The Editing Partnership

By Jeanette Gardner Littleton

How did you know I needed to read that devotion on that day?” one of our readers, who knew I edited the publication, asked me.

“Um, I didn’t. You can thank God for that one!” I responded.

One joy of writing in the Christian realm is the intriguing aspect of seeing the Holy Spirit work. And, sometimes, you know it just has to be the Holy Spirit working and the Lord arranging matters in obvious ways.

I learned this on my first editorial job. Part of the 48-page, monthly magazine I worked with included a daily devotional section. We devoted 16 pages to these nuggets of inspiration. The articles ran 200 to 300 words each and we put two on a page.

When I started working on each issue’s devotions, I would make a list of the pieces I felt we should use that month. Next to each listing, I would jot the word count. Then I would pair the articles (often just drawing lines from one to its proposed mate), considering any special days or other scheduling concerns. I would try to make sure the articles I put together not only fit the space available on the page, but I tried to space the articles so they had continuity, flow, topical variety and scriptural variety.

Sometimes articles would fit together for practical reasons: for instance, I’d automatically put one of the few 300-word articles with one of the 200-word ones. To some degree, the rhyme and reason behind placing the articles was purely mathematical. I had a few other basic rules I followed. For example, if one author had written several articles, I’d schedule them on different pages. But many times, I had no specific reason for placing certain articles on certain days.

We received much reader mail for that publication. Often letters came in saying, “The devotion for that day was just what I needed on that day. It wouldn’t have helped me a day later, or earlier. It came at precisely the right time.”

That happened so often in my 10 years of working with that publication, that after a while, I realized something greater was at work. I found I wasn’t the only one working on the publication, but I was in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Does that sound a little nutty? Those who know me well can tell you that I tend to be too skeptical for my own good. But this happened so often, and so clearly, that I knew God was at work.

What a humbling feeling to realize that God is using you to minister to people so specifically. I carried out my editing task much more aware of God’s guidance after that. Scheduling was no longer one of the monthly, mundane chores I had to do in preparing the magazine. I’d pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me so that I’d place the right devotionals on the right days. I was in awe that God cared so much for our writers as individuals that He’d arrange certain devotions on specific days.

I was reminded of that one day when I was an editor with Moody magazine. As the Moody staff contemplated writers who might be able to cover articles we needed to assign, writer Bob Hostetler’s name popped up rather coincidentally. I called Bob to see if he had time or interest in an article. As I started to describe the article we wanted, Bob exclaimed, “You won’t believe this, but right now Josh McDowell and I are working on a book on that very topic!”

Not only that, but the title Bob and Josh had dubbed the book so far was the same title we had. I was thrilled that Bob was so interested in our topic and willing to write for us. But I was even more thrilled to realize that his name perhaps hadn’t just “coincidentally” popped up at the earlier meeting.

Later I mentioned Bob’s revelation to my Moody boss, Andy Scheer. Andy smiled. “That happens a lot,” he said. “We’ll call on someone to see if they have an interest and find that they’re already working on a project like that. That confirms we’ve called the right person to cover the article.”

That encourages me as an editor—to realize God guides us this way. It’s exciting to realize I’m in partnership with God to change our readers’ lives.

It also encourages me when I’m wearing the freelance writer hat. We often talk about writing for the Lord, but actually, we’re writing with the Lord. We are the pen in our Father’s hand. He uses us to put His words on paper. I know that sounds like a cliché, but I’ve learned it’s true! God works with our editors to schedule our pieces at just the right time, and to make our good manuscripts even better so they’ll better reach the audience. It’s a cooperative effort. It’s a joint ministry.

Looking at my editing, and writing, like that helps me see it as more than just a pleasant job, task or even witness. It seems more like a calling—not just something I do for the Lord, but something I do with the Lord. And it draws me to call even more on the Holy Spirit for His guidance through my work.

May you, also, sense that partnership with the Holy Spirit in your editing.

Jeanette Gardner Littleton has been an editor for 30 years. She has edited more than 10,000 articles for a variety of publications, and several dozen books for publishers including Bethany House, Moody, Tyndale and Guideposts. 

This article appeared in the Winter 2016-2017 issue of Liaison.