Sermon illustrations


Can Anyone Hear Me?

When I think of the way God allows His servants to suffer, I can’t help but remember the classic story of poor Jack, who was out jogging. As he passed a cliff, he got a little too close to the edge, and suddenly found himself falling. On the way down, he managed to grab a branch, nearly yanking it out of the cliff. When he caught his breath, he realized what a terrible jam he was in. He couldn’t get up, and letting go certainly seemed to be a poor option. He began to scream, “Hello up there! Can anyone hear me?”

In a moment, a voice returned.

“Jack, Can you hear me?”

“Yes, Yes, I can hear you I’m down here.”

“I can see you, Jack, are you alright?”

“Yes, but, who are you, and where are you?”

“I am the Lord Jack, I am everywhere.”

“The Lord? You mean God?”

“That’s me.”

“God, help me, I promise that if you get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person and serve you for the rest of my life.”

“Easy on the promises, Jack. First let’s get you down, then we can discuss those.”

“I’ll do anything, Lord, just tell me what to do, okay?”

“Okay, let go of the branch.”


“I said, let go of the branch. Just trust me, let go.”

There was a long pause, as Jack thought of the offer.

In a moment, however, Jack let out a loud yell. “Hello, Hello – is there anybody else up there?!”

Andy Cook

Control Issues

In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton describe foundation of life as being spiritual in nature. This means we are constantly be “formed” spiritually, whether for good or evil:

Almost from the moment of birth we engage in a struggle for control of that portion of the world we live in. Can we get our parents to provide for our needs and wants when we want and how we want? Can we get our playmates to play our way, or will they control us to play their way? Can we control situations and others to fulfill our agenda, or are we manipulated into serving others?

Can we create enough of a security structure around our lives that we will be able to control life’s adversities? Or, to put it in very contemporary terms, why shouldn’t a woman’s control of her life allow her to terminate the life of her unborn child? Why shouldn’t my control of my life allow me to choose the time and means of its end?

Why shouldn’t we provide free contraceptives to our youth so their sexual behavior can be under their control and not under the control of the fear of sexually transmitted diseases? If you do not believe that control is a major issue in your life, study the ways you respond when someone or something disrupts your plan for the day.

Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Controlling the Cart

One of my small joys in life is grocery shopping. Ever since our kids were old enough to sit up, they fawned over the grocery carts that looked like little cars. Those carts are to grocery shopping what the iPad has become for the family road trip. How did we ever live without them? Game. Changer. Our kids still love sitting in the driver’s seat on the cart-car.

They love the feel of the steering wheel in their hands. They love the power of having control of the cart. But then there is that inevitable moment. That moment when the kids in the cart-car, happily driving along, suddenly realize the steering wheel doesn’t actually work.

Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, Zondervan.

Fasting Reveals That Which Controls Us

More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. … We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.  If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. … Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. …

Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).  Food does not sustain us; God sustains us.

Richard J. Foster , Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 3rd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1998, p.55).

How we Deal with the Desert

We all go through desert seasons and have the opportunity to determine how we will respond. The cyclical frustrations I faced in regard to my desire for control, fear, and the longing to feel chosen were the catalysts that initiated my time in the desert. I longed to create my own transformation. I wanted to be chosen. I wanted to be in control, and following my own way, I found myself in a dry and weary place. And I couldn’t navigate my way out.

What is Control? She is a woman with fabulous hair and defined biceps. She is the straight-A student, the high-achieving executive. She is always two steps ahead. Her favorite word is yes, and she can deliver results to anyone.

And although Control is impossible to pin down, I chased her. I wanted to be her. I thought I could be her. I followed Control’s lead—hair, biceps, straight As and all. I said yes to everyone. Yes made me feel like I was in control of the outcome, and that the results depended on me alone. Yes gave me the illusion that I could deliver joy and happiness to others, as well as to myself. If you take this demanding job, you will have the financial freedom you always wanted. Yes, I’ll take it. If you copy this essay, you will be guaranteed an A. Yes, I will do it. If you try this diet pill, it will make you lose twenty-four pounds in twenty-four hours. Yes, I’ll pop that pill.

But Control is a manipulator. She promises what can’t be had. She promises perfection. While I chased after Control and envied her apparent freedom, God called after me, tried to remind me that Control was my own construct. I know this now. Looking back, I can see that no matter how perfect my wardrobe was, how thin my waist became, or how much education I obtained, nothing made me feel secure. Ironically, I couldn’t control myself out of my own desert.

The more I tried, the drier, hotter, and more desolate it became. God watched as I proved that my plan to micromanage every second of my life only led me deeper into desolation. He knew the futility of my attempts, and like a patient father, He waited for me to understand that I needed to entrust my life to Him.

Bianca Juarez Olthoff, Play with Fire, Zondervan, 2016, pp.39-40.

The Ministry of Absence

The other thing that helps me deal with my compulsion to control things through my direct involvement and my fear of missing out is what Henri Nouwen has called “the ministry of absence.” Jesus modeled this for his disciples as he prepared them for the fact that he would be leaving them.

He explained to them that once he was no longer with them physically, he would be even closer to them through the Holy Spirit he was asking his Father to send. He made the bold statement that his departure would be to their advantage because then the Holy Spirit would come, enabling him to be closer to them at all times and in all ways.

They thought Jesus was crazy, and they had a hard time grasping what he was trying to tell them—that “in [his] absence a new and more intimate presence became possible, a presence which nurtured and sustained . . . and created a desire to see him again.” Could the same be true for us as well?

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Monk with a Gun

Theophane, a Cistercian monk residing at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, tells a striking story that beautifully illustrates such letting go:

I saw a monk working alone in the vegetable garden. I squatted down beside him and said, “Brother, what is your dream?” He just looked straight at me. What a beautiful face he had.

“I would like to become a monk,” he answered.

“But brother, you are a monk, aren’t you?”

“I’ve been here for 25 years, but I still carry a gun.” He drew a revolver from the holster under his robe. It looked so strange, a monk carrying a gun.

“And they won’t—are you saying they won’t let you become a monk until you give up your gun?”

“No, it’s not that. Most of them don’t even know I have it, but I know.”

“Well then, why don’t you give it up?”

“I guess I’ve had it so long. I’ve been hurt a lot, and I’ve hurt a lot of others. I don’t think I would be comfortable without this gun.”

“But you seem pretty uncomfortable with it.”

“Yes, pretty uncomfortable, but I have my dream.”

“Why don’t you give me the gun?” I whispered. I was beginning to tremble.

He did, he gave it to me. His tears ran down to the ground and then he embraced me.

Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, IVP Press.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

God’s goal is people. He’ll stir up a storm to display his power. He’ll keep you out of Asia so you’ll speak to Lydia. He’ll place you in prison so you’ll talk to the jailer. He might even sideline a quarterback in the biggest game of the season. This happened in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. Colt McCoy, the University of Texas quarterback, had enjoyed four years of open doors. He was the winningest signal caller in the history of collegiate football.

But in the National Championship Game, the most important contest of his university career, a shoulder injury put him out of the game in the first quarter. “Slam” went the door. Colt spent most of the game in the locker room. I don’t know if he, like Paul and Silas, was singing, but we know he was trusting. For after the game, he said these words: I love this game … I’ve done everything I can to contribute to my team … It’s unfortunate I didn’t get to play.

I would have given everything I had to be out there with my team. But … I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life. And I know that, if nothing else, I’m standing on the rock. Even on a bad night, Colt gave testimony to a good God. Did God close the door on the game so he could open the door of a heart? Colt’s father would say so. A young football player approached Brad McCoy after he returned from the game and asked, “I heard what your son said after the game, but I have one question.

What is the rock?” McCoy responded, “Well, son, we sing about him at church,” and began singing the hymn:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

Max Lucado. When God’s Story Becomes Your Story, Zondervan.

Our Problem with Time

We delude ourselves into believing that if we can just get everything done, if we can only tie up all the loose ends, if we can even once get ahead of the crush, we will prove our worth and establish ourselves in safety. Our problem with time is social, cultural, and economic, to be sure. But it is also a spiritual problem, one that runs right to the core of who we are as human beings. . . . Indeed, these distortions drive us into the arms of a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. We come to believe that our worth must be proved by the way we spend our hours and that our ultimate safety depends on our own good management.

Dorothy Bass, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 3.

Power is for Service

The way most of us serve keeps us in control. We choose whom, when, where and how we will serve. We stay in charge. Jesus is calling for something else. He is calling us to be servants. When we make this choice, we give up the right to be in charge. The amazing thing is that when we make this choice, we experience great freedom. We become available and vulnerable, and we lose our fear of being stepped on, or manipulated, or taken advantage of. Are not these our basic fears? We do not want to be in a position of weakness.

Maxie Dunnam, The Workbook on Spiritual Disciplines (Nashville: Upper Room, 1984), p. 101.

Thoughts on “Let Go and Let God”

If we want to turn in the direction of what is life giving, we are going to have to let go of Winter. “’Let go’ of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light. Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you – your children’s lives, the lives of your husband, your wife, your partner, your friends – because that is just what you are powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your business.

They are their business. They are God’s business because they all have God whether they use the word God or not. Even your own life is not your business. It is also God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought.”

Frederick Beuchner, Telling Secrets.

Why Such a Clean Room?

In Luke Norsworthy’s book, God over Good, he describes the curiosity of a new friend whose bedroom was, to use his own words, “immaculate.” At the time this seemed strange, but in hindsight, and with some wisdom, he recognized that the extremely neat and clean room was the friend’s only chance to control his surroundings.

Upon going to his house for the first time, I was shocked by his bedroom’s cleanliness. My parents made me clean my room, but they didn’t require me to have a closet that looked like an IKEA commercial like his. Every subsequent time I went to his house, his room was just as immaculate. And it wasn’t clean because he was forced to clean it by his aunt and uncle. It didn’t make sense to me at the time why a thirteen-year-old would always have such a tidy room.

But it makes some sense to me now. My friend had moved to live with his aunt and uncle because his mother had tragically passed away in a car accident. If that had happened to me, I can’t imagine how out of control I would have felt being a teenager who, in an instant, had lost his friends, his school, his house, and most of all, his mom. Years later I wonder if the reason he kept his room so pristine was because it was the only thing he could control. He couldn’t control where he lived, whom he lived with, or the school he attended, but he could control how well his bed was made, how vacuumed his floor was, and how straight his closet was. He was controlling the only things he could.

Taken from Luke Norsworthy God over Good: Saving Your Faith by Losing Your Expectations of God, Baker Publishing Group. 

See also Illustrations on AuthorityDirection, Obedience, Power

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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