Sermon illustrations


Christopher Parkening’s Search For Happiness and Purpose

Considered perhaps the greatest guitarist alive, Christopher Parkening appeared to have it all. Signed to an international recording deal as a teenager, Parkening traveled across the world playing beautiful music. But by the age of 30, having achieved all the musical success he could ever imagine, Parkening felt empty. He was tired of touring and wanted to take a break from the rigors associated  . Parkening ultimately decided to move to Montana and took up fly-fishing as a hobby.

Soon Parkening was not only one of the greatest guitarists in the world, but also a world-class fly fisherman, with all the money and time he could ever want. And yet, despite all his success, his life was empty.

He wrote: “If you arrive at a point in your life where you have everything that you’ve ever wanted and thought would make you happy and it still doesn’t, then you start questioning things. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

At this point, Parkening began to wonder if anything could fulfill the deep longings of his heart. Around this time, while visiting friends, Parkening attended church. During the service, Parkening was struck by 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

He explains, “I realized there were only two things I knew how to do: fly fish for trout and play the guitar. Well, I am playing the guitar today absolutely by the grace of God. . . . I have a joy, a peace, and a deep-down fulfillment in my life I never had before. My life has purpose. . . . I’ve learned first-hand the true secret of genuine happiness.” Now Parkening teaches classical guitar to students at Pepperdine University, albeit with a different perspective and lease on life.

Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Janet Bartholomew, Does God Care? (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation, 2000), 153–54.

Contentment Defined

Contentment is when we tell the Shepherd that His provision is enough for all our physical and material needs. If our old car gimps down the road, that is fine. If we get a shiny newer auto with less gimp, that too is fine. Because it is not about the cars. My contentment is unaltered in any circumstance, because the Shepherd is the source of my provision and He doeth all things well.

Contentment is when we tell the Shepherd that His presence is sufficient for all our emotional needs. We seek solutions for our emptiness in many directions, all of them lacking. But those who go deep with Jesus discover He is always better. The greater our intimacy, the greater our contentment.

Richard Swenson, Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm. The Navigators.

Discontent is Everywhere

In this tragic world, we are surrounded by discontented people. Every minute of the day, it is possible to see evidence of this restless discontentment in the way people respond to circumstances. People show their discontent while driving, because the traffic is too slow. Or perhaps the weather is too hot, too rainy, or too humid. Or in their jobs people aren’t making enough money or receiving enough credit for the hard work they are putting in.

Or they can’t stand their coworkers. People feel deeply disappointed with their marriage or with how their children are turning out. Their bodies are too fat or not beautiful enough. Mired in their discontent, people often buy things they don’t really need to improve their outlook on life.

People try to find their way into happiness by seeking healing from counselors for their dysfunctional childhoods. Discontent with the love they haven’t found shows up in lustfully roving eyes at office parties. Their outlooks darken as they take the commuter rail to another day at the same jobs that have imprisoned them for years.

Andrew M Davis, The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.14.


Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, once was at a party in the Hamptons. A guy came over to him and pointed at a young, 25 year old standing in the party who worked for a big hedge fund. Heller’s “friend” said to him, “see that guy over there? He made more money last year then you will ever make with all of your books combined.”

Joseph Heller said, “Maybe so. But I have one thing that man will never have.”

His friend was skeptical. “Oh yeah, what?”

Heller said, “Enough.”

On the importance of changing someone’s mind

Source Unknown

If You Need Anything…

Philip Yancey writes of a spiritual seeker who interrupted his busy, acquisitive life to spend a few days in a monastery.  “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed him to his simple cell.  “If you need anything, let us know, and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”

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

Joy Beacons

Katja, our seven-year-old granddaughter, stepped in it, as they say. She had doggie droppings on the bottom of her tennies. Not just one foot, mind you, but both. Her mother, Maureen, suggested she leave the shoes outside, where they could be cleaned after lunch. An hour later, Adam and Katja went for a walk to fix the problem. She put on her shoes, looked for a good stick, and off they went down the street.

When they came to an appropriate spot, she sat on the curb and started scraping. Thirty seconds later, she stopped. She looked up at Adam with a smile, down at her shoes, then at the brown stuff scraped onto the street. “You know, Daddy,” she said, “this would make a very good meal for a dung beetle.”

The contentment range of unspoiled children is a mile from end to end. Joy beacons, I call them, God’s little ambassadors to cheerless cynics. The laughter of just one child is enough to lift a crowd of fifty. Where do they get this capacity? How do they pull it off so casually, to make happy connections between a shoe full and the disgusting culinary habits of ugly beetles? According to statistics, four-year-olds laugh 26.6 times more than I do. No wonder Jesus preferred the kids to, say, me. To be honest, I prefer them to me too. Young children find equal delight in a puddle or a pigeon, a worm or a waffle.

Throw in a puppy, and joy goes off the charts. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Contentment in the young does not require Disneyland. Just a book on beetles. Or a puppet drinking green milk. Just hearts with the capacity for delight, brains with the capacity for imagination, and spirits with the innocence of sufficiency. Perhaps the statute of limitations for creation wonder

Richard Swenson, Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm. The Navigators.

Oliver Twist and the Desire for More

In one of the classic scenes from Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, the misfortunate young orphan, Oliver, is stuck in a workhouse, laboring for long hours and getting barely enough gruel to keep himself alive. When he and his fellow laborers draw lots to see who should try to get some extra food, Oliver loses.

He approaches the overbearing and overweight master, Mr. Bumble, with a humble request, “Please, sir, I want some more.” This greatly perturbs Mr. Bumble and the leaders of the workhouse, who sell Oliver into apprenticeship to get rid of the troublemaker.

Oliver had a good reason for wanting more, of course, since he and his chums were almost starving. But the desire for more grows in the hearts of those of us who have plenty as well. In fact, this desire often leads us off track in our lives and leadership, as we eagerly seek for more when we already have all we need.

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary

Paul in Prison

Roman imprisonments were brutal. There was no concern for prisoner comfort, no plan for meals or for medical care, and no concern for a just and speedy trial. Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea went on for years. Paul had to wait patiently for his freedom, though he’d done nothing wrong. He’d made a personal connection with Felix, the Roman governor, who often summoned him to speak with him. After two years of this, Felix was succeeded as governor by Festus, but Felix left Paul in prison (Acts 24:27).

His suffering continued. It is so powerful when a person like Paul steps up to teach us life lessons on contentment. If he can be content in this level of agony, maybe he has something he can teach us. We can read Paul’s credentials from the pages of the New Testament. But the Philippian church had personally seen Paul live out supernatural contentment firsthand, when he and Silas came to their city to preach the gospel.

Andrew M Davis, The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.22.

The Prayer of Jabez Revisited

First Chronicles 4:9-10 could be forgiven for being called the text that roared, once Bruce Wilkinson got his hands on it and wrote a little book called The Prayer of Jabez. This book, which was released in 2000, sold nine million copies in its first two years in print (over seventeen million now), becoming one of the best-selling Christian books of all time. But what exactly does 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 say that caused such a sensation?

In the midst of apparently innocuous genealogies we find these two verses: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez saying: “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” That’s all there is to the story and the context. It is preceded and followed by unrelated genealogy.

What should we make of this brief narrative? First of all, we should notice that the theme of the narrative is pain. It’s about pain in childbirth and a prayer to be free from pain (which may imply that Jabez was in pain at the time of the prayer). Further, the name Jabez sounds was in pain at the time of the prayer). Further, the name Jabez sounds with some Hebrew transliteration will help.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez [y’bts], saying, “Because I bore him in pain [b’tsb]” Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not hurt me [‘tsby]! And God granted what he asked. (1 Chron. 4:9-10)

In ancient times wordplays were a common practice when it came to bestowing a name. Notice that our man is called Jabez rather than Jazeb, which would be more nearly the Hebrew word for pain. This seems to be the prayer of a rather poor or indigent person, who barely has enough land for survival and is also in danger. But notice: Nothing suggests that when the prayer was answered God made Jabez a wealthy man, because nothing suggests that Jabez requested wealth at all.

What he may well have requested is simply adequate land and safety to make a living and take care of his family. What these two little definitely do suggest is that God answers prayer, particularly prayers of his faithful people who are crying out for basic necessities like safety and the ability to make a living. Nothing here suggests that God intends to make the rich richer, simply because they ask and trust that God is capable of giving such material blessings.

Ben Witherington III, Jesus & Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, Brazos Press.

Sad Will Be The Day

Sad will be the day for every man when he becomes absolutely contented with the life he is living, with the thoughts that he is thinking, with the deeds that he is doing, when there is not forever beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger, which he knows that he was meant and made to do.

Phillips Brooks, Addresses by the Right Reverend Phillips Brooks (1893, Los Angeles: Hard Press, 2006), 25.

So Many Things

The story is told of Socrates walking through the market in Athens, with its groaning abundance of options, and saying to himself, “Who would have thought that there could be so many things that I can do without?”

Taken from A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness Copyright (c) 2013 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

This is the Last of Earth

John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president John Adams, dedicated his life to public service and the great American project, serving in numerous distinguished positions throughout his career. He is to this day, the only U.S. President to ever serve in congress after becoming commander in chief. At the end of his life, in 1848, Adams was writing at his desk when the Speaker of the House asked him a question. Adams rose to his feet to answer, whereupon he immediately collapsed and entered a semiconscious state that lasted for the next few days. His last words were, “This is the last of Earth. I am content.”

Stuart R. Strachan Jr.

See also Illustrations on Happiness, Joy, Peace, Pleasure

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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