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Sermon illustrations

Distraction

6 Eye-Opening Statistics

  • 65 percent of parents, ages 25-34, believe they check their phone too much. (56% of kids agree.)
  • 31 percent of parents say they don’t set a good example with mobile device usage. (22% of kids agree.)
  • 45 percent of parents get distracted while having a conversation with their kids. (39% of kids agree.)
  • 47 percent of kids say they would confiscate a parent’s mobile device if they could.
  • 53 percent of parents believe they check their phone too much (65% within the 25-34 age group).
  • 47 percent of parents believe their children spend more time on their mobile device than with them.

Source: AVG Technologies Digital Diaries Research, June 2015.

Adolescence and the Pings, Not Pong

Adolescents have been offered a license to post without any accompanying ethical framework. Is it fair to blame teens for misusing tools that didn’t exist in our childhood? If I had been given a phone with an ability to take and post pictures when I was thirteen, I would not have photographed many things to be proud of. What kinds of public mistakes would I have made if emboldened by this new possibility?

We are now all engaged in what sociologist Erving Goffman calls “the arts of impression management.” Thanks to social media, adolescents are often forced to grow up in public at earlier ages and stages. They are embarking upon an ancient challenge, to know thyself, while broadcasting each awkward step along the way. Is it fair to criticize the young for not acting more maturely? Today’s pings are just a more sophisticated version of Pong. As one of the original video games, Pong was slow, methodical, even predictable. And yet we loved it. Pong didn’t require much sophistication.

The speed could be shifted, but the rules remained the same. Hit it back. The game could be locked in place, stuck in an endless loop. One could walk away for a while and nothing would change.

Take an eye off the screen, a hand off the controller, and one may not even lose a point. Today’s teens are playing ping, not Pong. Pings are those beeps and blurps that tell us we have a new message, a new update, a new headline to consider. Pings are the notifications that float across our screen all day long. They are rooted in instant messaging and constant connection.

Craig Detweiler, Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, p.9.

Getting the Bird (or the Thought) Out of My House

Once, a bird flew into our tiny house and wouldn’t fly out. It took more than an hour for our whole family working together to catch that silly little sparrow. Shooting the bird with a BB gun? Easy. But capturing the wild sparrow flailing through our house was an altogether different task, a nearly impossible one. How much more impossible to capture a wild thought on the fly?

Jennie Allen, Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts, WaterBrook, 2020.

Distracted During Prayer

In the middle of a prayer, whether praying silently or aloud, my mind would bounce from one thing to the next. Dear God in heaven, I pray that you heal my friend who has cancer. Work in her life now in the name of . . . I really need to go to the hospital to see her again. Oh wait, I haven’t changed the oil in the car. And we’re out of cereal.

The kids are gonna kill me. And Amy has a doctor’s appointment today—did we pay that last insurance bill? I can’t believe how much it’s going up this year! Oh, yeah, this week’s sermon—still need to find a strong illustration  . . . Oh, I’m sorry, Lord, what were we talking about?

Craig Groeschel, Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus Was Never Meant to Be Safe, Zondervan, 2020.

Help with My Chaotic Thoughts

In the first chapter of her book, Get Out of Your Head, author Jennie Allen shares a vulnearble and honest moments from her own life about just how hard it can be to focus in a world of distraction:

“Take every thought captive.” They say authors write books for two reasons: either the author is an expert on the subject, or the subject makes the author desperate enough to spend years finding the answers. The latter most definitely describes me. This morning I woke up intending to write to you. But first, I thought, I need to spend time with God. So what did I do? I picked up my phone. I noticed an email about something I was working on, in which the sender was “constructively” critical of my work.

Just as I decided to set my phone down, something else stole my attention…and the next thing I knew, I was on Instagram, noticing others’ wins and glories contrasted with my work in process that seemed to not be measuring up. In minutes with my phone, I decided that I was an inadequate writer, I was spending my life chasing things that mean nothing because I am nothing, I have nothing to say. I was spiraling fast into discouragement. Then my husband, Zac, came in happy, having just met with God, and I snapped at him.

My spiral began to spin faster and more chaotically. In less than an hour, I had diminished myself, criticized all my work, decided to quit ministry, ignored God, and pushed away my greatest advocate and friend.

Wow. Brilliant, Jennie. And that was only this morning? And now you want to try to help me with my chaotic thoughts?

Jennie Allen, Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts, WaterBrook, 2020.

A People Distracted by Distraction

From drugs and alcohol to TV and workaholism, we are increasingly a society that fulfills T.S. Eliot’s description of a people “distracted by distraction.”  There is hardly a public menace we can name that is not in some caused by one or another of the million ways in which our society teaches and enables us to abstract and distract ourselves—to escape in one way or another from the concrete presence of the here and now.

Daniel Kemmis, The Good City and the Good Life (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Forever Elsewhere

We say we turn to our phones when we’re “bored.” And we often find ourselves bored because we have become accustomed to a constant feed of connection, information, and entertainment. We are forever elsewhere. At class or at church or business meetings, we pay attention to what interests us and then when it doesn’t, we look to our devices to find something that does. There is now a word in the dictionary called “phubbing.” It means maintaining eye contact while texting.

Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Penguin Publishing Group.

Missing the Trees in the Forest

Years ago, my family and I visited Sequoia National Park in California. The highlight of this trip was seeing the Giant Sequoia redwoods, after which the park is named. These trees are awe-inspiring, both for their beauty and their size. The largest redwood in the national park is the General Sherman tree, which towers above the forest at 275 feet in height. It is also 25 feet in diameter, with an estimated age over 2500 years.

As my family and I ambled among the giant redwoods, drinking in their exceptional elegance, I noticed a teenaged boy walking along with his family. His eyes were transfixed, not by the trees, but rather by his Game Boy device. (Today, it would be his smartphone.) He was engaged in some sort of video game that demanded his full attention.

I was both fascinated and distressed by this boy’s apparent unawareness of the extraordinary beauty all around him, so I continued to look his way every now and then throughout our tour of the big trees. Sure enough, as near as I could tell, he never once lifted his eyes to gaze upon some of the most beautiful and astounding of God’s creations.

As I think about this boy today, I feel sad. My sadness is not just for him, though. I feel sad for so many others who are just like him. I would confess there are times when I am one of these people. I can get so wrapped up in whatever is demanding my attention that I neglect the beauty of God’s creation. Sometimes I’m caught up in work. Sometimes I’m blinded by worry. Often, what keeps me from delighting in beauty is my ever-present hand-held device. I don’t have a Game Boy, but I do have a smartphone that calls to me its siren’s song.

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

Targeting our Attention Gaps

Smartphones make it possible for the attention economy to target our little attention gaps as we transition between tasks and duties. Our attention may be slightly elastic enough to fill up every empty gap of silence in our days, but in the end it’s still a zero-sum game. We have limited amounts of time to focus in a given day, and now every second of our attention can be targeted and commoditized.

Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, p.56. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Wheelbarrows

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev used to tell of a time when there was a wave of petty theft in the Soviet Union. To curtail this the authorities put up guards around the factories. At one timber works in Leningrad, the guard knew the workers in the factory very well. The first evening, out came Pyotr Petrovich with a wheelbarrow and, on the wheelbarrow, a great bulky sack with a suspicious-looking object inside.

“All right, Petrovich,” said the guard, “what have you got there?”“Oh, just sawdust and shavings,” Petrovich replied.

“Come on,” the guard said, “I wasn’t born yesterday. Tip it out.” And out came nothing but sawdust and shavings. So he was allowed to put it all back again and go home. When the same thing happened every night of the week the guard became frustrated. Finally, his curiosity overcame his frustration.

“Petrovich,” he said, “I know you. Tell me what you’re smuggling out of here, and I’ll let you go.”

Wheelbarrows, my friend, “ said Petrovich, “wheelbarrows.”

Os Guinness, The Devil’s Gauntlet: The Church and the Challenge of Society (Viewpoint Pamphlets)

Where Ought I Be?

G.K. Chesterton’s mind was so preoccupied that he frequently forgot to keep appointments. He relied on his wife in all practical matters. Once on a lecture tour he sent her the following telegram: “Am in Birmingham. Where ought I to be?” She wired back: “Home.”

Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes

See also Illustrations on AttentionSmart Phones, Technology