Sermon illustrations

The Mind

The Bad Neighborhood

In her book Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott quotes “this guy I know” as saying, “My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” I feel this on a deep and spiritual level. Until these last few years, I never understood the importance of maintaining my mind or checking for the scripts I am believing or cutting out the lies. I had to wake up and realize I would have to fight for a healthier brain, and that God joins me in that fight every single day.

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

Becoming a Student of God

To love God intellectually is to become a student of God—a student who really takes an interest in God. Have you ever noticed that a fair number of Christians are not particularly interested in God? Some of them are ministers. These are people who don’t ask about God, don’t talk about God, and maybe don’t even think about God unless they really have to. Their interest in God seems merely professional. Isn’t this strange? Shouldn’t we be somewhat preoccupied with God? Lovers get preoccupied with their beloved, they notice things about the one they love.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., “Pray the Lord My Mind to Keep,” Christianity Today, August 10, 1998.

Changing Someone’s Mind (Isn’t Easy)

A mind is more like a pile of millions of little rocks than a single big boulder. To change a mind, we need to carry thousands of little rocks from one pile to another, one at a time. This is because our brains don’t know how to rewire a full belief in one big haul. New neuron paths aren’t created that quickly. You might be able to get a tiny percent of someone’s mind to rewire to a new belief in a given conversation, but minds change slowly and in unpredictable ways. You might be changing it in the wrong direction.


Buster Benson, Why Are We Yelling? Penguin Publishing Group, 2019, p.19.

Changing your Mind

If you really want to change, it starts with your story. If you want to change the story of your life, you need to change the stories in your mind. So what story do you want to live? Do you want to experience God’s presence deeply in your own life? Do you want to be the hero in your own story? Or at least, do you want to be proud, not prideful, but proud of who God has made you to be? If so, keep reminding yourself that you are God’s beloved child, and His love for you is so immense he was willing to sacrifice his one and only son on your behalf.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Companies and Worship

Martin Lindstrom observes: When people viewed images associated with the strong brands-the iPods, the Harley-Davidson, the Ferrari, and others-their ers-their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity as they did when they viewed the religious images. Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects’ jects’ brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted acted to religious icons and figures.

James Bryan Smith. The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ, IVP.

Cultivating the Garden of Your Mind

In Thanks! I wrote that legendary investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton had posed the question, “How can we get six billion people around the world to practice gratitude?” Not long after Sir John died in 2008, his daughter-in-law Pina Templeton discovered a curious document in his personal archives.

It was a short letter the visionary had included with his family Christmas card mailed out in 1962. Instead of using the letter in the way it is nowadays to showcase his children s accomplishments or the family’s annual vacation, he took the occasion to encourage readers to think of the mind as a garden and themselves as responsible for tending it:

If you exercise no control, it will become a weed patch and a source of shame and misery. If you exercise wise control, then it will be filled with God’s miracles and become a place of indescribable beauty. You are free to choose which. How can you do it? Simply, for example, develop a habit of looking at each thought as you would a plant. If it is worthy, if it fits the plan you desire for your mind, cultivate it. If not, replace it. How do you get it out of your mind? Simply by putting in its place two or three thoughts of love or worship, for no mind can dwell on more than two or three thoughts at one time.

Circumstances outside the garden of your mind do not shape you. You shape them. For example, if you expect treachery, allowing those thoughts to dwell in your mind, you will get it. If you fill your mind with thoughts of love, you will give love and get it. If you think little of God, He will be far from you. If you think often of God, the Holy Spirit will dwell more in you. The glory of the universe is open to every man. Some look and see. Some look and see not.

Gardens are not made in a day. God gave you one lifetime for the job. Control of your garden or your mind grows with practice and study of the wisdom other minds have bequeathed to you. He who produces an item of unique beauty in his garden or his mind may have a duty to give that seed to others. As your body is the dwelling place of your mind, so is your mind the dwelling place of your soul. The mind you develop is your dwelling place for all your days on earth, and the soul you develop on earth may be the soul you are stuck with for eternity. God has given you the choice.

Taken from Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, Jossey-Bass, 2013, pp.8-9.

Keeping the Body From Overheating

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, the function of the brain was to keep the body from overheating. In The Parts of Animals, he noted that that the brain was a “compound of earth and water, which “tempers the heat and seething of the heart.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Mental Iceberg

When Freud says…that consciousness is the tip of the mental iceberg, he was short of the mark by quite a bit-it may be more the size of a snowball on top of that iceberg. The mind operates most efficiently by relegating a good deal of high-level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious, just as a modern jumbo jetliner is able to fly on automatic pilot with little or no input from the human, “conscious” pilot. The adaptive unconscious does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner.

Timothy Wilson, Stranger to Ourselves, Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, Harvard University Press.

The Mind Over Time

Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, our cognitive center of gravity shifts from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain. At some point, most of us top living out of imagination and start living out of memory. That’s the day we stop creating the future and start repeating the past. That’s the day we stop living by faith and start living by logic.

Mark Batterson, If: Trading If Only Regrets for God’s What if Possibilities, Baker Books.

The Mind Tends Towards Chaos

The Clinical psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi describes how our minds, without stimuli, tends to quickly turn towards negative thoughts, our dissatisfaction.

Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos. . . . When we are left alone, with no demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing. . . .

Entropy is the normal state of consciousness. To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is readily available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is very rarely enjoyed.

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, HarperCollins.

The Monk and the Cup of Tea

The story is told of a learned professor who went to visit an old monk who was famous for his wisdom. The monk graciously welcomed him into his temple and offered him a seat on a cushion. No sooner had the professor sat down than he launched into a long, wordy account of his own accomplishments, his own knowledge, his own theories and opinions. The monk listened quietly for awhile and then asked politely, “Would you like some tea?”

The professor nodded, smiled and kept right on talking. The monk handed him a teacup and began pouring tea from a large pot. The tea rose to the brim of the cup, but the monk kept right on pouring while the professor kept right on talking. Finally the professor noticed what was going on, leaped to his feet and demanded, “What are you doing? Can’t you see that the cup is overflowing?” To which the monk replied, “This cup is like your mind. It can’t take in anything new because it’s already full.”

Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Our Brains are Hungry

Even though your brain makes up only about 2 percent of your body’s weight (about three pounds), it uses 20 to 30 percent of the calories you take in, as well as 20 percent or more of the oxygen and blood flow in your body. The brain uses its approximately 86 billion neurons, which fire 18 trillion times a second, to perceive and analyze incoming data; decide what, if anything, to do about it; and then execute your responses.

Taken from Daniel G. Amen,  Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Rather be Shocked than Alone with their Thoughts

In a study conducted by Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, researchers discovered what most of us already know: people do not like to be left alone with their own thoughts. Performed on collegiate freshman, initial results indicated 50% of study participants disliked the experience.

The study became more interesting in a follow-up study, “For 15 minutes, the team left participants alone in a lab room in which they could push a button and shock themselves if they wanted to. The results were startling: Even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think, the team reports online today in Science.

“We went into this thinking it wouldn’t be that hard for people to entertain themselves,” Wilson says. “We have this huge brain and it’s stuffed full of pleasant memories, and we have the ability to construct fantasies and stories. We really thought this [thinking time] was something people would like.”

He suggests that the results may be mixed signs of boredom and the trouble that we have controlling our thoughts. “I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world,” he says. “So when we don’t give it anything to focus on, it’s kind of hard to know what to do.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., adapted from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/07/people-would-rather-be-electrically-shocked-left-alone-their-thoughts.

What We’ve Learned About the Mind

Did you know that more has been discovered about our minds in the last twenty years than in all the time before that? Did you know that an estimated 60 to 80 percent of visits to primary care physicians have a stress-related component? Did you know that research shows that “75 to 98 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one’s thought life”? Did you know that, with what we know about the brain today, when Scripture is talking about the heart, it really could be talking about the mind and the emotions we experience in our brains?

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

See also Illustrations on The Brain, Confusion, Forgetfulness, Thought/s, Wisdom

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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