Released in 2010, The King’s Speech won a slew of Academy Awards – including Best Picture – and introduced much of the ignorant public to the isolation, frustration and even terror that plague those with the defect of stuttering. Front and center is Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor, a shy British prince (played by Colin Firth) who grew up bullied by his father, the king, and eclipsed by his charismatic brother, the Prince of Wales. Suddenly, by an unexpected and unwelcome twist of history, Albert accedes to the throne, becoming King George VI. If that is not intimidating enough, his stammering continues unabated, threatening his rule and reputation.
The climax of the movie comes when King George – who heretofore had stumbled his way through public speeches that were brief or unnoticed – must address the entire United Kingdom after Parliament declares war on Nazi Germany. With his speech therapist nearby, the monarch summons all of his nerve; all of the techniques his coach taught him; and all of his focused attention to deliver the most significant international radio address he will ever make. What makes the scene so powerful is the music playing during the linguistically and emotionally grueling message: the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony. Listen to it when you can. It is a slow, plodding repetition of the same rhythm, again and again. All the while, the volume grows as a counter-melody plays beneath this continuous, lumbering theme.
The music perfectly tracks with the king as he trudges and schleps through an oration only he can make, plagued by counter-voices that indict him for clumsiness and incompetence. Like Beethoven’s 7th, the speech finally ends…and George VI wins a small victory for his regency. He also overcomes his worst psychological enemy, a much more profound victory. Would the scene have the same power if the king resolved all his insecurities in one mighty catharsis, instantly speaking with ease and eloquence?
Probably not. The fact that he plows through the address, however inelegantly, lends poignancy to this performance.
As followers of Christ, we can fail sometimes to take satisfaction in our smallest triumphs. Yet this is as much God’s pattern as dramatic transformations are. He told Israel that they would take hold of their promise incrementally:
The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. (Deuteronomy 7:22)
What are your wild beasts? Pride, entitlement, complacency? Look at Genesis 37 to 45. Would Joseph have been an effective prime minister of Egypt had the role been handed to him right out of the pit? Again, it is doubtful. Wading through difficulty is part of our journey home. Each step is swollen with spiritual conquest if we just exercise the faith to take it. Remember the words of the apostle Paul:
God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:6-7)
Never underestimate the power of plodding. Consider how many strokes the rowers made – against the wind—to get three or four miles out in the open Sea of Galilee. My arms and shoulders get sore just thinking about it. Yet Jesus’ disciples were glad for every one of them when they saw the Lord approach on the water’s surface (John 6:19). Every act of obedience is miraculous when we think about our previously rebellious bent. And that’s the whole point: we serve a God of miracles, not magic. Like with King George VI, the miracles may not be recognizable to the world…but they are astonishing to the faithful.
John Gregory is a Ruling Elder.