write for a purpose. Writing with a purpose in mind is so needed in this age of useless, even harmful stories, that eagerly step in time with the culture of depravity. The most meaningful pieces I’ve written have not only meant the most to me, but have meant the most to those who read them. When you write for a Reason other than applause, a Purpose other than man’s approval, that’s when God steps in and moves people’s hearts. It’s not what you write that changes people, it’s how you write. If you only write beautiful sentences without any meaning, your reader may enjoy your writing, but they won’t learn from it—it will just go in one ear and out the other. If you want to impact people with your writing, you not only need to write beautifully, you need to write purposefully.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” — 1 Corinthians 10:31

2. Write from your heart. Along with writing for a higher purpose than simply pleasure, most writers long to draw their readers into their story, feeling the same way they do. Unfortunately, this emotional method if gone to far can have dire consequences, such as exciting sinful thoughts, so this aspect of writing must be carefully balanced. This might seem odd for me to say this, but I really think if you want to write for the glory of God, you must write as both His child and as a human being—as a Christian actually living out their faith, yet also as a human who has emotions they have to deal with. Because in order to create meaningful writing, there must be deep emotions that readers can relate with. If you express your emotions on paper, you’re drawing the reader into very real emotions that you yourself have experienced. Yet after shedding light on this darkness, if you reveal the Light of lights, the Lord of Lords, who overcomes all the fear, anguish, and despair we’ve ever felt, we allow the reader to hopefully experience true confidence in the gospel of Christ. Without darkness, the light seems normal, but with it, its anything but normal—its your last chance, your forever love, your absolute desire. So don’t write blandly. Pour out your heart on paper your crippling feelings, but balance it out by passionately writing about the gospel that pulls us through trials, allowing the reader to both relate and learn from your writing, especially helping them if they ever go through a similar hardship.

“Lessons of wisdom have the most power over us when they capture the heart through the groundwork of a story, which engages the passions.” — Laurence Sterne

3. Create dynamics in characters, scenes, and plots. Although this one’s a bit more on the practical side of things, I think it fits in well with this article because it is, I believe, a main part of how to write powerfully. So, what do I mean by dynamics? You need to create opposing forces, such as an extravert versus an introvert, a mouse blinking up at a lion, a bad guy dangling a little girl off a cliff. Simple, right? Now think further. Irony, the presentation of something that is the opposite of what we’d expect, is also a huge part of creating dynamics. For creating dynamic characters, think of the character Reepacheep in Narnia who thinks of himself as an honorable fighter, which catches us by surprise, because it’s the opposite of what we expect from a mouse (Usually when I think mouse, I think timid, weak, and afraid.)

When it comes to creating dynamics in scenes, think contrast. You don’t want the same thing happening, or the same feelings going on all the time. This one’s hard to explain, so here’s an example from a book I’m writing:

“Early the next morning, I awoke with a feeling of peacefulness, until the sharp odor of death filled my nostrils. Suddenly, I was hit by the horrific memories of the day before.”

Instead of the character waking up immediately terrified, she wakes up feeling at peace, only moments later to remember everything and grow afraid. This contrast in feelings within a scene creates dynamics and tension, making the reader much more in tune with the characters’ emotions.

For fun, here’s a picture of what I imagine the main character, Sigrid, to look like in my book, The Thrall’s Sword, which you can read about here.

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Finally, you can create dynamics within the plot by having both moments of success and failures, both happiness and despair. You especially want to create that high climax, truly putting your characters at their wits’ end, so the grand beautiful happy ending (if you choose to have one) is much more realistic and satisfying.

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Overall, I’ve learned that writing powerfully has to do not with what you write, but with how you write. Are you writing for yourself or for something Higher than yourself? Are you writing mere words or are you writing from your heart? And are you simply writing a mild story with hardly any contrasting elements, or are you creating dynamics through characters, scenes, and the plot?

These are the questions I think every fiction writer needs to think about, and they can be applied to nonfiction, too. I hope you benefit from what I’ve learned. Now, fellow writer, the pages are waiting for you to shake things up a bit!

Do you have any writing advice you’ve learned? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

J13: The Ties of Love

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(Photo by fireskystudios.com on Unsplash)

The assignment was to write about a special memory you have about a wedding or to imagine what you would like your wedding to be like one day. I chose to do a little bit of both. The last wedding that I can actually remember was years ago, for my cousin and her handsome groom…

I remember sitting in the audience, watching the dress rehearsal with my mom and siblings.

The groom stood in the front with a formal white long-sleeved shirt without a tie (because who needs a tie when you’re being bonded by the ties of love? 😉). My dad began playing the piano beautifully, as he has done for many special occasions throughout his life. At the start of the song, my cousin’s older sister’s little girls came walking down the aisle as the most adorable flower girls ever. My cousin’s younger brother came next bearing the ring on a pillow. Next, the beautiful bridesmaids, two of them sisters of the bride, one of them the mother, one a sister-in-law, and the rest dear friends, proceeded down the aisle.

When the bride came down the aisle with her father while the traditional “Here Comes the Bride” played, her dress immediately caught everyone’s attention with its unique black and white pattern.

Then the bride’s father preached very shortly, and the whole ceremony ended with the “I dos” and the kiss.

The next day after the actual ceremony had ended, I remember dancing with my other cousin during the reception, the laughter and crazy games that abounded, and the giant cake for all to share.

I was too young to appreciate the wedding in the way I’d appreciate it now that I’m actually getting close to being an adult and thinking more about these things. Would I want a large wedding or a small one? What would I like my dress to look like? Where would I want the wedding to take place? These questions and more have now come upon me, but as I think more deeply about it all, while these details are fun and interesting to think about, they aren’t going to matter so much in the long run.

What is going to matter, is how strong the love is between the bride and groom. Does it sacrifice for the other person with Christ-like grace and devotion? Does it pull through hard times? Is it strong enough to last a lifetime?

With these in mind, I’ve recently thought about having a foot-washing ceremony at my wedding. By washing one another’s feet, you can symbolize the selfless love you have for one another and the way you’ll take care of each other for the rest of your lives. Of course, you don’t need to have this ceremony in order to love your spouse as Christ loves you.

In the end, weddings and ceremonies make beautiful reminders of the important moment when two souls establish their lifelong commitment toward one another. But it is a small reflection compared to the difficult yet amazing journey of life you will share with your spouse for the years to come.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

J12 – Mysteries: Unsolvable or Hope-filled?

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(Photo by Niklas Siemens on Unsplash)

Today I will answer the question: Is there a mystery of the universe or world history or current events or conspiracy theory that you would particularly love to know the answer to?

I’ve always been fascinated with Roanoke island, where the famous English colony somehow completely vanished. In 1885, Governor White traveled back to England leaving the English colony in America behind. Due to the war in Spain, he didn’t return to Roanoke Island until 5 years later, when he discovered that the colony that once was found was now lost (“Roanoke Island”).

How can a colony totally disappear? Did Native Americans completely uproot the colony, pillaging from and scalping the people? Or was there famine or disease that devastated the people, leaving their belongings for the Native Americans to take as they pleased? Perhaps aliens took them away in a spaceship or there was a flood… Or maybe the English simply abandoned the colony in search for another one, and the Native Americans took whatever houses and possessions they left behind.

It’s so intriguing to me that this mystery as of yet has not been solved. It really shows how little humans know about the world compared to God. Throughout science and history books, the people writing the books have to eventually admit they haven’t discovered everything yet. I remember a fact I read on a poster one time, about how 90 percent of the ocean is still undiscovered. That’s a scary thought. The unknown has perpetually driven humans to either be afraid or to try to uncover the mystery.

What about living without fear and with a simple hope that God will reveal what we need to know in His timing?

Just yesterday, the pastor of my church talked about this verse:

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27

That God would reveal the Savior of the world to even non-Jews is a wonderful thing; and the mystery itself, Jesus living inside us, is the foundation of life and truth. How can the King of all kings live within us? This we will never know until perhaps heaven, for His love and grace our unfathomable. Jesus, the Son of God and God Himself, sacrificed himself as an offering to God, so we wouldn’t have to die, and He rose again so we could live with “the hope of glory” budding inside us and growing its roots deeper every day in the rich soil of His Word.

Roanoke is a mystery I’d be honored if God gave me the answer to someday, but I’m thankful that today, the most beautiful mystery of all is thriving within my heart.

J11 – Quiet Conversations: Talking with Introverts When You’re an Introvert

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When two quiet people come together, talking can be pretty tough. Today I want to share with you what I have learned about making conversations even in uncomfortable situations. 

“I didn’t know what to say.”

This is a frequent excuse I give myself after trying to have a conversation with someone. Maybe I don’t know what to say at present, but if I believed there was always something out there to say, perhaps it would be easier to have conversation rather than resort to confusion.
One time I was trying to talk to a girl and she, having understandable struggles with conversation, answered me with only a few words. It was hard because she didn’t seem to show much interest in talking with me, but I continually persisted in trying to talk with her.
I myself wrestle with shyness, and the devil often lies to me: No one cares about you. You’re not interesting enough because you barely talk. Leave them alone—why would they want to talk to you?
Thus, understanding her struggles, I wanted to prove to her that someone did care. I wanted to shine God’s light on her, since God cares about her just as much as my extraverted friends. Although it would have been easier if she responded to me with more elaboration, at the same time I don’t want to love people only when they seem to enjoy my company. I want to learn to love people unconditionally, as God loves us.
Years ago, my mom taught me a key rule of conversation: Ask questions. And this is exactly what I did when I attempted conversation with my fellow introverted friend. After all, most people are honestly way more interested in talking about themselves. Give them a chance to do just that, showing you care about their lives and you want to get to know them better.
I am far from an expert conversationalist. But because God has strengthened me with His love and a desire to reach out to people, this girl has opened up and revealed her true self to me, which reassures me that, yes, quiet people are complex and beautiful humans just like everyone else.
God has given me people to reach out to, and I don’t want to trade these opportunities for anything in the world.

Speaking of asking questions, what practical tips have you learned about making conversation? 🙂

J10: When You See His Face

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(Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash)

Question for this week’s Creative Writing assignment: What famous person would you like to meet and why?
This might seem like a cliché answer, but I would want to meet Jesus face to face. True, God lives inside my heart, but it would be so amazing if I could get a direct answer from Him instead of waiting for that nudge and praying for weeks that He would guide me through the Holy Spirit.
The first questions I’d probably think to ask Him would be those that have been going on inside my mind this past year: Where do I go to college, Jesus? Or do you want me to stay home and be a writer? Or travel to Africa to teach English?
But then perhaps I’d ask Him about my relationships: Which friends do you want me to hang out with and invest my time in? Who do you want me to pursue a deep, meaningful relationship with? How do I encourage my friends and family to draw closer to You? And of my nonbelieving friends, which of them are open to hearing the gospel? How do I even go about sharing the good news to people?
I’d also probably ask Him about my shyness: How do I get out of my shyness? How do I free my mind from thinking about other people might be thinking?
Finally, I’d dig deep into my heart and ask Him: Out of all the things I could do to help this hurting world, what would you have me do for You, Lord? Who did you create me to be?
But maybe I’d be asking all the wrong questions. Maybe He wouldn’t answer directly at all, and instead give me a parable or metaphor to decipher. Maybe He’d smile at me and tell me that I needed to live my life and wait patiently for Him to reveal the answers.

Now that I think about it, praying through the Holy Spirit and waiting on the Lord are probably some of the greatest tests of our faith we will ever face. Perhaps God wants us to grow our trust in Him, to learn to trust Him completely no matter how mysterious life seems. Rather than giving us a direct answer, He guides us quietly in a faint whisper so we have to lean in and listen carefully with all our might. He isn’t trying to be mean. He is drawing us in to the most intimate and satisfying relationship that has ever existed.
My encouragement for you is that we can see Jesus here today, whether after a long period of waiting on the Lord or through the briefest moment of realization. Whenever the Holy Spirit calls out to our hearts (and we test the Spirit and know it’s Him), we see Jesus. Whenever we pray or read the Bible, we see Jesus.
God is with us, and someday those of us who believe in Jesus will most certainly get to meet Him face to face.

 

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” – John 16:13 (NIV)

J9: The Community College Enthusiast

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An assignment to write a true event you were a part of told from someone else’s point of view. (No, you didn’t do anything wrong, I just don’t want to go to a community college in the middle of nowhere. ;))

Aha! Another young high schooler innocent of the world. This one’s a tall, lanky girl looking very timidly up at me with a question in her eyes. Easy to convince her, I think. Then I see beside her a supportive father standing with his arms crossed, putting on an intimidating demeanor.
I reach out and shake the father’s hand, then quickly turn to the girl to do the same.
Realizing she doesn’t have a question for me, I try to put her at ease by exclaiming, “What’s your name?”
“Grace,” she replies softly.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The question sends a familiar flash of terror in her eyes as she pauses for a moment. “Um, one of the things is a writer.”
But I hardly remember that as I plunge into my speech about the community college’s wonderful programs and mentorships and even dorms not found at most community colleges.
“You get to have some real life experience, and its significantly cheaper than using the dorms at the university here.”
I hand a brochure to her and another young lady that just now walks up, as I inform my audience about the unique on-campus housing, the amazing programs, and the fact that you only have to attend classes from Monday to Thursday.
The quiet girl smiles and nods politely during the whole burst of my passionate rant, while her father stands there with his arms crossed, suspicious of my every word.
“…So if you want to receive more information about this college, just jot down your information here,” I say with a triumphant smile, gesturing to a card with fill-in-the-blanks.
The girl smiles and nods again, looking slightly overwhelmed by my enthusiasm. “Thank you,” she says, as she and her father walk away without taking a card.
As I turn to persuade the next young lady of the excellence of this community college, I cringe. I’m in the business of winning students over, but with so many factors to persuade them in so many directions, it doesn’t come easy. Sometimes I wonder, did I do something wrong?

J8: Reflections on the Mid-Semester

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It’s mid-semester in my beloved Creative Writing class, and now the assignment bids me reflect on the wonderful writings of myself and my fellow classmates, who have named ourselves The Writers of the Round Table.

  1. Which Journal entry is your favorite and why?

I’d have to say my favorite journal piece I’ve written is His Power Made Perfect in My Shyness, because I really put my heart into that one, which made God’s power seem to work through my writing! I’ve noticed that the more of my heart I put in my writing, the more people seem to relate to my message.

  1. Which Creative Writing assignment is your favorite and why?

My favorite Creative Writing piece I’ve written would probably be my short story retelling of the Prodigal’s son. I actually didn’t realize till later that it was supposed to be a modern retelling, but I ended up really liking it anyway. I love to tell stories from the perspective of Bible characters, because it helps me to appreciate those stories better and understand more fully the message God is trying to bring across. If you’re interested, I have several other short stories told from Bible characters’ points of views on this blog:

Abigail the Intelligent – story of Abigail wife of Nabal and how she changed King David’s mind.

Anointed – story of Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus when she anointed Jesus’ feet.

The Girl Who Died – story of, well, the girl who died… when Jesus was in town.

The Samaritan Woman – story of the woman at the well… when Jesus was at the well, too.

  1. Do you have a least favorite?

Yes, I’d have to say I really didn’t especially like my Four Men in a Furnace poem. I wrote that on a trip, so I was just trying to get the words on paper, and adding metaphors and other wonderful poetic elements was in a land far, far away from my mind… 😉

  1. Do you admire anyone else’s work?

I really do love my classmates’ works and I’m really excited to be in a class with so many amazing writers.
I didn’t get to read all of them, but from what I’ve read I really admire Queen Guinevere’s Trials of Character, which showed how one Bible verse can change your whole perspective.
I also loved Morholt’s Affliction and Glory—I’m going to think of that verse in a totally new way now!
King Arthur, Owned It was such an awesome, creative piece, told from a unique perspective. Well done!
I’d have to say I thought your fables were really clever, Lancelot, and the illustrations are so good!
Ywain, I loved your journal piece An Interesting Connection—it truly was interesting and very insightful.
Elyan, Here’s My Everything was just so beautifully written and inspiring. The picture you put with it is perfect!
Finally, Taylor, I loved your poem Purest of Peace. Amazing word choice and creative formatting—it draws you in and conveys God’s peace really well!
I loved each one of my classmates’ work; sorry if I didn’t get to yours!

If you are having trouble with remembering the names of the Writer of the Round Table like I am, here’s Morholt’s awesome post that explains everything. 🙂
I am just realizing how many of these our journal 7 assignemts, lol! Anyhow, I really have enjoyed sharing my writing as well as reading my classmates’ writing so far.

Hope you have an amazing week and second half of the semester!

J7: Cling to Belief

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In this journal piece, I will be talking about the importance of believing in God’s abundant grace for us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Paul, speaking to Cephas, who separated himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of the Jews who still lived by the law/circumcision (Galatians 2:21)
The idea permeating through this gospel-centered verse blew my mind last Sunday. God’s grace is so baffling that you and I will take a lifetime to even begin to understand it. Sometimes I am so afraid to believe that Jesus is all I need to enter heaven. I think, “But He wants us to serve the poor and to tell everyone the gospel and sacrifice our time and money for others, doesn’t He?”
And that’s absolutely true.
But our focus needs to remain steadfastly on Jesus, because without Him, we are trying to make our own way to eternal life. It’s so easy to get caught up in doing things for God, as if we could do enough things for Him to actually break open heaven’s gates.
Maybe we don’t realize we are believing this, but the truth is, reluctance is a sign we have the wrong focus.

Reluctance is a sign that perhaps our half-hearted attempts to serve God reflect our half-hearted belief that Jesus has paid the ultimate price for our sins.

If we only half-heartedly acknowledge that Jesus is the sole reason we can worship Him eternally, we are dismissing the whole truth of the gospel. If we say, “Yes, Jesus made the Way, but now I have to be good so He doesn’t change His mind”—who are we? Why is it so hard to fall prostrate before our King, admitting that He truly is the One thing keeping us alive? Why do we think God is so weak that Jesus wouldn’t be quite enough to save us?
It’s so hard for me to believe in the goodness of our Savior sometimes, but we can’t let uncertainty bring us down when we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (Rom. 8:37). Cry out to Jesus like the father of the demon-possessed boy, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Make believing that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, more important than doing things for Him. Spend time in His Word, pray to Him, worship Him. Jesus delivered you from the snares of death and bore your shame on a cross so you might live. Be in awe of that.

Here’s how my pastor explains it: Jesus + nothing = eternal life

Once we believe that His grace truly is sufficient to cover all our sins, true joy and motivation will blossom in the deepest parts of our hearts.