Sermon illustrations


Can Anyone Hear Me?

When I think of the way God allows His servants to suffer, I can’t help but remember the classic story of poor Jack, who was out jogging. As he passed a cliff, he got a little too close to the edge, and suddenly found himself falling. On the way down, he managed to grab a branch, nearly yanking it out of the cliff. When he caught his breath, he realized what a terrible jam he was in. He couldn’t get up, and letting go certainly seemed to be a poor option. He began to scream, “Hello up there! Can anyone hear me?”

In a moment, a voice returned.

“Jack, Can you hear me?”

“Yes, Yes, I can hear you I’m down here.”

“I can see you, Jack, are you alright?”

“Yes, but, who are you, and where are you?”

“I am the Lord Jack, I am everywhere.”

“The Lord? You mean God?”

“That’s me.”

“God, help me, I promise that if you get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person and serve you for the rest of my life.”

“Easy on the promises, Jack. First let’s get you down, then we can discuss those.”

“I’ll do anything, Lord, just tell me what to do, okay?”

“Okay, let go of the branch.”


“I said, let go of the branch. Just trust me, let go.”

There was a long pause, as Jack thought of the offer.

In a moment, however, Jack let out a loud yell. “Hello, Hello – is there anybody else up there?!”

Andy Cook

The Dueling Fish

One of my friends developed a PowerPoint presentation with a set of “dueling fish” images to illustrate this point. In the first image, a believer puts a Jesus fish on his car. Then his atheist neighbor responds with a Darwin fish. Then the Christian takes off his Jesus fish and replaces it with a Jesus-fish-eats-Darwin-fish.

On and on the slides go, until the audience is laughing at the absurdity of it all. Here’s my question: What are the odds that the Christian and atheist dueling with their car decals will ever sit down to discuss their perspectives? Not very good. It’s much more likely they’ll become cynical and angry and communicate even less. Unless we learn to think more clearly and dialogue more openly, our society is in for a rough time. Thoughtfulness is vital for everyone. But as a Christian I feel the need to start in house. Jesus followers ought to lead the way.

Jeff Myers, Unquestioned Answers: Rethinking Ten Christian Clichés to Rediscover Biblical Truths, David C Cook, 2020.

Even More Powerful Than E.F. Hutton

In the 1970s, the brokerage firm of E.F. Hutton ran an unforgettable series of TV commercials. The set up was always similar. Two people in a crowded public place are talking about financial matters. One shares the wisdom of some broker. The other person responds, “Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says . . . .” At that moment, the surrounding crowd is immediately quiet. Everyone leans forward eagerly to hear what E. F. Hutton says. The voiceover explains, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Even as a teenage boy with no interest in financial markets, I learned that E.F. Hutton had a voice worth hearing, a powerful voice, indeed.

According to Genesis, God’s voice is even more powerful than E.F. Hutton’s. By speaking, God actually creates. When God says, “Let there be light,” light comes into existence (1:3). When God says, “Let the earth put forth vegetation,” the earth is filled with plants and trees (1:11-12). The voiceover for Genesis 1 might say, “When God talks, creation happens.” God’s word is indeed more powerful than E.F. Hutton’s.

If this is true, then surely we ought to pay close attention to what God says. Like those eavesdroppers in the E.F. Hutton commercials, we should quiet down enough to pay attention to what God says.

We all have many voices speaking into our lives. Some may be wise and well worth heeding. Others may be trivial, distracting, or downright evil. But, in the midst of a cacophony of voices, may God give us grace to hear his voice. May we find the will and the way to quiet down enough to hear what God has to say. May it be true of us, that when God talks, we listen.

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

Hearing a Cricket in Times Square

Dana Visneskie tells the story of a Native American and his friend who were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening.

Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.”

His friend said, “What? You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!”

“No, I’m sure of it,” the Native American said. “I heard a cricket.”

“That’s crazy,” said the friend.

The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have super-human ears!”

“No,” said the Native American. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.”

“But that can’t be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.”

“Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.”

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

“See what I mean?” asked the Native American. “It all depends on what’s important to you.

Andy Cook

Hearing the Voice of God in Jesus

If we want to hear the voice of God, we should pay attention to Jesus. We hear God’s voice in the teachings of Jesus as they are portrayed in the biblical gospels. We hear God’s voice through the actions of Jesus as they demonstrate and dramatize the good news of the kingdom of God. We hear God’s voice as the community of Jesus—instructed by the Scripture that bears witness to Jesus and inspired by the Spirit that empowered Jesus—discerns God’s guidance for today.

As Christians, we can easily fill our lives will all sorts of good things: studying theology, doing justice, creating beauty, leading organizations, raising children, and so forth. Yet, every now and then, in the midst of our busyness, we ought to ask ourselves, “Am I paying attention to Jesus? Am I hearing God’s voice through the Word made flesh?”

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

“Left Right, Left Right”

A youth group leader took his kids to a ski resort, where he saw two people skiing down the slopes one behind the other. They were so close it was almost as if they were tied together. When he got closer, he heard the one in front saying in staccato fashion, “Left.” “Right.” “Straight.” “Right.” “Left.” He thought it was a little funny, and his kids were laughing at the sound of what looked like a ski instructor giving lessons to a student. So he thought he’d have a little fun with the student skier. He started yelling out different commands that contradicted the ski instructor.

When the person in front said, “Left,” he’d yell, “Right!” When the person in front said, “Straight,” he’d yell, “Curve!” But no matter what the youth leader said, the student in back seemed to be able to ignore his voice and fix on what the ski instructor was saying. Suddenly the skier stopped and turned around. Much to the embarrassment of the youth leader, on the chest of the second skier was a sign: Blind Skier. Even though he could see nothing, since he knew his instructor’s voice, the blind skier could ignore all other voices—even those tempting and tormenting him—and go safely down the slopes.

Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize & Respond to God’s Voice, Thomas Nelson.

Listen for the Flutes

We must tune our ears to hear God’s voice. It’s like the child who was told by his father during a symphony orchestra concert, “Listen for the flutes in this song. Don’t they sound beautiful?” The child, unable to distinguish the flutes, looks up at his father with a puzzled look, “What flutes, father?”

The child first needs to learn what flutes sound like on their own, separate from the whole orchestra, before he is able to hear them in a symphony. So it is with us as children of God. Unless we take the time to hear his voice in the quiet moments of life, we will not be able to hear him in the symphony sounds of life.

Stephen Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Church, Baker Books, 1999, p.63.

The Parable of the Two Servants

In this modern day parable, Alan Fadling describes a king and his two servants. Each of the servants desires to do the will of the king, but they approach their work very differently:

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.

…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?

Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Tell Them About the Dream Martin!

Most of us in the United States know the famous “I have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the 1963 March on Washington. On a sweltering, humid day in the nation’s capital, some 250,000 people came to hear King speak on the cause of civil rights and the fight for equality and justice for African Americans. What most of us don’t know is that that the “dream” part of the speech almost never happened, in fact, should not have happened. It was not a part of the prepared remarks for that day, but inspiration came in the form of a gospel singer named Mahalia Jackson.

As King inched towards the climax of his speech, he seemed to hesitate, perhaps unsure of whether his prepared remarks were as inspiring as he had hoped. At that moment, the great civil rights leader heard a voice behind him. “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” Mahalia Jackson shouted. At that point, Clarence Jones, one of Dr. King’s advisors leaned over to the person next to him and said, “These people out there, they don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.”

The rest, as we now know, is history. Dr. King had been testing out this “dream” section of his speech at previous events, and when he took Mahalia Jackson’s advice, he put into words the longings of a generation to experience equality and justice for all. He described the power of the gospel to create reconciliation where there had previously been hostility and tension.

I love this little insight into one of the most important moments in American history, not because it lessens King’s impact and genius, but rather, enlarges it. It also speaks to the genius and boldness of Mahalia Jackson, willing, in one of the biggest moments of her life and Dr. King’s, to speak up with a great idea. How wonderful for King not to scoff or ignore her, but to  listen, pause and realize that she was right, that now it was time to tell them about the dream.

Stuart Strachan Jr. source material https://www.vox.com/2016/1/18/10785882/martin-luther-king-dream-mahalia-jackson and other articles.

The Unexpected Gift

Christians . . . so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community, HarperOne, 2009.

What Do You Need Most?

Teenage prostitutes, during interviews in a San Francisco study, were asked: “Is there anything you needed most and couldn’t get?” Their response, invariably preceded by sadness and tears was unanimous: “What I needed most was someone to listen to me. Someone who cared enough to listen to me.”

Jim Reapsome, Homemade.

Who Called First?

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

See also Illustrations on Attention, Distraction, Empathy, Obedience, Smart Phones, Technology

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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