Sermon illustrations


A Balancing Act

I remember playing a game as a child in which we would bend one knee and grab our foot behind us and then try to race—limping, stumbling and falling over as we struggled across the grass toward a finish line. That’s what happens when we have only one leg to stand on, or assume that somehow two left feet suffice for one of each.

This balancing act is repeated throughout most of nature. Two eyes to give perspective. Two arms and two hands to provide dexterity. Two sides of our brain that tandem. All these things come in pairs because there are many things in the physical world that work best when they have balance and complementarity.

Taken from Beyond the Local Church by Sam Metcalf Copyright (c) 2015 by Sam Metcalf. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Am I Fighting the Right Battle?

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she describes an encounter with a pastor:

I will never forget one pastor’s comment after taking some time to reflect on the military aspects of the invitation to retreat. After emerging from solitude he commented ruefully, “In the silence, I realized that I’m not even sure I’m fighting the right battle. I just want to know I’m fighting the right battle.”

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Center

Suppose we hear an unknown man spoken of by many men.

Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too

tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some

lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too

fair. One explanation … would be that he might be an odd shape.

But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape….

Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary

thing; at least the normal thing, the centre.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

A Change of Nuisance

While serving as British Prime Minister, Lloyd George had to deal with World War I, an economic depression, and the Sinn Fein movement attempting to effect Irish liberation, as well as many other smaller problems. Amidst all the chaos and troubles, George was asked how he kept up good spirits. He responded by saying, “Well, I find that a change of nuisance is as good as a vacation.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material provided by Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

Daring to Glance 

One helpful, practical tool to understand our blind spot is what’s called the Johari Window, an image developed as a counseling tool in the 1950s. Subjects were given a list of fifty-six adjectives, adjectives, and were asked to pick those that best described them. The same was done with peers of each subject, and then all of the answers were placed on the grid for discussion.

There are four areas on the grid (see fig. 1). The areas that are known to us and to others are termed our open areas. Others do not know about some areas of our lives because they are hidden, but we know them well. And there are unknown areas that contain things we and others don’t know about us. And then we have blind spots. These are the things we don’t know, though they are clear to others.

Terry Linhart, The Self-Aware Leader: Discovering Your Blind Spots to Reach Your Ministry Potential, InterVarsity Press.

Click here for an image of the Johari Window.

A Job vs. A Calling

The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers, so he chose three and asked them this question, “What are you doing?” The first replied, “I’m cutting stone for 10 shillings a day.” The next answered, “I’m putting in 10 hours a day on this job.” But the third said, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London’s greatest cathedrals.” 

Source Unknown.

On Equal Ground?

Author Drew Hart tells the story of meeting up for sweet tea with a friendly white suburban pastor, who placed his foam cup on the table between them and decided to make a racial analogy. The white pastor said, “Because I can’t see what is on your side of the cup, I need you to share with me your perspective so I can see things from your standpoint. Likewise, you need me to share my point of view so that you can understand the world from my vantage point.” 

Hart reflects that while this was a nice sentiment, it was a naive assumption that the two men were on equal ground. Hart graciously but firmly corrected his pastor, explaining that Hart had learned Eurocentric history, read white literature and lectures, studied under mostly white teachers, and lived for many years in white communities. On the other hand, the white pastor could easily have gone his entire life without needing to know black literature, art, music, and history. He could choose to never engage with the black community, and he would never be penalized in his livelihood or economic status for that.

Taken from The Minority Experience by Adrian Pei. ©2018 by Adrian Pei.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.

The Forty-Three Year Old Chief Executive 

On a cold January day, a forty-three-year-old man was sworn in as the chief executive of his country. By his side stood his predecessor, a famous general who, fifteen years earlier, had commanded his nation’s armed forces in a war that resulted in the defeat of Germany. The young leader was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He spent the next five hours watching parades in his honor and stayed up celebrating until three o’clock in the morning.

You know who I’m describing, right? It’s January 30, 1933, and I’m describing Adolf Hitler and not, as most people would assume, John F. Kennedy. The point is, we make assumptions. We make assumptions about the world around us based on sometimes incomplete or false information. In this case, the information I offered was incomplete. Many of you were convinced that I was describing John F. Kennedy until I added one minor little detail: the date. This is important because our behavior is affected by our assumptions or our perceived truths. 

We make decisions based on what we think we know. It wasn’t too long ago that the majority of people believed the world was flat. This perceived truth impacted behavior. During this period, there was very little exploration. People feared that if they traveled too far they might fall off the edge of the earth. So for the most part they stayed put. It wasn’t until that minor detail was revealed—the world is round—that behaviors changed on a massive scale.

Simon Sinek, Start with Why, Penguin Publishing Group.

Keeping Things in Perspective

Listen to this letter a college student once wrote to her parents:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m so sorry to be so long in writing you. Unfortunately, all my stationary was destroyed the night our dormitory was set on fire by the demonstrators. I’m out of the hospital now, and the doctors say my eyesight should return, sooner or later. The wonderful boy, Bill, who rescued me from the fire, kindly offered to share his little apartment with me until the dorm is rebuilt. He comes from a good family, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you we’re going to be married. In fact, since you’ve always wanted a grandchild, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll be grandparents in several months.


Your Loving Daughter

P.S. Please disregard the above practice in English Composition. There was no fire, I haven’t been in the hospital, I’m not pregnant and I don’t even have a steady boyfriend. But I did get a D in French and an F in Chemistry and I just wanted to be sure you received the news in proper perspective.

Andy Cook 

A Powerful New Lens

In 1997, the Hubble telescope took flight to give us a look through its powerful lens into places we had never known or seen before.

Through this mammoth telescope, we discovered a staggering number of other galaxies out there beyond our own. Our tiny earth is just in one tiny galaxy. And our Milky Way galaxy is just a little disk-shaped spiral when compared with the expanse of other galaxies. Sure, we have our sun and moon—our little spot along with the planets that surround us. Yet the Hubble telescope revealed that we are just one of many. In other words, we aren’t quite the center of the universe we once thought we were.

In fact, scientists reported that each of the 100 billion to 200 billion galaxies they believe they have discovered has up to 100 billion stars in it. And if 100 billion to 200 billion galaxies each containing up to 100 billion stars is too large for you to grasp, just consider the galaxy Andromeda. Andromeda is roughly 2.5 million light-years away from us. (Light travels at about 186,282 miles per second.) So if you had friends living in Andromeda and you sent them a message at the speed of a radio wave (which travels at the speed of light), you could receive their reply in about 5 million years. You can’t send a text message to Andromeda regardless of how intelligent your smart phone might be.

 Tony Evans, The Power of God’s Names, Harvest House Publishers.

The Professor’s Problem

Please Aslan, said Polly, could you say something to – to unfrighten him? . . .

I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either, he has made himself unable to hear my voice.  If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings.  Oh, Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!

I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him, said Fledge.

Would he know without being asked? said Polly.

I’ve no doubt he would, said the Horse.  But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked

Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.

C.S. Lewis, Magician’s Nephew.

Two Sketches

Have you ever noticed that we often see ourselves, specifically our bodies, our facial features differently? In 2013 the soap company Dove decided to explore this phenomenon by hiring an FBI-trained forensic artist to draw sketches of women. The artist was tasked with doing two sketches: one based on how the woman described herself, and the second based on how complete strangers described the women. The results were shocking.

The sketches done based on the description of the strangers were always more beautiful than the ones described by the women themselves. The point of the ad was rather obvious: most woman do not appreciate their own beauty, nor can they accurately describe how they look. The goal of the ad was to help woman see their own beauty and to foster a greater appreciation for their own beauty. 

Stuart Strachan Jr.

True Freedom

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.

This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible — sounds like “displayal”]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College Commencement Speech: This is Water.

Stuck in the Houses Our Words Construct

All day long, all of us are framing and reframing our lives. We talk about the memory of our adorable but sexist grandpa. We label ourselves as movie critics or introverts or justice-lovers. We say that the future is full of doom and despair—or stocked with opportunities and adventure. Most of us sort out life well enough to keep moving along. Then something happens—a car accident, a promotion, a cancer scare, an offer of marriage, a terrorist threat, a retirement party—and our world gets turned inside out.

Our sense of order bursts with joy or unravels. Our words seem inadequate. They don’t say enough or they say too much. When these kinds of events happen, if we slow down long enough to examine our speech, we may see cracks in our frames and begin to search for ways to reframe. One disruption might lead a person to say, “I thought I trusted God for the future, but my anxiety about my children is so faithless.”

The way we describe reality matters because, as simple as it sounds, we cannot see through a window unless the window is there. We are stuck in the houses that our words construct. What if my windows are small and barred and leave me in a prison of prejudice? What if I realize that I can make my windows larger—to see more and appreciate the landscape before me? Specific language choices give us access to specific realities.

Gregory Spencer, Reframing the Soul: How Words Transform Our Faith, Leafwood Publishers, 2018.

What is Vision?

Vision is the ability to see God’s presence, to perceive God’s power, to focus on God’s plan In spite of the obstacles….Vision is the ability to see above and beyond the majority. Vision is perception—reading the presence and power of God into one’s circumstances.

I sometimes think of vision as looking at life through the lens of God’s eyes, seeing situations as He sees them. Too often we see things not as they are, but as we are. Think about that. Vision has to do with looking at life with a divine perspective, reading the scene with God in clear focus. Whoever wants to live differently in “the system” must correct his or her vision.

Chuck Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity

See also Illustrations on Deception, The Mind, Thought/sWorldview

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

Follow us on social media: