During a sermon John Piper said that:”It is sentences that change my life, not books.” He goes on to say:
“I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the 1% of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don’t begrudge the 99%. And that life-changing insight usually comes in a moment, a moment whose value is all out of proportion to its little size.”
Usually people complain about the way the Internet trends toward fragmentation and smaller and smaller bits of content (of course, the epitome of this phenomenon is Twitter), but I find Piper’s words a helpful caveat.
Recognizing that short and powerful sentences change the world is not exactly a new concept, which is why David Banks suggested that if Abraham Lincoln were alive today he would embrace Twitter:
The Gettysburg address was only 246 words, and took only two minutes to deliver; yet this short collection of words has incredible staying power. What is it that makes the Gettysburg address have such staying power? Banks tries to answer that question by appealing to its brevity. As Banks points out, brevity is powerful for several reasons:
- “more people are willing to engage with something that requires a short time commitment or is easy to grasp. Social movements, from the Protestant Reformation, to the American Revolution to the Arab Spring, have relied on pamphleteering to spread an idea and change minds.”
- Brevity is not an end in itself, its the appetizer that gets people interested in your more substantive content. “Brevity has always had its place alongside longer and more nuanced work. Luther and other Protestant reformers wrote lots of pamphlets, but they also translated bibles.”
- Brevity is almost a guarantee that your content will be exposed to a wider audience. “A brilliant piece of work does very little, if no one reads it. All other things being equal, more people are going to read a tweet than a novel.”
In light of Piper’s observation that “It is sentences that change my life, not books”, I think its worth saying that the Internet’s tendency toward fragmentation is not necessarily a bad thing, it simply means we must put serious effort into making our writing and speaking brief, pithy, and memorable.
- Send Us a Quote, Win Some Books (desiringgod.org) – John Piper’s blog is hosting a contest on the topic of impacting sentences. Simply submit a quote that is under two hundred words from the reformed tradition which has served as a means of grace in your life. If Desiring God chooses your quote, you will win a $75 gift card to Lifeway (a book company). The contest closes Thursday June 28th at noon.
- Michael Hyatt says Twitter is a Social Bank Account (joshchalmers.wordpress.com)