Sermon illustrations


A Beautiful Mind Learns Discernment

Some of you may remember the film A Beautiful Mind, named after the book with the same title. The book is based on the life of John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, a brilliant mathematician and professor at Princeton University. Aside from teaching at one of the best universities in the world, Nash participated in significant research, providing key contributions to game theory, just to name one. The core conflict in the movie was this: John Nash also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. That is, Nash would see characters and hear voices that did not exist. When he listened to the voices, they became destructive to his life. They could turn him into an egomaniac by making him feel like he was the center of the universe or they could also prey upon his deepest fears and make him suspicious of his loved ones.

Treating this condition is extremely difficult, because the voices heard and the people seen are as real to patients suffering from this disorder as actual people. You have to convince the person that their own faculties of sight and sound are impaired, that they cannot trust them, and have to resist the urge to engage them. Eventually Nash would regain much of his ability to function in the “real” world, largely through new medicines that cut down on the intensity of delusional episodes. As helpful as the medicine was, it did not completely eliminate the voices.

Over time, Nash learned how to test the voices, to figure out whether or not they were real. In other words, Nash learned the art of discernment. He learned how to sift the unhealthy voices and listen to the healthy ones. In the movie version of the story he says this toward the end: “I’m not so different from you, We all hear voices. We just have to decide which ones we are going to listen to.”

Nash really isn’t that different from us, aside from the genius part (although I’m sure a few of you would qualify for that as well). We all have to practice the art of discernment. We all must discover what is real versus what is false, what lies the enemy tries to implant in us and what are legitimate blind spots we have in our character.

Stuart R Strachan Jr.

The Journey of Discernment

The word increasing [speaking of discernment] indicates that we will never fully arrive when it comes to discernment, but we can grow more and more attuned to the presence and will of God through practice. Recognizing and responding are related but separate ideas.

To recognize is to see, to know, to cherish, and to allow the other to speak; then to respond truly and thoughtfully requires that we bring our best and most attentive selves. Of course, we will need to recognize the presence and activity of God before we can respond, but for a whole host of reasons it is possible to recognize what God is doing and yet refuse to participate.

So the idea is to recognize and respond, and if we don’t, we could be curious about why we are not responding and what’s holding us back. It is one thing to be aware that God is present with us all the time; it is quite another to recognize God’s activity in our lives and seek to join God in whatever God is up to.

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

Paul Making Decisions

You’re not getting the sense that Paul got angelic visits every other day and waited for his dreams, visions of his heart, and supernatural messages written out in the clouds to tell him what to do…With few exceptions, Paul planned, strategized, and made his own decisions about the non-moral matters of his life. Paul never sought out special words of knowledge concerning his future…When he gets to a fork in the road, hesitating and pleading with God to know which way to go seems completely foreign to the apostle.

Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, Moody Publishers.

Two Servants and a King

Consider this parable. There was once a king who had two servants. One of the servants, for fear of not pleasing his master, rose early each day to hurry along to do all the things that he believed the king wanted done. He didn’t want to bother the king with questions about what that work was. Instead, he hurried from project to project from early morning until late at night. The other servant, also eager to please his master, would rise early as well, but he took a few moments to go to the king, ask him about his wishes for the day and find out just what it was he desired to be done.

Only after such a consultation did this servant step into the work of his day, work comprised of tasks and projects the king himself had expressed an interest in and a desire for. The busy servant may have gotten a lot done by the time the inquiring servant even started his work, but which of them was doing the will of the master and pleasing him? Genuine productivity is not about getting as much done for God as we can manage.

It is doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day. Genuine productivity is learning that we are more than servants, that we are beloved sons and daughters invited into the good kingdom work of our heavenly Father. That being the case, how might God be inviting you to wait for his specific direction? Or is God inviting you to take a specific step now?

Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, InterVarsity Press.

What Kind of Inquiry does this Ordering Policy Recommend?

When the movie The Da Vinci Code hit the theaters and the swirl of related controversy began to pick up speed, I decided finally to read the book so that I wouldn’t be found ignorant dinner parties. I went to the bookstore on campus at a prominent conservative Christian university in my area.

I quickly located five different books by Christian authors criticizing Dan Brown’s work.

But I searched in vain for the book itself. Finally. I went to the sales desk for help. I was politely informed by the nineteen year-old student worker behind the counter that there were no copies in stock. I asked if they were temporarily sold out.

Could I place one on orders? “No”, he said with a slightly holier-than-thou tone, “we don’t carry that book”.  I asked. “Yep. “You don’t find that odd?” “Nope.” “What kind of inquiry do you suppose this ordering policy recommends?” “We stared blankly at each other – or maybe past each other—for a second or two, and then he turned his attention to the next customer in line.

Gregg A. Ten Elshof, I told me so: Self  Deception and the Christian Life, Eerdmans, 2009.

See also Illustrations on DirectionGuidance, Uncertainty, Waiting, Wisdom

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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