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Sermon illustrations

Ambition

Christian Maturity and Gentleness

Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of persons I know who model for me the depths of spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness. Their eyes communicate the residue of solitary battles with angels, the costs of caring for others, the deaths of ambition and ego, and the peace that comes from having very little left to lose in this life.

They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their care is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.

John E. Biersdorf, Healing of Purpose: God’s Call to Discipleship, Abingdon Press, 1985.

Driven by Demons

Brett Favre was a driven man. He explained to USA Today that his father’s message that he was never good enough drove him to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history…His dad had also been his high school coach. He demanded excellence from Brett, and he didn’t accept any excuses. When Irv Farve died at age fifty-eight from a heart attack, Brett “lost his biggest fan-and most vocal second-guesser.” His father was tough on his son. Brett remembers, “if you grew up in a household with a football coach who looks like a drill sergeant, you would think you would be tough. Anytime I was hurt…his advice was, “Get your a** up.’ Never did he say he loved us…

Favre had two ways of coping with the pain of his childhood: he was driven to be the best, and he used alcohol and prescription drugs to numb the pain. One was considered by most fans to be a laudable character trait, but they didn’t understand the source of his unquenchable ambition. And most people excused the abuse of prescription drugs as simply a result of the aches and pains of an NFL player…

Throughout his career, Favre continued to hear the voice in the back of his mind, the critical voice of his father that drove him to be the best. In the year he came out of retirement to play again, he explained, “Part of my success always has been that I felt I had something to prove, even after I won three MVP’s. That has not changed today. If I am going to play, I’m going to be the best and have this chip [on my shoulder].

Samuel Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, Thomas Nelson.

A Hungry/Thirsty Soul

The soul can also manifest physical symptoms of need. I like to think of it this way: Just like my stomach growls when I’m hungry for physical food, my spirit tends to growl when I’m in need of spiritual food.

When a checker at the grocery store seems overtly irritable or grouchy, I sometimes grin and think to myself, “I bet her kids woke up before she had a chance to have her quiet time!” I can certainly assure you that my personality is distinctively different when I haven’t had the time I need with the Lord. My soul can do some pretty fierce growling!

How about you? Does your hungry soul ever manifest physical symptoms such as irritability, selfish ambitions, anger, impure thoughts, envy, resentments, and eruptions of lust? Here’s a similar analogy. When a soul is thirsty for the Living Water (John 4), just as my mouth gets dry when I am thirsty, my spiritual mouth gets dry when I need the satisfying refreshment only God can bring.

Beth Moore, Breaking Free: Discover the Victory of Total Surrender, B&H Books, 2007.

If Life is a Competition

If a man is forever concerned first and foremost with his own interests then he is bound to collide with others. If for any man life is a competition…then he will always think of other human beings as enemies, or at least as opponents who must be pushed out of the way…and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down.

William Barclay, The Letter to Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Edinburgh: Saint Andrews Press, 1960), p.40.

Two Strong Voices

Since I was very young my life has been dominated by two strong voices. The first said, “Make it in the world and be sure you can do it on your own.” And the other voice said, “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, even if it’s not very important, be sure you hold on to the love of Jesus.” My father was a little more inclined to say the first and my mother the second. But the voices were strong.

“Make your mark. Be able to show the world you can do it by yourself and that you are not afraid. Go as far as you want to go and be a man. Be a good older son and brother, and be sure you really do something relevant.” And the other said, “Don’t lose touch with Jesus, who chose a very humble and simple way. Jesus, by his life and death, will be your example for living.

I’ve struggled because one voice seemed to be asking me for upward mobility and the other for downward mobility and I was never sure how to do both at the same time.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Doubleday, 2009.

See also Illustrations on Achievement, Excellence, Greed, Power, Pride, Productivity, Success 

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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