Sermon illustrations


Am I Fighting the Right Battle?

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she describes an encounter with a pastor:

I will never forget one pastor’s comment after taking some time to reflect on the military aspects of the invitation to retreat. After emerging from solitude he commented ruefully, “In the silence, I realized that I’m not even sure I’m fighting the right battle. I just want to know I’m fighting the right battle.”

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Attending to God Through His Pain

I (Rich) remember a time while serving as a young pastor at Peace Community Church. At the beginning of my sermon every single Sunday an elderly believer in the church tilted his head to the right and promptly closed his eyes. I was aggravated (righteously of course!) at such disrespect for the Word of God.

The truth is that Louie had listened to the likes of me for more than seven decades. Nevertheless, I was frustrated internally by Louie’s taking a snooze at the heart of our worship time. This troubled me until I made a pastoral call to visit Louie and his wife on their farm. I had every intention of talking to Louie about his lack of respect for the preaching of Scripture. But since our time together would be my first chance of getting to know them, I decided I would begin by listening to their story.

It wasn’t long before I realized the deep and painful realities they faced because of the mental illness of one of their adult sons. I had no idea of what they had gone through for many years. They lived with a capriciously angry adult son who left two elderly people living in real fear.

Suddenly I thought, Would I in my late seventies still be faithfully attending worship if there was this much pain in my soul?I quickly gave up on the idea of confronting Louie about his “disrespect.” And at the end of our visit I offered to read a psalm. Sure enough, the moment I began reading the psalm Louie titled his head to the right and closed his eyes. In that moment I realized this was how Louie quieted his soul and listened. It was his way of attending to God through his pain.

Taken from The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection by Richard Plass and James Cofield, Copyright (c) 2014, p.121 by Richard Plass and James Cofield. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Being Wrong

In her aptly title book, Being Wrong, Kathleen Schulz describes just how difficult it is to be wrong:

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.

Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p.4.

The Controversial Cookies

A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies. Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper. Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise. From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself. 

A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling. He was helping himself to another cookie! After a while they came to the end of the package with one cookie left, but she was so angry she didn’t dare allow herself to say anything. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, ate the other half, and left. 

Still fuming sometime later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket. To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her package of unopened cookies!

Reader’s Digest

The Danger of Assumptions

Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble.

For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you’d made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.

Lemony Snicket, The Austere Academy

Don’t Assume

As sinners, we are apt to assume the worst about people. We are eager to find favorable comparisons that make ourselves look good at the expense of others. We are quick to size people up and think we have them figured them out. But I have learned over the years–both as the giver and receiver of judgmental assumptions–that it’s best not to assume.

Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.

Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.

Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.

Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.

Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.

Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.

Don’t assume the guy from the Mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.

Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.

Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.

Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.

Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.

Don’t assume your parents are clueless.

Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.

Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.

Don’t assume the poor are lazy.

Don’t assume you know what they are all like after meeting one or two of their kind.

Don’t assume you should read between the lines.

Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.

Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.

Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.

Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.

Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.

Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.

Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.

Don’t assume God can’t change you.

Don’t assume God can’t love you.

Don’t assume God can’t love them.

Taken from Kevin DeYoung, Don’t Assume, the Gospel Coalition.

The Forty-Three Year Old Chief Executive

On a cold January day, a forty-three-year-old man was sworn in as the chief executive of his country. By his side stood his predecessor, a famous general who, fifteen years earlier, had commanded his nation’s armed forces in a war that resulted in the defeat of Germany. The young leader was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He spent the next five hours watching parades in his honor and stayed up celebrating until three o’clock in the morning.

You know who I’m describing, right? It’s January 30, 1933, and I’m describing Adolf Hitler and not, as most people would assume, John F. Kennedy. The point is, we make assumptions. We make assumptions about the world around us based on sometimes incomplete or false information. In this case, the information I offered was incomplete. Many of you were convinced that I was describing John F. Kennedy until I added one minor little detail: the date. This is important because our behavior is affected by our assumptions or our perceived truths.

We make decisions based on what we think we know. It wasn’t too long ago that the majority of people believed the world was flat. This perceived truth impacted behavior. During this period, there was very little exploration. People feared that if they traveled too far they might fall off the edge of the earth. So for the most part they stayed put. It wasn’t until that minor detail was revealed—the world is round—that behaviors changed on a massive scale.

Simon Sinek, Start with Why, Penguin Publishing Group


Neil Marten was a member of the British Parliament from 1959-1984. One day he was giving a group of constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the tour, the group happened upon the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, who happened to be dressed in the full ornamentation that went with his office. At one point in their interaction, Hailsham recognized the MP Marten and cried “Neill!” Not wanting to disobey the command of one so important, the band of visitors immediately fell to their knees.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

On Asking the Wrong Questions, from the Pink Panther

Clouseau: Does your dog bite?

Hotel Clerk: No.

Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog]

Nice doggie. 
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau on the hand]

Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!

Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.

From the Pink Panther, © 1963.

Opposite George & Re-Thinking our Assumptions

In an attempt to engage in critical thinking, scholars suggest asking whether our opinions are true by simply asking if the opposite could be true. This practice (I’m not joking) is named after on an episode of the television show Seinfeld:

All of which means that there is at least some scientific basis for the “Opposite George” strategy once employed by the Seinfeld character George Costanza. In a 1994 episode of the show, George (with advice from Jerry) has an epiphany: Since his gut instincts had always seemed to lead him astray in the past, he decides that, henceforth, he will do the opposite of whatever he’s inclined to do in a given situation—in other words, let “Opposite George” take over.

In the show, automatically going against his instincts works wonders for George’s dating life and career. But in a real-life situation, the “consider the opposite” strategy is not meant to provide a clear and reliable solution; rather, it’s designed to open up your thinking to possibilities beyond your first impulse. The opposite choice might turn out to be a good option, but it could also show you that your first instinct was correct—or, perhaps, you’ll realize the best path lies somewhere in between.

Warren Berger, The Book of Beautiful Questions. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.

Solving the World’s Problems

Warren Robinson Austin was an American politician and diplomat serving both in the U.S. Senate and the United Nations as a U.S. ambassador. During a debate, Austin was asked how he would approach the conflict in the Middle East, specifically between Jew and Arabs. Austin’s advice was simple: sit them down and have them settle their differences “like good Christians.”

Stuart Strachan, Source Material from Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

Top Ten Unquestioned Answers to Faith’s Difficult Questions

In his thoughtful book, Unquestioned Answers, Jeff Myers attempts to uproot some of the widely-held clichès that keep Christians from engaging difficult topics. Here are his top ten “Unquestioned Answers”:

  1. “God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me.”
  2. “Just have faith.”
  3. “God will heal our land if we humble ourselves and pray.”
  4. “It’s just me and Jesus.”
  5. “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”
  6. “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”
  7. “Jesus was a social justice warrior.”
  8. “It’s not my place to judge.”
  9. “This world has nothing for me.”
  10. “God is good all the time—all the time God is good.”

Jeff Myers, Unquestioned Answers: Rethinking Ten Christian Clichés to Rediscover Biblical Truths, David C Cook, 2020.

Um…That’s My Bumper Sticker

During the 1992 presidential elections a friend of mine told me about an awkward moment in his Bible study. One of the group members expressed excitement because that Sunday, she had seen a bumper sticker promoting the “other party” in the church’s parking lot. She was excited because, to her, this was an indication that non-Christians had come to visit. Imagine the awkwardness when another member of the group chimed in, “Um . .. “that’s my bumper sticker that you saw.”

Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides, Tyndale House Publishers, 2015.

When Helping Hurts: An American in the Philippines

An American woman visiting the Philippines, observed an elderly woman on the outskirts of Manila. She looked poverty-stricken and walked with the help of a cane down into a ditch alongside a  main road. The American observed the woman struggling and assumed she needed help.

As she approached the elderly woman, the woman began to shake her cane at the American, hurling curse words and a barrage of threats. While somewhat unsure of the situation, the American continued to pursue the woman. It was not until she got close enough that she realized her mistake: the woman was not in trouble, she was just attempting to have her daily “bathroom” visit in peace without the help of an over-anxious, do-gooder American.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material: Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer



See also Arguments/Disagreement, Bias, Judgment, Mistakes, Being Right, Thought/s, Truth

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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