Sermon illustrations


The Dart-Board

The Benedictine nun Joan Chittister recounts a story she once heard, which she said fundamentally changed the way she thought about success and failure.

A young boy was given a dartboard for Christmas one year and he instantaneously began playing with it. In a complete shock, his first dart hit the bull’s-eye. Surprised and excited, the father yanked the child’s mother from the other room in time to watch the young boy throw a second bull’s eye! At this point, the father gathered the entire family to watch him throw the third dart. Amazingly, he did it again. A third bull’s eye!

At that point, the boy stopped throwing the darts, and promptly shelved the dart board. Over and over again the family pleaded with him to throw another dart, but he refused to do so. As Chittister said in retelling the story, “The child with the dartboard knew what his father did not intuit: A record like his could only be shattered, not enhanced. From now on he could only be known for losing because he could never win so much again.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., source material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, p.61, The Crown Publishing Group.

A Father’s Love brings Hope and Endurance

The Barcelona Olympics of 1992 provided one of track and field’s most incredible moments.

Britain’s Derek Redmond had dreamed all his life of winning a gold medal in the 400-meter race, and his dream was in sight as the gun sounded in the semifinals at Barcelona. He was running the race of his life and could see the finish line as he rounded the turn into the backstretch. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain go up the back of his leg. He fell face first onto the track with a torn right hamstring.

Sports Illustrated recorded the dramatic events:

As the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. “It was animal instinct,”‘ he would say later. He set out hopping, in a crazed attempt to finish the race. When he reached the stretch, a large man in a T-shirt came out of the stands, hurled aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. “You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son. “Yes, I do,” said Derek. “Well, then,” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together.” And they did.

Fighting off security men, the son’s head sometimes buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the end, as the crowd gaped, then rose and howled and wept. Derek didn’t walk away with the gold medal, but he walked away with an incredible memory of a father who, when he saw his son in pain, left his seat in the stands to help him finish the race.

That’s what God does for us. When we are experiencing pain and we’re struggling to finish the race, we can be confident that we have a loving Father who won’t let us do it alone. He left His place in heaven to come alongside us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. “I am with you always,” says Jesus, “to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Hot Illustrations For Youth Talks, Wayne Rice, Zonderzan, pp. 93-94.

Never Giving Up

In Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle describes how her young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time was dismissed by eight publishers before it eventually landed with the publishing house of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. For L’Engle, the decade of her thirties was set on the spin cycle of rejection.

On her fortieth birthday, her husband called L’Engle in her writing studio to say that another rejection letter had come from yet another publisher. In a fit of melancholic despair, L’Engle shrouded her typewriter with a sheet. She would never write again.

Thankfully, her resolve did not last long. L’Engle asked for the manuscript back from her agent, and it arrived as a heavy parcel of bundled typewritten sheets. Two weeks later, with the manuscript in her possession, she was introduced to another editor. He asked to read the manuscript. In another week, she had signed a contract to publish Wrinkle.

When the book was rejected by publisher after publisher, I cried out in my journal. I wrote, after an early rejection, “X turned down Wrinkle, turned it down with one hand while saying that he loved it, but didn’t quite dare do it, as it isn’t really classifiable. I know it isn’t really classifiable. .. but this book I’m sure of. If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it. This is my psalm of praise.

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


Not Going to Church

As was the normal routine on a Sunday morning, a wife got ready for church. She got up, had breakfast, showered, got dressed, put on makeup and was ready to go. It was just as she was ready to leave that she noticed her husband was still in his robe and pajamas. She asks him what’s going on, “I’m not going to church” he says. “What do you mean, you’re not going to church?” Give me one good reason why you’re not going to church?“

The husband responds, “I’ll give you three good reasons why I’m not going to church. Reason number one, the church feels cold. Reason number two, no one likes me. And reason number three, I just don’t like it there. Is that good enough?” he concluded quite proudly.

 “Well, what if I give you three reasons why you should go to church.” the wife answered. “Reason number one, the church is actually quite warm and friendly. Reason number two, there’s a few people there who like you. And reason number three, you’re the pastor sweetheart, so you better get dressed and get to church.”

Original Source Unknown, Stuart Strachan Jr.

Strategic Quitting is Good for You

“Quit” doesn’t have to be the opposite of “grit.” This is where “strategic quitting” comes in. Once you’ve found something you’re passionate about, quitting secondary things can be an advantage, because it frees up time to do that number-one thing. Whenever you wish you had more time, more money, etc., strategic quitting is the answer. And if

you’re very busy, this may be the only answer. We all quit, but we often don’t make an explicit, intentional decision to quit. We wait for graduation or Mom to tell us to stop or we get bored. We fear missing opportunities, but the irony is by not quitting unproductive things ASAP we are missing the opportunity to do more of what matters or try more things that might. We have all said that we should have quit that job or ended that relationship sooner. If you quit the stuff you know isn’t working for you, you free up time for things that might. We’re bombarded by stories of persistence leading to success, but we don’t hear as much about the benefits of quitting. No one wants to be the skydiver who pulled the rip cord too late.

Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong.

Struggling with Vision

Right around six years into what would become a thirty-three-year ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper was stuck. His board wanted to enact some significant changes and he felt like he had no direction whatsoever. Here is a journal entry from that time:

November 6, 1986: The church is looking for a vision for the future—and I do not have it. The one vision that the staff zeroed in on during our retreat Monday and Tuesday of this week (namely, building a sanctuary) is so unattractive to me today that I do not see how I could provide the leadership and inspiration for it. Does this mean that my time at Bethlehem is over?

Does it mean that there is a radical alternative unforeseen? Does it mean that I am simply in the pits today and unable to feel the beauty and power and joy and fruitfulness of an expanded facility and ministry? O Lord, have mercy on me. I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand, even when I know that most of my people are for me. I am so blind to the future of the church…I must preach on Sunday, and I can scarcely lift my head.

Eventually, Piper and his team would develop a renewed vision for their church. This vision gave them the clarity they needed to pursue not only continue, but to flourish as a church. But it was not something that came immediately, or without struggle. It required the long, disciplined work of discerning, in community, the vision that God had for their church.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from John Piper, “How I Almost Quit,” desiringGod.

What I am Supposed to Do?

The US Golfer George Archer had a relatively successful career on the PGA tour, winning won thirteen tournaments, including the 1969 Masters. As he drew closer to retiring from the sport, he wasn’t exactly sure how to spend his time. One reporter asked what he would do during his retirement. Archer said, “Baseball players quit playing and take up golf. Basketball players quit and take up golf. Football players quit and take up golf. What are we supposed to do when we quit?”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

See Also Illustrations on Challenges, Criticism, Doubt, Failure, MediocrityMistakes, Rejection, Stuck

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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