According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was once eating a meal with some fellow writers when he bet all of them $10 that he could write an entire novel in six words. Six words! It seems ridiculous at first, which is why the other writers were probably pretty quick to take up his offer. Hemingway then took his pen to a napkin and wrote these chilling words:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
He then passed the napkin around the table and, one at a time, each of the writers payed up.
This story about Hemingway, it turns out, is nothing more than a legend, but it proves an important point: pithy can be powerful. You don’t have to be long-winded to make an impact with your speech or writing. Preachers don’t have to spend hours and hours drawing out every little detail of a story, because the human imagination is powerful. Allowing it to fill in the blanks actually adds more color to a story than a communicator could ever add on his own.
In the economy of words, less is more.
Jesus seems to have understood this. Some of the sermons we consider the most powerful ever spoken are just a few sentences long. Like Hemingway, Jesus got to the heart of the issue in a quick and memorable way. His use of parables and short imagery allowed him to paint a broader picture without wasting his breath.
If you are a communicator by trade this kind of thing might really interest you, but what if you’re more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person? Well, in Matthew 6, Jesus also told us the word count on our prayers doesn’t affect whether or not they’ll be answered:
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”
The Bible also encourages us to be better listeners than orators, and seems to suggest those that fail to listen well are more likely to be angry people too. James writes, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
Proverbs 17 suggests the same, saying, “A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” It also goes on to say even fools seem intelligent when their mouths are shut!
So be wise and learn to do the same. Listen well, allowing your thoughts be well-formed before they leave your mouth, your keyboard, or whatever. And when you do speak, remember an entire novel can be written in six words!