Sermon illustrations


The Bad Neighborhood

In her book Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott quotes “this guy I know” as saying, “My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” I feel this on a deep and spiritual level. Until these last few years, I never understood the importance of maintaining my mind or checking for the scripts I am believing or cutting out the lies. I had to wake up and realize I would have to fight for a healthier brain, and that God joins me in that fight every single day.

Hannah Brencher, Fighting Forward: Your Nitty-Gritty Guide to Beating the Lies That Hold You Back, Zondervan, 2021.

Faith Requires Thought

Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. . . . We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them. . . .

Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else [circumstances, for example], and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. . . . That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), pp. 129–30.

Help with My Chaotic Thoughts

In the first chapter of her book, Get Out of Your Head, author Jennie Allen shares a vulnearble and honest moments from her own life about just how hard it can be to focus in a world of distraction:

“Take every thought captive.” They say authors write books for two reasons: either the author is an expert on the subject, or the subject makes the author desperate enough to spend years finding the answers. The latter most definitely describes me. This morning I woke up intending to write to you. But first, I thought, I need to spend time with God. So what did I do? I picked up my phone. I noticed an email about something I was working on, in which the sender was “constructively” critical of my work.

Just as I decided to set my phone down, something else stole my attention…and the next thing I knew, I was on Instagram, noticing others’ wins and glories contrasted with my work in process that seemed to not be measuring up. In minutes with my phone, I decided that I was an inadequate writer, I was spending my life chasing things that mean nothing because I am nothing, I have nothing to say. I was spiraling fast into discouragement. Then my husband, Zac, came in happy, having just met with God, and I snapped at him.

My spiral began to spin faster and more chaotically. In less than an hour, I had diminished myself, criticized all my work, decided to quit ministry, ignored God, and pushed away my greatest advocate and friend.

Wow. Brilliant, Jennie. And that was only this morning? And now you want to try to help me with my chaotic thoughts?

Jennie Allen, Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts, WaterBrook, 2020.

I’m Standing on the Inside

There is an old story about a little boy who insisted on standing up on a pew during the church service. After several admonishments his mother severely threatened him if he stood up one more time. As he sat squirming on the pew he whispered to his mother, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

Jerry Bridges. The Gospel for Real Life: Return to the Liberating Power of the Cross, NavPress.

Jesus, The Head and the Heart

Jesus was a whole human who had a head and a heart and a spirit. I forget that Jesus came to this earth, not as a brain in a Mason jar floating in formaldehyde, but as an embodied, incarnate, integral person. His head and His heart were in perfect alignment to obey His Father. His thoughts lined up with what He believed (knew even!) to be true, and His actions followed suit. Our thoughts are both indicators of deeper issues and can be problems in themselves.

Hayley Morgan, Preach to Yourself, Zondervan, 2018, p. 15.

Modern Knowledge

Modern knowledge involves breaking things down into component parts. As philosopher Michel Foucault argues in The Birth of the Clinic, nowhere is this more disturbingly clear than in modern medicine, which came not out of the development of knowledge about the health and thriving of human bodies but out of the study of dead bodies, exhumed, dissected, and evaluated. It is undeniable that this kind of knowledge has value.

But Arendt’s point—and many others have joined her—is to call into question whether this kind of knowledge is the only way of knowing something and, moreover, whether it’s the best way of knowing something.

Dallas Willard once wrote that while you will not find him apart from his body, the surest way to never find him would be to tear his body open looking for him. There is a mysterious wholeness about a person. Whatever you might know about their biochemistry, anatomy, psychology, and biography cannot account for who they are and what being with them feels like. Likewise, the total knowledge of how fusion makes stars burn, how light travels through the solar system, and how the gases in our atmosphere refract and bend that light is less wonderful than beholding a sunset.

A food chemist who can tell you all about what a strawberry is—how it grows, what its chemical makeup is, why the tongue tells the brain it’s sweet—somehow knows less than a child who has actually tasted one. And wouldn’t we all agree that the child’s knowledge is superior? More useful? Or at the very least, more conducive to a good life? The average grandma can’t tell you much about amino acids and protein chains, but hours at the stove have taught her not to salt the tomato sauce until it’s reduced.

She can tell by the way a pork chop resists pressure from a spatula whether or not it’s done, and she knows that the acidity of limes can cut the heat in a curry. Do you want her or the chemist making your dinner? What we’re talking about is the difference between knowing—a category we might use to describe abstracted knowledge like the kind that leads to success on tests and money on Jeopardy!—and know-how—a kind of knowing that’s more integrated with life, or better put, more integrated with the body. It is a lived-in knowing and an experienced knowing.

Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, pp. 13-14. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Rather be Shocked than Alone with their Thoughts

In a study conducted by Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, researchers discovered what most of us already know: people do not like to be left alone with their own thoughts. Performed on collegiate freshman, initial results indicated 50% of study participants disliked the experience.

The study became more interesting in a follow-up study, “For 15 minutes, the team left participants alone in a lab room in which they could push a button and shock themselves if they wanted to. The results were startling: Even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think, the team reports online today in Science.

“We went into this thinking it wouldn’t be that hard for people to entertain themselves,” Wilson says. “We have this huge brain and it’s stuffed full of pleasant memories, and we have the ability to construct fantasies and stories. We really thought this [thinking time] was something people would like.”

He suggests that the results may be mixed signs of boredom and the trouble that we have controlling our thoughts. “I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world,” he says. “So when we don’t give it anything to focus on, it’s kind of hard to know what to do.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., adapted from Science Mag.

The Thinker

The next time you see Auguste Rodin’s famous statue The Thinker, or a copy of it, look at it closely. Rodin described his great figure in these terms: “What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, but his distended nostrils, and compressed lips, and with every muscle of his arm, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”

Taken from Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness. ©2019 by Os Guiness.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Where Your Unhappiness Comes From

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking . . .

Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression.

Why It’s So Hard to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts

Core beliefs can be hard to change because they’ve generally been with us for a long time, and we assume that they’re true. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to changing our core beliefs is that they are strongly self-perpetuating. When we have a fundamentally negative view of ourselves, we’re biased to interpret negative outcomes as evidence of our shortcomings.

Seth J. Gillihan, “What Makes Us Think Such Negative Things about Ourselves,” Psychology Today,

See also Illustrations on The Brain, The Mind, PerspectiveWisdom, Worldview

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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