When you’ve been brought up with the family sense of humour that I have been ‘blessed’ (?!) with, “I’m playing all the right notes—but not necessarily in the right order,” is a classic Eric Morecambe line that comes to mind quite readily. Many a time I’ve quoted it in a music practice that’s gone a bit awry.
Then recently I read this on my friend’s Facebook wall:
“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”
I don’t know how true that is, but it’s an interesting thought and behind the slightly trivial nature of this quote there is probably a whole realm of fascinating human biological and linguistical scientific facts (says the Human Communication Sciences graduate desperately trying to think of the technical terms – they’re probably the right words, but they may not necessarily be in the right order!)
Unlike Eric’s piano playing where the result was altered by the order of the notes, in the above paragraph we interpret the same message of the words even though the letters aren’t in the right order. This kind of spelling would score lowly in any classroom but you start to wonder if spelling really matters being as the message is still successfully delivered into our brains. Even when we spot a spelling mistake, we rarely misinterpret the writer’s meaning.
Recently, I’ve been reading, “Evangelism without Additives” by Jim Henderson. It’s subtitled, “What if sharing your faith meant just being yourself?” and contains lots of what I believe to be wise and Biblical advice about how we share the fantastic message of God that’s been given to us. Jim considers why some Christians find it hard to talk about what they believe and why “witnessing” is often a negative experience for all concerned. Sometimes we can feel we’ve messed our evangelism up because we’ve not been able to authentically communicate in the way we’ve been told is the “correct” way to do it. Some of us have begun to believe that the ordinary is not good enough and that what we need is to be some kind of spiritual salesperson with some sort of rehearsed ‘pitch’.
I share Jim Henderson’s opinion that communicating God’s love is not really about some formulaic evangelism programme. Eric Morecambe played a perfectly acceptable and effective musical tune; it just wasn’t the conventional one that Andre Previn was expecting to hear. I believe we don’t necessarily have to always get all the words in the right order or carry our message in a traditional or conventional way. Actually I think it’s often more effective if we don’t use that many words at all. Getting the message across that there is a God who loves us and cares deeply about every aspect of our lives is the most important bit. God can make our everyday ordinary encounters utterly extraordinary through us asking great questions and paying attention to the people Jesus misses most.
So if you sometimes feel discouraged about how you talk to people about your faith, be encouraged that you don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be yourself. God is bigger than our greatest efforts. The message can speak for itself through what we sometimes see as our mistakes.
And this is my prayer for all of you reading this. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you in my own sometimes unordered way. This is what I really want for all of you:
“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvellous love; and may you be able to feel and understand how long, how wide, how deep and how high His love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it.” Ephesians 3:17-19 Living Bible