Sermon illustrations


The Biggest Influence on Your Life

I find myself saying it over and over again. When I do, people often laugh, but I’m really quite serious. No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. It’s a fact that you and I are in an endless conversation with ourselves. Most of us have learned that it’s best not to move our lips because people will think we’re crazy, but we never stop talking to ourselves.

In this inner discussion, we’re always talking about God, life, others, and ourselves, and the things we say to ourselves are very important because they are formative of the things we desire, choose, say, and do. What have you been saying to you? What have you been saying to you about yourself? What have you been saying to you about God? What have you been saying to you about life, meaning and purpose, right and wrong, true and false, and good and bad?

Taken from New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, © 2014. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

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.

Discerning Sense of Call By Paying Attention to Our Bodies

As I have worked to clarify my calling, I have learned to pay attention to my energy levels in response to different activities. If I experience a particular activity as being inordinately draining, I begin to consider very carefully how much of myself God wants me to give to that.

On the other hand, if I feel particularly energized by a certain person or activity, I can pay attention to how God may be leading me to incorporate more of that into my life. Paying attention to what gives our body and our spirit a sense of life or drains life from us can help us stay connected with God’s guiding presence. When I honor my body by “listening” to tension, discomfort, lightness, or joy and wonder, asking, Now what is that about? often God speaks into that awareness with truth and insight that proves very helpful over the long haul.

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

A Gripping Lecture

Charles Babbage (1792-1871) was a British mathematician and inventor known for his enjoyment of talking. At one particular dinner, Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish polymath was going on and on about the virtues of silence, leaving little room for anyone else to get a word in edgewise. At the end of the dinner Babbage approached Carlyle and thanked him sternly for his stirring lecture on the topic of silence.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Our Moral Superiority

Researchers at the University of London concluded that “a substantial majority of individuals believe themselves to be morally superior to the average person” and that this illusion of ours is “uniquely strong and prevalent.” They write, “Most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous, and moral; yet regard the average person as distinctly less so.”

And among their study participants, “virtually all individuals irrationally inflated their moral qualities, and the absolute and relative magnitude of this irrationality was greater than that in the other domains of positive self-evaluation.”1 And we have a lot of self-delusions. Perhaps you’ve heard that 93 percent of us genuinely believe we’re above-average drivers.

Perhaps you’ve seen studies that show we also think we’re smarter than average. And we’re friendlier too. Plus we’re more ambitious than average. You might think with all of this awesomeness, we might have an ego problem, but good news: we also rate ourselves as more modest than others!

So, yes, we’re better at everything than everybody, but at least we’re humble about it. That’s not surprising because we’re us, and, you know, we’re cool like that. But what about people we assume simply must be less moral than us? Murderers, thieves, and the like—surely they’d have a more reasonable assessment, right?

Why, no, actually. The incarcerated population also thinks they’re more moral than everyone else. Prisoners find themselves to be kinder than the average person. And more generous. The professor who conducted the study of prisoners wrote, “The results showcase how potent the self-enhancement motive is. It is very important for people to consider themselves good, valued, and esteemed, no matter what objective circumstances might be.”

The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, Baker Publishing Group.

Our Problem

Dear Everybody,

We have a serious problem:

All of us think we’re good people.

But Jesus says we’re not.

Sincerely, Brant P. Hansen

…PS. IF YOU THINK I’M WRONG—about how we think we’re good people—I offer this challenge: Go ahead and ask someone. Seriously, if you’re reading this at a coffee shop, ask the stranger sitting at the next table, “So, are you a good person? Would you say you’re more moral than the average person?”

Given my studies in this area, I can predict their response with 98 percent confidence, and it’s “I’m calling the police.” But while the authorities are being dispatched, try to get a serious answer.

If they give you their honest take, you’ll hear something like, “Why, yes, I do think I’m more moral than the average person.” This is predictable because social scientists have asked these questions for decades, and the result is the same: We all think we’re more moral than average. It’s remarkable how good we are. Just ask us, and we’ll tell you about it.

The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, Baker Publishing Group.

Persuading Ourselves of the Truth

When we observe evil, sinful behavior from a distance, the inclination is simply to see people as acting with malicious intent. We assume they are “bad people.” But often the motivations that lead to significant lapses in moral behavior are quite different. Because most people want to see themselves generally as “good,” they engage in a complex game of rationalizing and self-deception that enables them to perform these sinful acts. Over time, what starts as a set of questionable lies we tell ourselves becomes capital T “Truth.” An excellent example of this from history took place during the Watergate scandal. In an interview from 1975, the whistleblower of Watergate, John Dean, explains just how this worked with those involved in the scandal:

INTERVIEWER: You mean those who made up the stories were believing their own lies?

DEAN: That’s right. If you said it often enough, it would become true. When the press learned of the wire taps on newsmen and White House staffers, for example, and flat denials failed, it was claimed that this was a national-security matter. I’m sure many people believed that the taps were for national security; they weren’t. That was concocted as a justification after the fact. But when they said it, you understand, they really believed it.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Lyndon Johnson was known as a master at the game of self-justification. His biographer, Robert Caro, described what would happen when Johnson came to believe something to be true, he would believe in it “totally, with absolute conviction, regardless of previous beliefs, or of the facts in the matter.”

George Reedy, an aide who witnessed the same behavior, described LBJ as having “had a remarkable capacity to convince himself that he held the principles he should hold at any given time, and there was something charming about the air of injured innocence with which he would treat anyone who brought forth evidence that he had held other views in the past. It was not an act … He had a fantastic capacity to persuade himself that the ‘truth’ which was convenient for the present was the truth and anything that conflicted with it was the prevarication of enemies. He literally willed what was in his mind to become reality.”

Stuart Strachan Jr, with Source Material from John Dean, interview by Barbara Cady, January 1975; Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (New York: Knopf, 2002), p.886.

The Samurai and the Zen Master

A belligerent samurai . . . once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. But the monk replied with scorn, “You’re nothing but a lout—I can’t waste my time with the likes of you.” His very honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled, “I could kill you for your impertinence!” “That,” the monk calmly replied, “is hell.” Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight. “And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ Bantam.

Strangers to Themselves

There is not any thing, relating to men and characters, more surprising and unaccountable, than this partiality to themselves. . . . Hence it is that many men seem perfect strangers to their own characters. They think, and reason, and judge quite differently upon any matter relating to themselves, from what they do in cases of others. . . . Hence it is one hears people exposing follies, which they themselves are eminent for; and talking with great severity against particular vices, which if all the world be not mistaken, they themselves are notoriously guilty of.

Joseph Butler, “Upon Self-Deceit,” in The Works of the Right Reverend Father in God Joseph Butler, J. F. Dove.

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.

The Ways to Self-Knowledge

“Know yourself” is good advice. But to know ourselves doesn’t mean to analyze ourselves. Sometimes we want to know ourselves as if we were machines that could be taken apart and put back together at will. At certain critical times in our lives it might be helpful to explore in some detail the events that led us to our crises, but we make a mistake when we think that we can ever completely understand ourselves and explain the full meaning of our lives to others.

Solitude, silence, and prayer are often the best ways to self-knowledge. Not because they offer solutions for the complexity of our lives but because they bring us in touch with our sacred center, where God dwells. That sacred center may not be analyzed. It is the place of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.

Henri J. M.Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith , HarperOne.

What do All These Personality Quizzes Point To?

The BuzzFeed-style quiz is taking over the internet, serving up answers to questions no one is asking. What Star Wars character are you? What restaurant trend describes your personality? Which Hogwarts house suits you best? What city should you actually live in? Which Ryan Gosling character is your soul mate? What’s your superpower? Your work style? These addictive quizzes make it easy to put ourselves in (very weird) boxes. And if my Facebook feed is any indication, people can’t resist taking these quizzes and sharing their results—no matter how inane the topic or how small the insight offered. Underpinning these quizzes is the core assumption that we won’t have the same answers. We are all different—in matters both serious and silly—and discovering those differences is strangely enjoyable. Cynics argue that we’re drawn to these simple check-the-box quizzes because we’re ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of real life, but I believe this trend points to something more substantial.

We’re not just looking for a way to kill five minutes online. Our methods may be questionable, but our motives are pure: we truly want to know more about ourselves and the people we interact with every day. We suspect our lives would be better if we actually understood ourselves and the people we love. We want to know why we do what we do, think what we think, act how we act—and why they do too. But what we’re finding is this: actually knowing ourselves isn’t as easy as taking a few check-the-box quizzes on the internet.

We’re surprised to discover that it’s difficult to perceive ourselves for who we really are. That information would be infinitely more useful, but it’s also harder to come by. Since we don’t know where to start to find the good stuff—the genuinely helpful information about ourselves and the people we love—we settle for discovering which defunct ’90s soda we are or which Jane Austen leading man we’re meant to marry.

But if we instead knew the right questions to ask ourselves—the ones that would give us true insight into our inner selves—and approached those questions with the same playful spirit (and perhaps just a smidge more seriousness and self-reflection), we could emerge with life-changing information. We could learn to read people better—ourselves and others.

Anne Bogel, Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, Baker Books, 2017.

What the Internet Reveals about Us

People can say one thing and do something totally different. You see the darkness that is often hidden from polite society. The thing that you see is a widespread insecurity. I think people put on a front, whether it’s to friends or on social media, of having things together and being sure of themselves and confident and polished. But we’re all anxious. We’re all neurotic. I now assume that people are going through some sort of struggle, even if you wouldn’t know that from their Facebook posts.

Olga Khazan, Our Searches, Ourselves.

White Noise

I (Elyse) have lived less than a quarter of a mile from Interstate 15, one of the busiest freeways in California, for about eight years now, and because of that I’ve had firsthand experience with what is commonly referred to as “white noise.” Although this busy freeway is so very nearby, I’m rarely aware of it; its persistent hum has become background noise to me. Of course, if there is a semi rolling down the stretch near my home and the driver lets his foot off the accelerator, I’ll hear the popping of his engine, but generally speaking I don’t even know that the freeway is there. It has become white noise, and I’m glad that my brain tunes it out, because at my age I don’t need any more distractions.

While I am thankful for this innate ability to ignore unimportant, repetitive sound, I’m afraid that we don’t do a very good job differentiating between what we need to pay attention to and what can be safely ignored. To be more specific, I fear that familiarity with certain biblical concepts is liable to make them seem insignificant to us. I’m afraid that we unintentionally strip certain concepts of importance and prominence and relegate them to the category of white noise —we recognize they are there, but we just don’t pay much attention to them.

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson, Counsel from the Cross, Crossway.

See also Illustrations on Existence, HumanityIdentity, Maturity, Self-Image

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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