Sermon illustrations

Questioning God

The Darkness of Mother Theresa

Most of us know Mother Theresa for her stalwart ministry to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. But as with each of us, there is a public side of our lives and a private side. Mother Theresa struggled for long periods of her life where she dealt with an acute spiritual darkness and depression. This personal letter to a friend shows just how much she suffered:

Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason.—The place of God in my soul is blank.—There is no God in me.—When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God—and then it is that I feel—He does not want me—He is not there.—Heaven—souls—why these are just words—which mean nothing to me.—My very life seems so contradictory. I help souls—to go where?—Why all this?

Where is the soul in my very being? God does not want me.—Sometimes—I just hear my own heart cry out—“My God” and nothing else comes.—The torture and pain I can’t explain.” From my childhood I have had a most tender love for Jesus..but this too has gone.—I feel nothing before Jesus…You see, Father, the contradiction in my life. I long for God—I want to love Him—to love Him much…and yet there is but pain—longing and love.

Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, Image Books.

Do You Know Where You’re Going?

Pastor Matt Chandler describes a humorous encounter with his daughter that illustrates the absurdity of assuming we know better than God. Just as a small child couldn’t possibly know better than a parent, neither can we know better than the God of the universe. A preacher should be careful at the same time not to invalidate the place of lament, but ultimately to recognize that while we “see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:10) in this life, eventually we will see “face to face,” and those pains from our earthly lives will be redeemed (Rom.8:28).

My family once made a trip from Dallas to the San Antonio area for my wife, Lauren’s, birthday. On the drive down, my then-four-year-old daughter Audrey piped up from the backseat, “Do you know where you’re going?” I felt insulted. Lauren started chuckling. She just laughed, and then she asked, “Well, do you?” I said, “Please, I’m on I-35. You just take it straight down.” Then Audrey announced, “I think you’re lost.” I said, “I think you’re about to get a spanking.” (I’m just kidding.) The whole thing was kind of comical.

Four-year-old Audrey has gotten lost in the house. She really has. And we don’t have a big house. This is the girl who freaks out if she ends up outside all by herself. This is a girl who has no sense of direction, who has no idea of which way to head to get anywhere, and she’s in the backseat presuming to ask me, “Do you know where you’re going? I think you’re lost.” I said, “Well, um, you can’t spell your name. So, there’s that.” Okay, I didn’t say that either. But this is kind of what happens every time we presume to put God under the microscope of our scrutiny, our logic, or our preconceptions of what he should be like or what he should do.

Matt Chandler. The Explicit Gospel, Crossway.

A Life Re-Defined by The Spirit of God

In his excellent book on worship, The Dangerous Act of Worship, pastor and president of Fuller Seminary Mark Labberton shares a story of the transformation of one of his former congregants:

Ben was a very successful man. His professional life flourished. His family life was challenging, as a parent of several teenagers. For him, Christian faith was a distant and disconnected reality. But he began to have conversations about it with his wife and later with me.

One Sunday I was surprised but pleased to see him in the worship service. As he approached me at the door afterward, his eyes began to fill with tears. He explained that while visiting Washington, D.C, for a professional conference, he had gone to visit the National Cathedral. He slipped into an empty side chapel and sat down for some quiet time and reflection. There, unexpected and unsought, God’s Spirit simply came upon him. Ben became a new person. The awe and wonder of grace and truth beyond his own mind, his own questions, his own needs, simply met him and changed him. It was as though his life was utterly redefined, and it has been ever since.

Taken from The Dangerous Act of Worship by Mark Labberton. Copyright (c) 2007 by Mark Labberton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Rolling Stone Interview with Bono

The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away form God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. So the blues on one hand — running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy — running towards.

The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. There’s David singing. “Oh, God — where are you when I need you?/You call yourself God?” And you go, this is the blues.

Both deal with the relationship with God. That’s really it. I’ve since realized that anger with God is very valid.

Rolling Stone Magazine

A Wrong Understanding of What This Life is Supposed to Be

The problem sincere Christians have with God often comes down to a wrong understanding of what this life is meant to provide. We naturally and wrongly assume we’re here to experience something God has never promised. More than perhaps ever before in history, we assume we are here for one fundamental reason: to have a good time—if not good circumstances, then at least good feelings.

We long to feel alive, to sense passion and romance and freedom.

We want the good time of enjoying godly kids, of making a difference in people’s lives, of involvement with close friends, of experiencing God’s peace. So we invent “biblical” strategies for seeing to it that our dreams come true. We call them models of godly parenting and disciplines of spiritual living and principles of financial stewardship—all designed to give us a legitimately good time. What’s wrong with that? But when we uncover the deepest motives that drive our actions, we discover a determination to feel now what no one will feel until heaven.

… Sometimes all that separates Christians from non-Christians is our understanding of how to produce those good feelings. The pursuit of soul-pleasure remains primary. It continues to be the aim behind our choices rather than an occasional and welcome by-product of a higher aim: the aim of glorifying God as the object of our deepest, most passionate desire.

We continue to want something or someone more than God. We don’t think that’s our biggest problem, but it is. As long as our purpose is to have a good time, to have soul-pleasure exceed soul-pain, God becomes merely a means to an end, an object to be used, never a subject rightfully demanding a response, never a lover to be enjoyed. Worship becomes utilitarian, part of a cunning strategy to get what we want rather than a passionate abandonment to someone more worthy than we.

Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams, The Crown Publishing Group, 2001, Kindle Location 550-554; 569-571.

See Also Illustrations on AtheismGod’s ExistenceSearching

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