Summary: What we learn and share through the arts will build our reserves and will communicate memorably.
If you really want to leave a lasting impression on somebody, how do you do it? If you truly need for somebody to remember whatever you think is important, how are you going to make sure they won't forget?
Well, one technique is, of course, to use words. Lots and lots of words. That’s what I tend to do. That, I guess, is the occupational disease of preachers. If you have worked with me on some church project, you know that not only am I likely to sit down and discuss it with you, but also I will probably send you a letter listing all the work that needs to be done. Words, words, words; talk, talk, talk. And if you are on the church council, you know that the next morning after the council has met you will find me stuffing your mailbox with notes made at the meeting, so that you will not forget, and I will not forget, what we did. Words, words, words; talk, talk, talk, and memos.
It's not just Baptist preachers, of course; it's the Washington way. We write memos to each other. We push words at each other. And a few years ago when the government felt that there was entirely too much paper and that there were altogether too many unnecessary memos being circulated, what happened? Old Washington hands will know exactly what happened. Around the offices went a lengthy, detailed memo explaining that there should not be so many memos! And then the instructions were that this memo should be copied and put into everybody's hands!
Words, words, words. Talk, talk, talk. We want to share something and we use words; we want to teach or to communicate and we use talk. And that is necessary. But does it leave the most lasting impression? Does it assure that we will remember?
How many remember the lectures you got in your high school classrooms? How many of us recall the facts and figures we read in our textbooks? Would someone please recite the periodic chart of the elements? I could do that at one time. Now how many remember last Sunday’s sermon? What hurts, of course, is that I couldn’t tell you if you were right or wrong because I don’t remember it!
No, mere talk does not assure a lasting impression, and the superabundance of words does not make certain that somebody has learned. Moses faced this concern as he came close to the end of his life. The Book of Deuteronomy is chock full of admonitions to hear and remember and do the will of God. The great concern of Moses as he gives the law of God there on the banks of the Jordan is that after he is gone and after the people enter the land, they remember and do as God has commanded. But how will they remember? How can Moses be sure that they will recall all that they are to do? What can he do to see to it that he has made a lasting impression?
God gives him an answer: write a song. If you want them to remember, write and teach them a song. "Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel …when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness, for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their descendants."
So: when you want to create a lasting impression, what do you do? You sing and teach a song. Let me broaden that. When you really want to learn to teach, you do it with music and poetry; start with something that finds the heart as well as the intellect. You do it with both right brain and left brain. And, as the old tune has it, "The song may be ended, but the melody lingers on."
Today what I hope to do is to open you up to genuine learning by urging you to use all the gifts of art and feeling God has given you. I hope to say to you that our God has given us a great gift by making us creatures of feeling as well as of fact, he wants to prepare you and me for the dry days, the testing days. He wants us to store up resources for the times of testing, and he has given us a way to do that. He has said to us, if you want to learn what you are going to need to know for the difficult days, sing it. Feel it. Do more than learn facts and figures about doctrine. Learn to s1ng your faith, to feel your faith; learn to plant it down deep in the consciousness, and it will be yours when you need it.