A picture is worth a thousand words

by Mark McDonald

What do you think of when you envision a “picture” in your mind?

I think of someone who is serving in the military, law enforcement or similar risk-filled mission who has a picture of their significant others so they remember why they do what they do. Or, the family portraits hanging in the hallway. Or, the family album that tells the story of a special event like a wedding. Or, a social media montage or slide show of some special time or special person. Almost all the things I picture have to do with the people I love or the family I’m part of. Even the pictures of special places remind me of trips I’ve taken with the people I love.

Maybe the place you worship in has pictures, too. They can be paintings of the Last Supper, stained-glass windows depicting stories from scripture or founders of your faith. Certainly, we are bombarded daily with pictures of people meant to make us want to go on a trip, purchase a product or service or remember the people who bring real meaning to our lives.

So, when we hear the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” we may think of a picture, but that picture very likely reminds us of a person. So, how many words is that person worth? Sometimes, quite frankly, words can’t describe someone, and we need a picture.

This month, as 501 LIFE focuses on photography, I think it’s important to take a moment to think how photographs draw from and speak to our faith.

The Bible is a book of words, but it is a book that draws from stories of so many people of our faith. Think Vacation Bible School!

Pharaoh conjures up images of the song “Pharaoh, Pharaoh!” that made us go through the motions with our friends.

“Swing, Low, Sweet Chariot” does the same thing!

Who over 40 can hear the story of Moses without thinking of Charlton Heston?

Have you watched children act out the scene of a story from scripture, and then something about it made more sense than ever?

Or how about watching a children’s Christmas pageant and then seeing the story in a whole new way?

Why are all these so powerful? Because they give us a picture of what words can’t fully describe, and they make us realize what is most important after all — the people we love!

Christians know that Jesus made it perfectly clear that relationships were more important than anything else in life. Someone asked him what was most important, and he answered:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

That is directly from Jewish scriptures that go back thousands of years: Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (loving God) and Leviticus 19:18 (loving your neighbor as yourself). As a matter of fact, the passage from Leviticus is often quoted from Matthew 7:12 and is known as the Golden Rule. That is one of the rare quotes that can be found in every one of the major world religions (and most religions you can think of, even if not major!).

So, what are we to say about these things? If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s greatest value is when it describes God and the people we love and serve the most!

While you consider the beauty and wonder of photography, I hope you begin to see a glorious purpose of helping us focus our lives on the two greatest priorities — loving God and loving others. 


Mark McDonald

Mark McDonald, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Conway, has served churches in Northwest Arkansas, Booneville and Jacksonville. His family settled in Faulkner County in the 1840s, and he grew up spending time each summer working with his grandfather’s hardware store in Downtown Conway. He attended Hendrix College, where he currently serves as a trustee. He met his wife while attending SMU, and they have six children all living in Central Arkansas. Mark enjoys hiking and movies and also serves as an endorsed law enforcement chaplain.

Mark McDonald