Sermon illustrations


6-Inch Sharks

I met a young man not long ago who dives for exotic fish for aquariums. He told me that one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium you put it in. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet.

That is like what happens to some Christians. I have seen some of the cutest little six-inch Christians who swim around in a little puddle. You can look at them and comment on how fine they are. But if you were to put them out into a larger arena, into the broad view of a whole creation, they might become great. 

Pastoral Renewal, February 1985, p. 111.


Christian Maturity and Gentleness

Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of persons I know who model for me the depths of spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness. Their eyes communicate the residue of solitary battles with angels, the costs of caring for others, the deaths of ambition and ego, and the peace that comes from having very little left to lose in this life.

They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their care is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.

John E. Biersdorf, Healing of Purpose: God’s Call to Discipleship, Abingdon Press, 1985.

End of Construction, Thank you for your Patience

My wife, Ruth…was one of those who could lighten heavy hearts, especially mine. I will never forget when she announced what she wanted engraved on her gravestone, and for those who have so respectfully visited her gravesite at the Billy Graham Library, they have noticed that what she planned for was carried out to the letter. Long before she became bedridden, she was driving along a highway through a construction site.

Carefully following the detours and mile-by-mile cautionary signs, she came to the last one that said, “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.” She arrived home, chuckling and telling the family about the posting. “When I die,” she said, “I want that engraved on my stone.” She was lighthearted but serious about her request. She even wrote it out so that we wouldn’t forget. While we found the humor enlightening, we appreciated the truth she conveyed through those few words.

Every human being is under construction from conception to death. Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent. At the end of construction—death—we have completed the process.

Billy Graham, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2011, p.94).

Growth Through Suffering

Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.

In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo . . . the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the Cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.

Malcolm Muggeridge, A Twentieth Century Testimony, Thomas Nelson.

Immature People

Children are God’s gifts to immature people to help them grow up. They are also God’s gifts to help parents go deep with God. . . Parenting is not for anything. It is not a contract with God in which one gives countless hours in order to turn out good children that rise up and call us blessed. It is a covenant experience of belonging in which God meets us and forms us in the nitty-gritty of family life. The big question in the end is not how the kids turn out, but how the parents turn out!

R. Paul Stevens, Marriage Spirituality: Ten Disciplines for Couples Who Love God, InterVarsity Press.

A Quiet, Regular Step

Experienced mountaineers have a quiet, regular, short step—on the level it looks petty; but then this step they keep up, on and on as they ascend, whilst the inexperienced townsman hurries along, and soon has to stop, dead beat with the climb. . . . Such an expert mountaineer, when the thick mists come, halts and camps out under some slight cover brought with him, quietly smoking his pipe, and moving on only when the mist has cleared away. . . .

You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ? Well, you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain step-plod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth. All demand for constant light, for ever the best—the best to your own feeling, all attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling.

Baron Friedrich Von Hugel, Selected Letters.

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.

See also Illustrations on Aging, GrowthLearning, Progress, Wisdom

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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