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Sermon illustrations

Discouragment

A Change of Nuisance

While serving as British Prime Minister, Lloyd George had to deal with World War I, an economic depression, and the Sinn Fein movement attempting to effect Irish liberation, as well as many other smaller problems. Amidst all the chaos and troubles, George was asked how he kept up good spirits. He responded by saying, “Well, I find that a change of nuisance is as good as a vacation.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Heart-Transforming Grace

God is working right now, but not so much to give us predictable, comfortable, and pleasurable lives. He isn’t so much working to transform our circumstances as he is working through hard circumstances to transform you and me. Perhaps in hard moments, when we are tempted to wonder where God’s grace is, it is grace that we are getting, but not grace in the form of a soft pillow or a cool drink. Rather, in those moments, we are being blessed with the heart-transforming grace of difficulty because the God who loves us knows that this is exactly the grace we need.

Taken from New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, © 2014. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

I am Baptized

If you’ve read or watched any of the biographies of Martin Luther, you will already know that he struggled at times with bouts of anxiety, self-loathing, and perhaps even depression. Shortly after his unwillingness to renounce his views in front of an imperial meeting (the famous Diet of Worms), Luther was spirited away to a remote castle, where he would eventually translate the Bible into German.

It had to have been an extremely harrowing time. The Catholic Church had condemned him, labeling him a heretic. Alone for much of the days, Luther fought against his demons, perhaps literal and figurative. At one point he was said to have thrown an inkpot across the room at the devil.

But his response to these attacks was just as interesting. Luther would shout out loud Baptizatus sum, “I am baptized.” As Tim Chester writes, “His circumstances looked bleak. But his baptism was a fact, and it embodied the promise of God.”

When times were most tough, Luther leaned on the sacraments as a promise that Luther was saved, no matter what his demons might whisper in his ear.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

“I Know Why You’re Here”

One summer, Johnny was ministering among the poor on a six-week urban project with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles. Part of his assignment was to spend time in a convalescent home in the central part of the city. The elderly who are in need make up a segment of the poor who are easily overlooked in our society. Since many are tucked away in homes and hospices, they are not as visible as are those who are younger and on the streets.

This convalescent home was smelly, understaffed and poorly kept. Few residents had visitors. For a new guest arriving to serve the residents, it was very awkward. Some residents were mentally ill; some were not responsive at all. Others were even hostile. Members of Johnny’s team were struggling in the first few days with why they had been called to serve there. “Why are we here?” “This is depressing.” “We can’t do anything to help.” Such remarks began to be made openly.

One day, after Johnny had been there for about a week, an elderly woman slowly walked up to him in the hallway where he was standing. She drew close and pointed a finger at him. “I know why you’re here,” she said in an accusatory tone. She paused as my friend looked at her, wondering what this was about. Realizing he didn’t know what she meant, she went on. “I know why you’re here,” she said again. “You’re here because God wants us to know he hasn’t forgotten about us.

The woman turned and shuffled away. Johnny was stunned. Another team member was so moved she nearly cried on the spot. By the end of that summer, many of that team cried as they left the friends they had made, because in many of those relationships they had found something of the kingdom of God.

Kevin Blue, Practical Justice: Living Off-Center in a Self-Centered World, InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Life in the Gaps

Most of life is lived in the gaps between great moments. The peaks seem to protrude only after miles and miles of death valleys. While the Bible reveals its characters in terms of their high points, we, on the other hand, tend to evaluate our lives by the lousy week we just slogged through.

We read and assess the Bible intellectually, but we evaluate our own lives emotionally. Sometimes that disconnect seems huge. And often, discouraging. But gaps are normal. And expecting gaps is essential if we hope to maintain a life of faith as well as discern God’s hand in our lives.

Even Jesus’s life had gaps—huge ones. We need to accept the gaps between great moments as God’s will, but we also must learn how to live in these dull spaces. Because most of life is gaps, we never know which days will prove significant.

We have the obvious exceptions, of course, like births, graduations, weddings, and occasionally even deaths. But the list drops off after these few predictables. Only hindsight reveals the significant days of God’s sovereign design. God sees them in advance.

Wayne Stiles, Waiting on God, Baker Publishing Group, 2015, pp. 23-24.

“My Cross to Bear”: Joni Eareckson Tada on Paralysis

Please know that when I take up my cross every day I am not talking about my wheelchair. My wheelchair is not my cross to bear. Neither is your cane or walker your cross. Neither is your dead-end job or your irksome in-laws. Your cross to bear is not your migraine headaches, not your sinus infection, not your stiff joints. That is not your cross to bear. My cross is not my wheelchair; it is my attitude. Your cross is your attitude about your dead-end job and your in-laws. It is your attitude about your aches and pains.

Any complaints, any grumblings, any disputings or murmurings, any anxieties, any worries, any resentments or anything that hints of a raging torrent of bitterness—these are the things God calls me to die to daily. For when I do, I not only become like him in his death (that is, taking up my cross and dying to the sin that he died for on his cross), but the power of the resurrection puts to death any doubts, fears, grumblings, and disputings.

And I get to become like him in his life. I get to experience the intimate fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, the sweetness and the preciousness of the Savior. I become holy as he is holy. O God, “you will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2:28).

Taken from Suffering & The Sovereignty of God by John Piper & Justin Taylor © 2006, pp.195-196. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

One Step At a Time: Advice from the Desert Fathers

The following story comes from the collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt, teaching that would have first been transmitted orally (around 350-450 A.D.) and later written down for the spiritual nourishment of generations to come (much like the Old and New Testaments). The material is rich and profound and can be applied to a modern audience, as the following encounter demonstrates:

A brother fell when he was tempted, and in his distress he stopped practicing his monastic rule. He really longed to take it up again, but his own misery prevented him. He would say to himself, “When shall I be able to be holy in the way I used to be before?”

He went to see one of the old men and told him all about himself. And when the old man learned of his distress, he said: “There was a man who had a plot of land, but it got neglected and turned into waste ground, full of weeds and brambles.

So he said to his son, ‘Go and weed the ground.’ The son went off to weed it, saw all the brambles, and despaired. He said to himself, ‘How long will it take before I have uprooted and reclaimed all of that?” So he lay down and went to sleep for several days. His father came to see how he was getting on and found he had done nothing at all.

Why have you done nothing?’ he said. The son replied, ‘Father, when I started to look at this and saw how many weeds and brambles there were, I was so depressed that I could do nothing but lie down on the ground.’ His father said, “child, just go over the surface of the plot every day and you will make some progress.’ So he did, and before long the whole plot was weeded. The same is true for you brother; work just a little bit without getting discouraged, and God, by his grace will reestablish you.

Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 76.

The Devil’s Tools

It was advertised that the Devil was putting up for sale all of his tools. On that date the tools were laid out. They had prices marked on them for public inspection, and there were a lot of treacherous instruments: hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, pride, lying, and so on. Laid apart from the rest of the Devil’s tools was a tool, but it was worn more than any of the others and was priced very high. “What’s the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers.

“That,” the Devil replied, “is discouragement.”

“Why have you priced it so high?”

“Because discouragement is more useful to me than all the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with that when I cannot get near him with any other tools. It’s badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know it belongs to me.”

John W. Yates II

See What Happens

Do you ever feel as if God is far from you? Be assured, He is steadfastly near. Do not be disheartened because you don’t see Him in your circumstances. I saw an illustration of this during a photography excursion I took to the Matterhorn in Switzerland. When I got to the great mountain, I was greeted by a snowstorm that unforgivingly persisted for three days.

The blanket of snow was so thick, I never even saw the foot of the mountain. On my last night there, I shared my disappointment with the Lord. The next day, I awoke at 5:20 a.m. and looked out my window. The storm had been swept away, and there was the Matterhorn in all her glory, with a halo of moonlight crowning her. It was as if God said, “See what happens when you wait for Me.”

Charles F. Stanley, God’s Purpose for Your Life: 365 Devotions, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

Struggling with Vision

Right around six years into what would become a thirty-three-year ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper was stuck. His board wanted to enact some significant changes and he felt like he had no direction whatsoever. Here is a journal entry from that time:

November 6, 1986: The church is looking for a vision for the future—and I do not have it. The one vision that the staff zeroed in on during our retreat Monday and Tuesday of this week (namely, building a sanctuary) is so unattractive to me today that I do not see how I could provide the leadership and inspiration for it. Does this mean that my time at Bethlehem is over?

Does it mean that there is a radical alternative unforeseen? Does it mean that I am simply in the pits today and unable to feel the beauty and power and joy and fruitfulness of an expanded facility and ministry? O Lord, have mercy on me. I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand, even when I know that most of my people are for me. I am so blind to the future of the church…I must preach on Sunday, and I can scarcely lift my head.

Eventually, Piper and his team would develop a renewed vision for their church. This vision gave them the clarity they needed to pursue not only continue, but to flourish as a church. But it was not something that came immediately, or without struggle. It required the long, disciplined work of discerning, in community, the vision that God had for their church.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from John Piper, “How I Almost Quit,” desiringGod.

Where Your Unhappiness Comes From

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.

Somebody is talking . . . Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, Zondervan.

Words You Hoped You Would Never Say

“Why our son?” are the only words you can muster. The funeral is over and the words of comfort have been politely said. Now it is just you, your memories, and your question, “Why me?”

“The tests were positive. The tumor is malignant.” Just when you thought the biggest struggle was over. More surgery.

“They took the other bid.” That sale was your last hope. To be outbid could mean you’ll have to shut down the shop. That client would have been just enough to keep the business ness afloat for another quarter. But now?

Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday: Living in the Power of the Cross (Chronicles of the Cross), Thomas Nelson.

Your Complaining Is Not Because…

If right now you’re complaining about something, you’re not complaining because you have a lack of resources problem…

people problem,

…fairness problem,

physical health problem,

church problem,

marriage problem,

employment problem,

…neighbor problem,

or fallen-world problem.

Sure, you may be dealing with difficulty in one or more of these areas, but they are not the cause of your grumbling. Your tendency to complain is rooted at a deeper level.

Taken from Awe: Why it Matters to Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp, © 2015, pp.95-96. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

See also Illustrations on Adversity, Challenges, Crisis, Depression

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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