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Sermon illustrations

Motivation

Benchmarks Motivate us to Grow

Companies in this era of apps and personal tracking devices have grown much smarter about surfacing milestones that were previously invisible. The app Pocket, which stores articles from the Internet on your phone for later reading, informs users when they’ve read 1 million words. The fitness-tracking bracelet Fitbit presents users with awards such as the 747 Badge, given for climbing 4,000 lifetime flights of stairs (which rises roughly to the altitude that 747s fly), and the Monarch Migration Badge, which is described as follows: “Every year the monarch butterfly migrates 2,500 miles to warmer climates. With the same lifetime miles in your pocket, you’re giving those butterflies some hot competition!”

Taken from Dan and Chip Heath, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, Simon & Schuster.

Dynamite and 
the Peace Prize

In 1867, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local paper: “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before. He died a very rich man.”

Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died. A newspaper reporter had made a mistake. But the account had a profound effect on Alfred. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing a means to kill people efficiently and amassing a fortune in the process.

So Nobel initiated the Nobel Prize — an award for scientists and writers who foster peace. “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one,” Nobel said.

Doug Murren and Barb Sharin, Is It Real When It Doesn’t Work?, Thomas Nelson. 

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

How to Deal with Hooligans

Consider the old Yiddish story about the shopkeeper who arrived at his shop only to find abusive and derogatory graffiti spray-painted all over his store window. He cleaned the window, but the same thing happened again the next day. So he hatched a plan:

On the third day, he waited until the local ruffians showed up and did their dirty work and then paid them $10 to thank them for their effort. The next day, he thanked them again but only paid them $5. He continued to pay them to deface his property but the amount kept decreasing so that soon they were only getting $1. They stopped coming. Why bother doing all that work to abuse the shopkeeper for so little money?

Steven Sloman, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, Penguin Publishing Group.

The Motivation to Attend Church

Francois Fenelon was the court preacher for King Louis XIV of France in the 17th century. One Sunday when the king and his attendants arrived at the chapel for the regular service, no one else was there but the preacher.

King Louis demanded, “What does this mean?”

Fenelon replied, “I had published that you would not come to church today, in order that your Majesty might see who serves God in truth and who flatters the king.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Source Unknown.

Two Strong Voices

Since I was very young my life has been dominated by two strong voices. The first said, “Make it in the world and be sure you can do it on your own.” And the other voice said, “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, even if it’s not very important, be sure you hold on to the love of Jesus.” My father was a little more inclined to say the first and my mother the second. But the voices were strong.

“Make your mark. Be able to show the world you can do it by yourself and that you are not afraid. Go as far as you want to go and be a man. Be a good older son and brother, and be sure you really do something relevant.” And the other said, “Don’t lose touch with Jesus, who chose a very humble and simple way. Jesus, by his life and death, will be your example for living.

I’ve struggled because one voice seemed to be asking me for upward mobility and the other for downward mobility and I was never sure how to do both at the same time.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Doubleday, 2009.

See also Illustrations on MeaningPurpose

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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