Sermon illustrations


An Emotional Reckoning

In navigation, the term reckoning, as in dead reckoning, is the process of calculating where you are. To do that, you have to know where you’ve been and what factors influenced how you got to where you now are (speed, course, wind, etc.). Without reckoning, you can’t chart a future course. In the rising strong process, we can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are, get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go.

Ours is an emotional reckoning. There is a clear pattern among the women and men who demonstrate the ability to rise strong from hurt or adversity—they reckon with emotion. The word reckon comes from the Middle English rekenen, meaning to narrate or make an account. The rising strong reckoning has two deceptively simple parts: (1) engaging with our feelings, and (2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings—what emotions we’re experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors.

Brené Brown, Rising Strong, Random House Publishing Group.

Emotion and Reason

Reason and emotion are not separate and opposed. Reason is nestled upon emotion and dependent upon it. Emotion assigns value to things, and reason can only make choices on the basis of those valuations. The human mind can be pragmatic because deep down it is romantic.

David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.

Emotionally Involved With the Lawnmower

In Eugene Peterson’s excellent book, Run with Horses, he tells the story of his frustration trying to remove the blade from his lawnmower. He had tried everything and finally his neighbor came over and asked if it was possible that he was actually tightening it, not loosening it. What a great analogy sometimes for life. We think we need to keep pushing harder and harder in one direction, when all we need to do is go another (also a great metaphor for repentance).

A few years ago I was in my backyard with my lawnmower tipped on its side. I was trying to get the blade off so I could sharpen it. I had my biggest wrench attached to the nut but couldn’t budge it. I got a four-foot length of pipe and slipped it over the wrench handle to give me leverage, and I leaned on that—still unsuccessfully.

Next I took a large rock and banged on the pipe. By this time I was beginning to get emotionally involved with my lawnmower. Then my neighbor walked over and said that he had a lawnmower like mine once and that, if he remembered correctly, the threads on the bolt went the other way. I reversed my exertions and, sure enough, the nut turned easily.

Taken from Run with the Horses by Eugene H. Peterson. ©2009, 2019 by Eugene H. Peterson.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Emotions Guide Us

Our rationality is not in charge at all. We’re kidding ourselves. Our rationality is the rider. The elephant goes where it wants. Our emotions and intuitions lead us. Instead of being guided by reason, we just employ reason to come up with justifications for why we should believe what we already wanted to believe. We line up our reasons to fit what we already want. And wow, are we good at it. I shudder to think how many times I’ve done this. For example: Me (walking in a mall):  I’m on a very strict budget.

No way can I afford a shirt right now. Even if it’s on sale. It’s not happening. Nope. New shirt:  Check me out. I’m on sale. And I’m cool. I have the little shoulder-button things you like. Me the next day:  Hey, everybody, check out my new shirt with cool shoulder-button things. Now, if you heard the entire internal dialogue, you’d be witness to genius: “Okay, yes, I’m on a budget . . . but that’s an awesome shirt. And 40 percent off is a big sale.

You don’t see that every day. Perhaps I needn’t be so hard-and-fast with the ‘budget’ idea, given that, say, my utility bill might be lower than expected this month. And since I will need more clothes at some point, it would be irresponsible to wait until I need a shirt and then have to pay full price. So, if anything, I’m actually acting out of fiscal responsibility by buying this shirt. I’m saving now so I don’t have to pay full price later.

Brent Hansen, The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, Baker Publishing Group.

Emotions, Language, and the Experience of Homesickness

In her book Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel reflects on the nature of home in a transient age. In this short excerpt, Michel focuses on the language associated with the experience of homesickness.

In an interview with the New York Times, Tiffany Watt Smith, author of The Book of Human Emotions, described her research on the role that language plays in our emotional lives. As Smith argues, words not only describe how we feel; they distinctly shape how we understand our feelings. In other words, a diminished vocabulary limits not just emotional self-expression but emotional self-perception.

As complex emotional beings, we need nomenclature for fear and self-doubt, longing and desire. In short, we must be taught to explain ourselves to ourselves as well as to others. “One of the emotions I became really interested in when researching the book was homesickness,” Smith described in the interview. In the mid to late eighteenth century, homesickness was counted a credible source of physical ailment and even considered a possible cause of death.

According to medical records, homesick patients experienced the expected symptoms of depression and fatigue, but they also suffered surprising physical ones, such as sores, pustules, and fevers. In severe cases, sufferers refused to eat, growing so weak as to eventually die. Their doctors labeled their deaths severe cases of nostalgia—from nostos, “homecoming,” and algia, “pain.” (The last mention of “nostalgia” on a death certificate was in 1918.)

Taken from Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home Jen Pollock Michel. Copyright (c) 2019 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Getting the Right Attitude

While taking a flight in a small plane in Washington state, marriage counselors Les and Leslie Parrot were given some interesting information from their pilot:

We crossed over the islands of Puget Sound and approached the lights of a local airport.  “The most important thing about landing is the attitude of the plane,” said the pilot.

“You mean altitude, don’t you?” I asked.

“No,” the pilot explained.  “The attitude has to do with the nose of the plane.  If the attitude is too high, the plane will come down with a severe bounce.  And if the attitude is too low, the plane may go out of control because of excessive landing speed.”

Then the pilot said something that got our attention: “The trick is to get the right attitude in spite of atmospheric conditions.”

Without knowing it, our pilot had given us a perfect metaphor for creating a happy marriage—the trick is to develop the right attitude in spite of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Taken from Les & Leslie Parrott, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before—and After—You Marry, expanded and updated ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).


Hey, You?

Have you noticed how difficult it is to remember someone’s name when you meet them? Within seconds of a person telling me his name, I’ve forgotten what he said. I may have even repeated it to myself. “Great to meet you, Garrett.” Seconds later, Wait, what was his name again? How in the world does that happen? When our emotions rise, our ability to think rationally declines.

When we are learning someone’s name upon introduction, we are naturally more nervous and anxious because of the social context. When our nervousness rises, our cognitive ability to do something as simple as remembering the word “Garrett” declines. Emotions are such a powerful force for us, which is why we must learn to stay in the balcony when we’re in the middle of tense situations.

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

Jesus’ Emotions

I am spellbound by the intensity of Jesus’ emotions: Not a twinge of pity, but heartbroken compassion; not a passing irritation, but terrifying anger; not a silent tear, but groans of anguish; not a weak smile, but ecstatic celebration. Jesus’ emotions are like a mountain river cascading with clear water. My emotions are more like a muddy foam or a feeble trickle.

G. Walter Hansenin, Christianity Today.

Juvenile Emotions

What Jesus also didn’t do was wear his emotions on his sleeve. I brought my kids up with a mantra: Don’t litter your food; don’t litter your mood. In Edward Docxs Self Help, one of the most interesting (and hideous) characters, Nicholas, loses his patience with the annoying Isabella in a way we all can cheer:

“You seem to think just because you feel a thing,

That makes it externally true. You…seem to live

at the mercy of whatever juvenile emotions you are

suffering. And please don’t kid yourself. Isabella.

Because in this you’re just like all the others out

there, all the earnest young women scraped into

the polytechnics…heads stuffed full of daytime

TV and magazines, all the whining Princess Diana

housewives who have conveniently forgotten how

thick they were at school and how thick they

continue to be…Just because you aren’t intelligent

enough to do anything but feel, you want the rest

of us to live within the tyranny of whatever the

insecurity of the day might be.”

Taken from Leonard Sweet, The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing us the Way to Live Right In a World Gone Wrong, Tyndale House Publishers.

Laughter as a Social Emotion

Laughter is definitely a social expression of emotion rather than a solitary activity. We may occasionally laugh on our own in front of an amusing comedy, but laughter is mostly a social affair. When the psychologist Robert Provine asked a group of students to keep a regular diary of their laughing during a whole week, the results were clear. The entries for their laughs revealed that they laughed thirty times more in the presence of others than in solitude. Laughing with others assumes all sorts of social meanings. We laugh to agree with others, to bond with them, to show them our trust and our love.

Giovanni Frazzetto, Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love, 2014, p.187, Penguin Publishing Group.

St. John of the Cross on Spiritual Growth

The famous medieval reformer and mystic, St. John of the Cross, wrote about some of the differences between the early days of a new convert and the long road of obedience that makes up the spiritual life. When someone first begins to follow God, God fills them with a strong desire to follow Him. As one person put it, this initial desire is like a “spiritual starter kit.” This initial desire nevertheless eventually fades.

The strong emotional pull towards Christ lessens, providing the disciple with the opportunity to seek Christ in deeper, more authentic ways. God, John argues, eventually removes the props in order that we might begin to develop a stronger, more mature devotion to God. A faith that is not dependent on emotions but on the solid ground of a deep, consistent prayer life with the triune God. The props are removed not to punish, but to draw us ever closer to the God of the universe.

Stuart Strachan Jr., source material from John Ortberg: Who is This Man?, Zondervan.

Tearing the Leech Off

There’s a story about a traveler making his way with a guide through the jungles of Burma. They came to a shallow but wide river and waded through it to the other side. When the traveler came out of the river, numerous leeches had attached to his torso and legs. His first instinct was to grab them and pull them off.

This guide stopped him, warning that pulling the leeches off would only leave tiny pieces of them under the skin. Eventually, infection would set in.

The best way to rid the body of the leeches, the guide advised, was to bathe in a warm balsam bath for several minutes. This would soak the leeches, and soon they would release their hold on the man’s body. When I’ve been significantly injured by another person, I cannot simply yank the injury from myself and expect that all bitterness, and emotion will be gone. Resentment still hides under the surface. The only way to become truly free of the offense and to forgive others is to bathe in the soothing bath of God’s forgiveness of me. When I finally fathom the extent of God’s love in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of others is a natural outflow.

Gary Preston, Character Forged from Conflict, Bethany, 1999.

The Ten Most Dramatic Sounds in Life

A group of motion-picture engineers classified the following as the ten most dramatic sounds in the movies: a baby’s first cry; the blast of a siren; the thunder of breakers on rocks; the roar of a forest fire; a foghorn; the slow drip of water; the galloping of horses; the sound of a distant train whistle; the howl of a dog; the wedding march. And one of these sounds causes more emotional response and upheaval than any other, has the power to bring forth almost every human emotion: sadness, envy, regret, sorrow, tears, as well as supreme joy. It is the wedding march.

James S. Flora in Pulpit Digest.

There is an Ebb and a Flow

Dear Lord,

Today I thought of the words of Vincent Van Gogh. It is true that there is an ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. You, oh God, are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, You remain the same.

Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. I am sustained and to Your love I am always called back. My only real temptation is to doubt Your love, to think of myself as beyond Your love, to remove myself from the healing radiance of Your love. To do these things is to move into the darkness of despair.

Oh Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me knot fear too much the storms of winds of my daily life. And, let me know that there is ebb and flow, but that the sea remains the sea. Amen.

Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p 242.

Tides and Currents

I found that tides and currents do not determine destination. That is what rudders and engines and sails are for. While you don’t dare ignore the tides and currents, you also never get anywhere if you let them dictate your direction. When you can, you make them serve you. When you can’t go with the currents, you learn to cut across them as best you can, but always with your destination in mind.”

Russ Metcalfe



See also Illustrations on Anger, Anxiety, Attitude, Circumstances, Contentment, Empathy, Grief, Healing, Hope, Joy, Self-Control

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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