Sermon illustrations


Defeated by Satan

Many Christians . . . find themselves defeated by the most powerful psychological weapon that Satan uses against Christians. This weapon has the effectiveness of a deadly missile. Its name? Low self-esteem. Satan’s greatest psychological weapon is a gut-level feeling of inferiority, inadequacy, and low self-worth.

This feeling shackles many Christians, in spite of wonderful spiritual experiences…and knowledge of God’s Word. Although they understand their position as sons and daughters of God, they are tied up in knots, bound by a terrible feeling of inferiority, and chained to a deep sense of worthlessness.

David Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions (Victor, 1981).

Describe Your Inner-Critic

NPR’s Nancy Updike got an earful when she asked people about what their inner critic sounded like or communicated to them. Here are some of the answers:

As part of a segment on the NPR program This American Life, journalist Nancy Updike got more than she bargained for when polled people on the personality of their inner-critic:

  • MAN: The voice is irresistible, always. I’m in the thrall of that voice.
  • ​WOMAN: Totally out of control. It’s got this life of its own, and I can’t tame it anymore.
  • ​MAN: I remember somehow realizing just how finely calibrated the voice was to every nuance, every part of my feelings, including the feeling that I didn’t want to smoke cigarettes. And it’s just like, Might as well have another cigarette, because this is it.
  • ​MAN: The voice definitely brings in also an element of shame. It says, you want everyone to think that you have money. You want everyone to see that you’re generous and you can give and put yourself out there financially. It will prove that you’re not a poor kid.
  • ​WOMAN: And it also says a lot of mean things too. Your husband’s too good for you, you may as well have a glass of wine because without it you won’t be as entertaining.
  • ​WOMAN: You better try your hardest to make sure he doesn’t take [the ring] away, because he’s going to find out the truth about you and how much you suck. So you better distract him with a really thin body.

Taken from Nancy Updike, This American Life, Episode 340: “The Devil in Me”, September 7, 2007.

Embracing Failure

A common trait of human beings is a fear of failure. Most of us find ways of coping with it, but whenever failure rears its ugly head, it’s difficult not to experience the sting of feeling like we are not good enough. Recently, a Canadian woman has attempted to make failing less private, less shameful, thereby enabling folks to develop more resilience. Ashley Good started her professional career with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) in Ghana, where I imagine she probably experienced her fair share of “failures.” Her response to the often demoralizing experience of regular failure: start a report called admittingfailure.com.

From this auspicious start in the failure world, she founded Fail Forward, a consultancy with the mission to help organizations develop cultures that encourage the risk taking, creativity, and continuous adaptation required for innovation. In her own words, “Fail Forward was created with the belief that dealing with failure intelligently will be the driver we need to improve the way we learn, innovate, and find the agility to stay relevant and competitive. In many ways, our relationship with failure either unlocks our full potential, or keeps us from ever realizing it.”

As the keynote speaker at FailCon Oslo (Yes, not only is there a FailCon, but there are many different iterations), Good asked the audience what words they associated with the word failure. The words spoken were unsurprising: fear, shame, sadness, desperation, panic, and heartbreak. Next she held up the EWB failure report, which included fourteen failures over the past year.

Then she asked the very same audience which words they would use to describe the report and the people who submitted the stories. On this occasion, very different words were used: generous, helping, brave, knowledgeable and courageous. The point was clear: the words we use to describe our failures are very different from the words others, viewing us from the outside, would describe them. For the individuals and organizations that were strong enough to share their failures, it led to a paradoxical effect: people actually trusted them more.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Fearing to Want

In her thought-provoking book, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes the tension in listening to our deepest desires: some of them these desires are integral to our identity, but they also can easily be marred by sin:

Brennan Manning was a man ordained into the Franciscan priesthood who struggled with a lifelong addiction to alcohol. He writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” Like Manning, every human is drunk on the wine of paradox and riddled with fear. We each have great capacity for evil and terrific incapacity for good.

These fears can obstruct our will to want. How can we allow ourselves to want, especially when we’re so infinitely adept at sin? How do we ever decide that our desires are anything other than sin-sick expression of our inner corruption? Can we trust our desires if we ourselves can be so untrustworthy?

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Haunted by the Birdman

In 2014’s Oscar-winning film Birdman, Michael Keaton plays a washed-out actor trying to start his life again after a series of failed roles. But his efforts are haunted by the voice of the “Birdman,” the superhero role that made him famous in his youth. This voice in his head tells him a story about his life—a story of failure and missed chances. It taunts him with memories of what he was and could have been, but now isn’t. The continuing question running through the film is simple: Will he listen to that voice of failure, or will he dare to believe that he can flourish again?

Ken Costa, Know Your Why, Thomas Nelson.

Like Runaway Slaves

And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy. We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.

Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes: Soundings in Christian Tradition (Templegate Publishers, 1980), 130.

Madonna Struggles with Insecurity and Regret

It’s rare when celebrities acknowledge anything but the carefully crafted image that’s on view to the public. But this excerpt by the singer Madonna reveals that all of us, even celebrities struggle with insecurities. Sadly for Madonna, what has made her successful is also what causes pain and suffering in her life: her fear that she will only be “mediocre,” which to her appears to be a death sentence.

I have so many [regrets] … and I have none. I wish I hadn’t done a lot of things, but, on the other hand, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here. But, then again, nobody works the way I work. I have an iron will. And all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I’m always struggling with that fear.

I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. And I find a way to get myself out of that. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody. I still have to prove that Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.

Lynn Hirshberg, “The Misfit,” Vanity Fair, April 1991, 167.

Maria Goff and Insecurity

Insecurity is a funny thing. It makes us into someone we’re not as a way to cope with someone we used to be. For me, it started at home. Growing up, my dad had been critical of my mother’s weight, and he evidently didn’t want my sister and me to look like her. One day my dad called us into the bathroom.

He was standing by a scale he had placed on the floor with his arm extended, inviting us to step up. I can’t remember the number that appeared, but I remember being so humiliated. This was another moment for me. I began to believe the lie that the love and acceptance and approval I longed for was conditional and depended on my outer appearance. This happened in high school, but when I left for college this untruth found a corner of my suitcase to hide in. When I unpacked my clothes in my dorm room, I unpacked the lie too.

 Taken from Maria Goff, Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want. B&H Publishing Group.

The Most Confused, Anxious, & Stuck Among Us

In a surprisingly honest confession, the millennial writer Veronica Rae Saron shared this interesting fact in her 2016 article for Medium:

Conversation after conversation, it has become more and more clear: those among us with flashy Instagram accounts, perfectly manufactured LinkedIn profiles, and confident exteriors (yours truly) are probably those who are feeling the most confused, anxious, and stuck when it comes to the future. The millennial 20-something stuck-ness sensation is everywhere, and there is a direct correlation between those who feel it and those who put off a vibe of feeling extremely secure.

Veronica Rae Saron, “Your Unshakable Stuck-ness as a 20-something Millennial,” Medium, December 20, 2016.

Name Your Inner-Critic

Earlier this year, I decided to name my inner critic. At this point in my life, I am well aware of the critic and his games. His methods of keeping me standing one place, never putting myself out there, are tired and old. I am sick of them. So I figured that to approach this voice in my brain taunting me with anthems of “not good enough,” I needed to give him a proper name; otherwise he’d be just an ethereal feeling floating in the air.

I am a believer that giving something a name breaks some of its power. I’m all for breaking the power of my inner critic. I settled on the name Sid after the scrawny bully in Toy Story who wears a skull T-shirt at all times and wreaks havoc for all the toys in the neighborhood. Now it is so much easier to address Sid because I know his name. I can say, “Sid, shut up” or “Sid, be quiet.”

I can recognize that this unkind and often annoying critic in my brain is not speaking out of love, and I can put it in its place. I wrote an essay recently about Sid in which I challenged anyone reading to give their inner critic a good, solid name. The response was so overwhelming that I think there should be a national holiday for naming our inner critics. This is what amazed me when people wrote back to introduce me to their inner critic—so many chose to name their inner critics after real people who had hurt them or discounted them or antagonized them along the way.

A young woman named Hannah decided to name her inner critic Heather because when someone got her name wrong, they almost always called her Heather instead. This was the perfect name for her inner critic because her critic always rattled on about how she wasn’t seen and wasn’t truly known. Being called the wrong name reinforced this fear that she wasn’t known.

Another woman, Jennifer, named her inner critic Lois. Lois had perfect hair, perfect lipstick, and impeccable timing. She showed up just as Jennifer was taking pizza rolls out of the oven for her children and then again when Jennifer pulled out the dry shampoo and left yesterday’s makeup intact when getting ready for the day.

Hannah Brencher, Fighting Forward: Your Nitty-Gritty Guide to Beating the Lies That Hold You Back, Zondervan, 2021.

Scarcity: The Great Lie

For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.…

Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.…

Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money: Transforming your Relationship with Money and Life, W W. Norton and Company, 2003,  p. 44.

The Three Lies

My friend Christina, a licensed therapist, tells me that Psychiatry 101 teaches therapists that when you and I choose to believe a lie about ourselves, it’s one of these three lies we believe:

I’m helpless.

I’m worthless.

I’m unlovable.

Reflexively I tried to prove her wrong. “Seriously, Christina? Only three?” I told her that I’ve been known to believe three hundred lies about myself—in a day. “Nope,” she said. “Each one of those three hundred lies fits into one of these three.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Christina is right. The question I have for you is this: Which of the three do you most relate to?

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

Where Does My Validation Come From?

As Christians, we do not need to justify who we are; Jesus took care of that. We are loved and forgiven. When I’m tempted to advertise my accomplishments, qualifications, or résumés when talking with my neighbors, I try to remember that my need for validation has already been met. This means I do not need to look to my neighbors for approval. I can love free of an agenda to win anyone to my side. My job is to love God and love others.

Alexandra Kuykendall, Loving My Actual Neighbor, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p. 34.

See also Illustrations on Body-Image, Fear, Humanity, IdentitySelf-AwarenessSelf-Image

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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