Imagination is the chief highway to the heart of man. We often speak of the avenues to the soul, and refer to the eye gate and the ear gate. However, every avenue which we employ must lead on to the main highway to the heart, and that highway is imagination. We may use beautiful pictures to attract attention, to appeal to the eye. Why? Because through the eye the imagination is captured. It seems to be psychologically true that what gets your attention gets you!
Jesus was the master teacher. He knew man and knew what was in man. He who made the mind knew the psychological laws governing the mind. We agree that "never man spake like this man." Let us notice how He appealed to the eye and the ear, and through them the main highway to the soul, the imagination. Here is one striking reference from The Desire of Ages that deals with this vital point. Christ "had tact to meet the prejudiced minds, and surprise them with illustrations that won their attention. Through the imagination He reached the heart."—Page 254.
How did Jesus do this? Among the methods He employed I would like to touch briefly on two: first, the question technique, and second, the use of stories or parables or illustrations. Of the first method it can be said that Jesus excelled in asking questions. In the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels, we find that Jesus asked sixty-three questions in these sixteen chapters. As to the second method, perhaps it will suffice to say that "without a parable spake he not unto them." Matt. 13:34.
For several years I have been conducting laymen's evangelistic institutes throughout the Pacific Union Conference. In our classwork and the practice periods I have had many occasions to call the attention of our laymen and fellow workers to this important subject, imagination, as the highway to the soul. Furthermore, in our field adventuring, or house-to- house visitation, we have found a living laboratory in which to apply these principles, and it thrills us to see how they work.
Why do they work? Why did Jesus employ them? Was it not because Jesus, as a master teacher, used creative methods of teaching rather than transmissive methods? Christ was a true educator. Education actually means "to draw out." That is what Jesus was doing by asking men, "What think ye?" "Have ye never read?" and scores of other questions. Christ's methods were creative, for they stimulated the imagination. They caught the attention, and "through the imagination He reached the heart."
Unfortunately, much of our teaching consists of telling people, rather than preparing an inquiring mind through the wise use of questions and stories. When you ask a person a question, if he cannot answer it, he at least has a much more receptive mind to receive the answer, for he now has an inquiring mind. He is ready now for the answer to the question, if he cannot answer it himself. If he can answer it, he feels that he has discovered a great truth. You have "drawn him out." That is creative teaching—education!
Elbert Hubbard once wrote, "If I can uplift or inspire, let it be by example, inference, and suggestion, rather than by injunction and dictation."—The Notebook of Elbert Hubbard, p. it. Yes, it is a far better way to use the creative method, in contrast to the transmissive method of injunction and dictation. How many of us like to be dictators—we like to tell them! But thereby we often close the very heart that we want to open. We actually bar the way to the soul. We alienate the very one we want to befriend. We slam the door shut in our own faces. We close the mind when what we seek is an open mind.
Let us study Christ's method of creative teaching, the use of questions to educate and draw out, and thus prepare an inquiring mind, an open mind. Further, let us use stories and illustrations and parables, in order to gain the attention and capture the imagination.
I am sure if we study Christ's methods more, and follow His methods, we will have far greater success in appealing to the hearts of men and women. In our house-to-house work we find the methods of Jesus very successful.
We ask the man of the house whether he is a native son, or the woman whether she is a native daughter, and it gives them a chance to tell us what State they were born in. Then we can ask them whether mother used to take them to Sunday school when they were children. Thus memory is brought into service. And what memories come back at times! How quickly they become friends and tell us of child hood days! This gives us many opportunities to talk to them about the spiritual guidance their children need. A few questions about their children are bound to bring out many opportunities for a heart-to-heart talk on spiritual things.
Then, best of all, is the story for the children. And the parents are just as interested in the stories we tell as their own boys and girls are. We have had some thrilling experiences as we have told stories to the children, for when we would look up at the parents we would often see tears in their eyes as we talked to their children about heaven. One father threw his cigarette away and got down on his knees with me in prayer with his children after he heard me tell the children the wonderful story of the beautiful home of the saved.
If stories have such power, I wonder whether we should not be giving more emphasis to the subject of imagination. We must get the attention of the people and capture the imagination, or we cannot win their hearts. Certainly Jesus, the master teacher, found it worthwhile. And if He found it necessary to use stories and questions, perhaps some of us who have neglected it might profit by a restudy of His methods. "Without a parable spake he not." "Through the imagination He reached the heart."
By ADLAI A. ESTEB
Imagination is a mystic link
In great constructive preaching.
Man's languid mind is led to think
By its creative teaching.
Its arrows speed to wake our souls,
Where dormant powers He sleeping.
It thrills our eyes with higher goals
And sets our spirits leaping.
Good stories, music, verse, and art—
Each is a mighty lever
To move man's moody mind and heart
To worship God forever.