Sermon illustrations


Anger: When Your Pursuits are Blocked

Take anger, for example. Think of how little of your anger in the last couple months had anything at all to do with the kingdom of God. You’re not generally angry because things are in the way of God and his kingdom purposes. You’re angry because something or someone has gotten in the way of something you crave, something you think will inspire contentment, satisfaction, or happiness in you. Your heart is desperate to be inspired, and you get mad when your pursuits are blocked.

Taken from Awe: Why it Matters to Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp, © 2015, pp.19-20. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

The Controversial Cookies

A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies. Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper. Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise. From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself. 

A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling. He was helping himself to another cookie! After a while they came to the end of the package with one cookie left, but she was so angry she didn’t dare allow herself to say anything. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, ate the other half, and left. 

Still fuming sometime later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket. To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her package of unopened cookies!

Reader’s Digest

The Cursed Lawnmower

One day a pastor went to a yard sale and found a lawn mower. It seemed in decent-enough shape and the owner said it worked, so the pastor ultimately decided to buy it, and not for very much either.

After a quick review of the machine, the pastor filled it with gas and was ready to take it on its maiden voyage. Unfortunately, after a few pumps on the fuel line and a pull of the cord, nothing happened. The pastor pulled a few more times and finally gave up.

Thankfully, the yard sale was still happening and the pastor, now quite exasperated, asked for his money back.

“This machine doesn’t work!” the pastor said.

“Well,” the man said, “I did forget to tell you one thing about this lawnmower—it only works if you curse at it.” 

“Curse at it,” the pastor said, “I can’t do that!” I’m a man of the cloth. I don’t even know if I can curse anymore. It’s been so long.”

The man smiled and said, “Just keep pulling that rope, Pastor. It’ll come back to you.”

Original Source Unknown, Stuart Strachan Jr.

Do You Know Who I Am?

In a story circulated among an ancient monastic community, a vicious warlord intimidated whole villages, sending it’s entire population into the hills to hide in caves, waiting for the ruler to move on. One day the warlord entered a small village and asked, I presume all the people have fled by this time?” “Well, all but one old monk who refused to flee,” the aide answered. The warlord was beside himself.

“Bring him to me immediately,” he snarled. When they dragged the old monk to the square before him, the commander shouted at him, “Do you not know who I am? I am he who can run you through with a sword and never even bat an eye.” And the old monk gazed up at the commander and replied, “And do you not know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword and never bat an eye.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, The Crown Publishing Group.

The Echo of An Argument

Philip Yancey writes of a friend whose marriage was choked by hostility.  One night the friend reached the breaking point: “I hate you!” he screamed at his wife.  “I won’t take it any more.  I’ve had enough!  I won’t go on!  I won’t let it happen!  No! No! No!”

Several months later, he woke up in the middle of the night to strange sounds coming from the room of his two-year-old son.  He walked down the hall and stopped by his son’s door.  What he heard sent shivers down his spine and took away his breath.  Inside, his son was repeating in soft voice—with precisely the same inflection and intonation he had heard—the argument that had passed between his mother and father: “I hate you! … I won’t take it! … No!”

This is life without forgiveness.

Taken from John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, Zondervan, 2003, p.166.

The Fire Within

One Halloween evening, when he was about ten, Eisenhower’s older brothers received permission to go out trick-or-treating, a more adventurous activity in those days than it is now. Ike wanted to go with them, but his parents told him he was too young. He pleaded with them, watched his brothers go, and then became engulfed by uncontrolled rage. He turned red. His hair bristled. Weeping and screaming, he rushed out into the front yard and began pounding his fists against the trunk of an apple tree, scraping the skin off and leaving his hands bloody and torn.

His father shook him, lashed him with a hickory switch, and sent him up to bed. About an hour later, with Ike sobbing into his pillow, his mother came up and sat silently rocking in the chair next to his bed. Eventually she quoted a verse from the Bible: “He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city.” As she began to salve and bandage his wounds, she told her son to beware the anger and hatred burning inside. Hatred is a futile thing, she told him, which only injures the person who harbors it. Of all her boys, she told him, he had the most to learn about controlling his passions. When he was seventy-six, Eisenhower wrote, “I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life. 

Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace

Keeping the Body From Overheating

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, the function of the brain was to keep the body from overheating. In The Parts of Animals, he noted that that the brain was a “compound of earth and water, which “tempers the heat and seething of the heart.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Key to Understanding Anger

In his book The Mystery of Christ, a series of fictionalized pastoral counseling sessions (based on actual events), the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon shares a number of helfpul ways of understanding the nature of God’s salvation, including this section on the nature of anger:

The key to understanding anger is that it always arises out of an offended sense of justice. You can’t get truly angry at someone unless you can convince yourself he has willfully deprived you of something that was reasonably and rightfully due you. If a friend unwittingly backs over your old, stone-deaf dog because it was asleep under the right rear wheel of his car, you may be sad and hurt over the dog, but you cant seriously be angry at your friend.

(You might, of course, work up a case for being angry at God for making a world in which such things can happen; but that’s only because you went hunting for an injustice on somebody’s part to provide yourself with a provable villain whose unfairness would allow you to convert your hurt into anger.) But if the guest comes tearing needlessly up your driveway at forty miles an hour and kills the dog, you don’t have to hunt for the injustice in heaven: you’ve got it right in the driver’s seat of an overpowered sports car.

Therefore, the first thing you can do to defuse your anger at someone close to you is to take an honest look at the balance sheet of injustices between the two of you. If you do that, you’ll probably find that the unjust behavior that made you angry with your friend was itself the product of his anger at you — of his sense that something he had assumed was due him from you was withheld, or that something he didn’t deserve was dumped on him.

“Yes. But how does that get you to forgiveness?”

‘Actually it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, we haven’t gotten anywhere near forgiveness yet. Were only at the level of trying to see that there are usually two sides to these things, and then of understanding that maybe even forgiveness is too lordly and one-sided an exercise, given the general untidiness of the situation.

…The object of forgiveness is the restoration of relationship. And the device by which it works is the death and resurrection of the forgiver —his dropping dead to his own right to justice so that at least he himself can rise to the possibility of a restored relationship. If he doesn’t do that, his only alternative is to kill his unjust former friend and, as a result, the relationship. But if you can manage to say, “I’m as wrong in my way as he is in his,’ then maybe you can call a truce instead of having to declare World War III.”

Robert Farrar Capon, The Mystery of Christ & Why We Don’t Get It, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1993.

Hearing God’s Voice in an Argument

A friend of mine named T (seriously, that’s his name) says something really weird happened to him once, right after he got married. He heard God say something. Or he thinks he did, anyway. The content of the short message smacked him in the face, he told me. “So my wife and I were having a big argument about something, and I was totally right,” he said.

“You know how most of the time you might be right or you’re both kind of right, or something, but this time—totally seriously—I was absolutely right, and I knew it, and it was incredibly frustrating. I was so angry.

She was absolutely being wrong.” So what happened? “I went in our bedroom and I was seething. And that’s when something popped in my head, and it practically knocked me over. I honestly think it was something God was telling me directly. Totally stopped me in my tracks.” And what was that? “It was, ‘So, do you want me to judge her right now?’” Whoa.

Brent Hansen, The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, Baker Publishing Group.

Living in Outrage Heaven

The political cartoonist and Op-Ed writer Tim Kreider has provided us with some insight into the “world of outrage” we currently inhabit. A world that has been amplified by the dawn of the Internet and its dark recesses, better known as “the comments section”:

So many letters to the editor and comments on the Internet have this…tone of thrilled vindication: these are people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by, and found it.. Obviously, some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. Bur outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but, over time, devour us from the inside out.

Except it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure. We prefer to think of it as a disagreeable but fundamentally healthy reaction to negative stimuli, like pain or nausea, rather than admit that it’s shameful kick we eagerly indulge again and again…It is outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulse to judge and punish, to get us righteous indignation.

Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons, Simon & Schuster, 2012, 50-51.

Making Pearls out of Irritations

Most of us are aware of the fact that pearls come from oysters, but do you know how they are formed? It all begins with an irritation. Some foreign particle, for example, a piece of sand, works its way into the shell of the oyster. The oyster can’t push the sand out of the oyster, because it’s too big.

So what does the oyster do? The oyster finds this unwanted outsider bothersome, and so it responds by trying to cover it up by emitting a small secretion. And that’s just the beginning. The oyster continues to send out secretion after secretion in the hopes of covering that piece of sand. The bigger the particle, the more the secretions, and so eventually the bigger the pearl. 

Life is also sometimes like that. The bigger the irritation, the greater the value. What irritates us is also often what requires our attention, because there’s probably something God wants to do with it.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Marking Your Enemies

One elderly monk in his community used to show his displeasure with other monks in a highly creative way. As you may know, most monastic communities chant the psalms several times a day together in chapel. Well, if this elderly monk was angry at someone, every time the word “enemy” came up in a psalm, as in “Deliver me from my enemies,” he would look up from his prayer book and glare at the monk he was angry with.

James Martin, Seven Last Words: An Invitation To A Deeper Friendship With Jesus, Harper One.

Mistaken Identity

A man is being tailgated by a woman who is in a hurry.  He comes to an intersection, and when the light turns yellow, he hits the brakes.  The woman behind him goes ballistic.  She honks her horn at him; she yells her frustration in no uncertain terms; she rants and gestures.

While she is in mid-rant, someone taps on her window.  She looks up and sees a policeman.  He invites her out of the car and takes her to the station where she is searched and fingerprinted and put in a cell.  After a couple of hours, she is released, and the arresting officer gives her her personal effects, saying, “I’m very sorry for the mistake ma’am.  I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language.  I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ window sign, the Christian fish emblem on your trunk, and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.”

The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radios, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines for their coffee tables but don’t actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts.

John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

A Need to Heal the Past

One of the challenges, at least in the western church, is an inability to deal with our wounds in a healthy way. Our training as Christians has been focused on Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday worship. But little thought has been given to the connection between our emotional and spiritual lives. This, I believe, is why seemingly pious saints can wreak so much damage on the church. There’s tons of spiritual head knowledge, but without healing the wounds of the past, they are unable to experience healthy relationships. The Catholic priest Ronald Rolheiser describes this budding awareness of our unhealed past:

Once the sheer impulse of life begins to be tempered by the weight of our commitments and the grind of the years, more of our sensitivities begin to break through, and we sense more and more how we have been wounded and how life has not been fair to us. New demons then emerge: bitterness, anger, jealousy, and a sense of how we have been cheated. Disappointment cools the fiery energies of our youth, and our enthusiasm begins to be tempered by bitterness and anger . . . where once we struggled to properly control our energies, we now struggle to access them.

Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity (New York: Image, 2014), 6.

Not Getting the Message

Reading the Bible without applying it to your life can be downright dangerous. On August 3, 1996, Melvin Hitchens, sat on his front porch and read the Bible. After his Bible reading, this 66 year old New Orleans resident went in his house and retrieved a .45 caliber hand gun. He went back outside, and shot his neighbors! He killed Donna Jett as she swept her sidewalk and injured Darryl Jett while he was mowing.

Family members and neighborhood residents testified that Hitchens and the Jett’s had a running feud over the care of their yards and the cleanliness of the gutters. No one, however, had an explanation how a man could put down his Bible, and commit such a violent act! Positive transformation requires the application of God’s Word. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 8/5/96, p.7A)

Andy Cook

A Pastor’s Road Rage

Just before Christmas, my whole family piled into our kid-moving vehicle and rushed to the nearest mall to grab some last minute Christmas presents before dashing to a holiday party. As usual, we were running late and were slightly on edge. Entering the mall parking lot, I was overwhelmed by the traffic…Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted an old pickup truck near the mall entrance, leaving its space. God is so good. I punched the accelerator and sped toward my answered prayer, hoping to gain a few precious extra seconds.

I immediately staked my spot with eye-lock. (Eye-lock is the ancient practice of claiming a spot by looking directly at it. As long as you don’t look away, the spot is yours.) Relieved that I might actually avoid the tedium of trolling up and down each aisle, I kept my eyes deadlocked on the spot and prepared for entry. Out of nowhere, a red sports car whipped in front of me—breaking my honorable eye-lock—and stole my parking space. Unbelievable. Frustrated beyond words, with the pressure mounting because of our tight schedule, I did something that I’m not proud of doing… 

I backed up my vehicle, pointed it directly at the red sports car, shifted to neutral, then revved my engine…Like a drag racer leaving the gate, I popped from neutral to drive, peeled out, and shot straight toward the rear of the enemy car. It’s hard to know what happened next. Maybe it was my wife threatening me. Perhaps God answered my kids’ prayers. Maybe I realized that I was still in our minivan and not in a NASCAR race. Whatever the reason, right before impact, I slammed on the brakes and stopped just short of his car. With all the Christian love I had, I rolled down the window and shouted at the top of my lungs, “What do you think you’re doing? 

You know I had eye-lock, you idiot! Now you’re going to make me really late, you red-sports-car-driving loser!” After rejoining the other ants, we searched for another twenty minutes and finally found a parking spot somewhere near the state line…We dashed from store to store, breathing heavy in our rush. As we entered JC Penney, who should approach us but my old friend — the driver of the red car. Just great. Images of my picture with the headline “Local Pastor Assaults Man over Parking Space” flashed through my mind. “I can tell you’re in a big hurry,” he said, as my blood pressure continued to rise. “But it appears you have more going on in your life than you can handle.” My wife gave me the remember-you’re-a-pastor-and-better-behave look as the driver continued. “I’d like to tell you about someone who could really help — Jesus. I really believe you need him, and he could change your life.


Craig Groeschel, WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working , Zondervan Publishing.

Rolling Stone Interview with Bono

The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away form God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. So the blues on one hand — running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy — running towards.

The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. There’s David singing. “Oh, God — where are you when I need you?/You call yourself God?” And you go, this is the blues.

Both deal with the relationship with God. That’s really it. I’ve since realized that anger with God is very valid.

Turning From Anger to Peace

An atheist professor delighted in tearing down the Christian faith of zealous freshmen. By his own admission, he was arrogant, selfish, and intolerant of anything that didn’t measure up to his standards of reason. His wife agreed, adding that he was chronically grumpy and often angry. Everything changed, however, after a near-death experience. During routine surgery, something went wrong and the surgical team thought they lost him.

Meanwhile, the professor was witnessing bright lights and warmth, which he subsequently attributed to an afterlife vision. After his recovery, he was a changed man. He tolerated the Christian beliefs of his freshman students, and his wife confirmed that he was less cranky with her and others. Do you remember how anger, especially in men, can be a cover for fear? Perhaps the professor’s near-death experience did only one thing for him: It took away his fear of death. He interpreted his near-death experience as an accurate vision of the afterlife. Since it turned out to be warm and fuzzy, there was nothing to fear.

Edward T. Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, New Growth Press.

Weighing the Options

Many years ago a senior executive of the then Standard Oil Company made a wrong decision that cost the company more than $2 million. John D. Rockefeller was then running the firm. On the day the news leaked out most of the executives of the company were finding various ingenious ways of avoiding Mr. Rockefeller, lest his wrath descend on their heads.

There was one exception, however; he was Edward T. Bedford, a partner in the company. Bedford was scheduled to see Rockefeller that day and he kept the appointment, even though he was prepared to listen to a long harangue against the man who made the error in judgment.

When he entered the office the powerful head of the gigantic Standard Oil empire was bent over his desk busily writing with a pencil on a pad of paper. Bedford stood silently, not wishing to interrupt. After a few minutes Rockefeller looked up.

“Oh, it’s you, Bedford,” he said calmly. “I suppose you’ve heard about our loss?”

Bedford said that he had.

“I’ve been thinking it over,” Rockefeller said, “and before I ask the man in to discuss the matter, I’ve been making some notes.”

Bedford later told the story this way:

“Across the top of the page was written, ‘Points in favor of Mr. _______.’ There followed a long list of the man’s virtues, including a brief description of how he had helped the company make the right decision on three separate occasions that had earned many times the cost of his recent error.

“I never forgot that lesson. In later years, whenever I was tempted to rip into anyone, I forced myself first to sit down and thoughtfully compile as long a list of good points as I possibly could. Invariably, by the time I finished my inventory, I would see the matter in its true perspective and keep my temper under control. There is no telling how many times this habit has prevented me from committing one of the costliest mistakes any executive can make — losing his temper.

“I commend it to anyone who must deal with people.”

Bits & Pieces, September 15, 1994, pp. 11-13. 

When We are Like Piñatas

When my kids were little, I used to hang piñatas from our favorite tree in the backyard as often as possible. Sometimes we did it for their birthdays, but sometimes we did it because it was Saturday, and what better day for a piñata than Saturday? I’d sneak off to the store to get a dinosaur or unicorn or rainbow-colored zebra, fill it full of candy, and two hours later we’d be scrambling through the grass in search of Starbursts.

The more opportunities I’ve had to blow it as an adult, the more other peoples’ responses have reminded me we’re a lot like those piñatas from my backyard. When people erupt into fits of rage when they’re wronged or surprise us with tenderness when we know they’ve been hurt, we get to see what’s inside of them. We see what they’re made of whenever they break.

Hopefully it’s not with a baseball bat, but at some point in life something will break you. We can’t avoid it, because we’re all a little broken and we’re bound to get things wrong. Someone will eventually nestle their way into your heart and then let you down. And when they do, you’ll either explode in anger or show a steady stream of love. Be love, so love will flow out when people fail you, just like it flowed from Jesus when He took the fall for us.

Give away love like you’re made of it. Let it fill you up like candy in a piñata, so when you take a hit, it’s what will pour out of you.

Bob Goff, Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365 Day Journey, Thomas Nelson, 2019, p. 45.

See Also Illustrations on Bitterness, Conflict, Cursing, Emotions, Enemies, Frustration,  Self-ControlViolence

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Anger. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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