Sermon illustrations

Being Stuck

Change or Die

Why is change important? Why do we avoid it, even when it means experiencing much more pain staying stuck? Writer Ann Lammott explains:

If we stay where we are, where we’re stuck, where we’re comfortable and safe, we die there. . . . If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying. . . .When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing—we had this all figured out, and now we don’t.

Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012), 86.

Choose Your Rut Carefully

I read somewhere that in the early days of the Alaska Highway, tractor-trailer trucks would make deep ruts in the gravel as they carried construction equipment to boomtowns up north. Someone posted this sign at the beginning of the road: CHOOSE YOUR RUT CAREFULLY, YOU’LL BE IN IT FOR THE NEXT 200 MILES.

Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places: Revised and Updated, WaterBrook Press, 2008.

A Different Perspective on the Narcissus Myth

In his book When Narcissism Comes to Church, Chuck DeGroat makes an important connection between shame and narcissism by looking at the myth of Narcissus.

The myth of Narcissus tells the story well. While often told as a tale of excessive self-love, it is precisely self-love that Narcissus was lacking. It’s a story of being stuck, immobilized, fixed in a death dance. In his youth he ran free, hunting in the forest, loved and desired by young women. But he would let no one touch his heart. This is the wound of shame. One who is ashamed cannot connect and cannot become vulnerable. He is immovable, untouchable.

 Narcissus finds himself thirsty one day and makes his way to a clear pool for a drink. In the water he sees his reflection, an image so striking that he reaches in to embrace it. But the image is lost when the water is disrupted, as it is with each future effort. Leaving Narcissus all the more desperate. Immobilized before the pool, he pines for the image that will never return his love and eventually succumbs to the neglect of his basic needs.

… Narcissus is trapped in a vicious narcissistic feedback loop. The name Narcissus comes from the Greek narc, which means numbness—a kind of stupor. It is the sting of addiction that Narcissus experiences.

 Taken from When Narcissism Comes to Church by Chuck DeGroat Copyright (c) 2020 by Chuck DeGroat. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Getting Stuck Stinks

Timothy Cipriani’s idea was simple. He would lower himself into the pizza restaurant from the ventilation duct, rob the cash register, and climb back out. The plan backfired. Either he had been eating too much pizza, or the ventilation duct was too narrow, because he got stuck. He dangled over a deep fryer, his legs hanging out of the ceiling, screaming for help. It took the police thirty minutes to free him. It’s terrible to be stuck. Just ask the eighteen people who rode a roller coaster in Anhui, China.

Inclement weather at the amusement park brought the ride to a halt at the top of the loop, and eighteen passengers were suspended upside down for half an hour! All were rescued, but six had to go to the hospital. How do you say, “I’m about to puke” in Mandarin? And how do the people of Jiangsu Province say, “This stinks!”? That was the opinion of the man who dropped his cell phone into a commode. Rescuers found him crouched over the toilet, his arm submerged up to his shoulder. Workers had to break the porcelain bowl to get him out. I hope the call was worth it.

Odds are you’ve never been stuck in a ventilation duct, on a roller coaster, or in a toilet, but you have been stuck.

Max Lucado, You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

Lifting the Rock

One day a father decided to take his son to play at the local park. The boy quickly gravitated to the sandbox and found himself mesmerized by the colors and textures surrounding him. After a short time, he began digging around to see what treasures might reveal themselves to him. 

As his hands plunged under the sand he discovered something rather large, and having pushed enough of the sand away, realized it was a large rock. Instantly he knew he needed to move that rock, no matter how big it was. This rock was the obstacle to his dreams of a sandbox clear of all extraneous matter.

So the boy tried as hard as he could to move the rock. He pushed and pushed and pushed, and finally he was able to get it to the edge of the sandbox. But the next step would be the hardest. How could he get it over the edge? Again the boy pushed and pushed until his energy was completely fried. The rock’s stuckness matched the boy’s feelings of the situation. Eventually he started to sob.

The boy’s father watched all this, and just when the meltdown began, the father went over to his son and began to comfort his overtaxed, dejected son. 

“Why didn’t you use all the strength available to you to move the rock?” the father asked. 

The boy was confused, “I did daddy, it’s just too heavy.” 

“No son,” you didn’t. You didn’t ask me to help.” And at that, the father lifted the rock with a single hand and tossed it out of the sandbox.

Original Source Unknown, adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Most Confused, Anxious, & Stuck Among Us

In a surprisingly honest confession, the millennial writer Veronica Rae Saron shared this interesting fact in her 2016 article for Medium:

Conversation after conversation, it has become more and more clear: those among us with flashy Instagram accounts, perfectly manufactured LinkedIn profiles, and confident exteriors (yours truly) are probably those who are feeling the most confused, anxious, and stuck when it comes to the future. The millennial 20-something stuck-ness sensation is everywhere, and there is a direct correlation between those who feel it and those who put off a vibe of feeling extremely secure.

Veronica Rae Saron, “Your Unshakable Stuck-ness as a 20-something Millennial,” Medium, December 20, 2016.

Stuck in Good Company

If you’ve ever been stuck, you are in good company. Mark Twain got stuck when writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Einstein got stuck when developing the general theory of relativity, and Martin Luther got stuck trying to grasp the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Even the apostle Paul got stuck on his missionary journeys (Acts 27:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18). We all hate being stuck. But it happens to everyone in various ways—sometimes in big ways and very often in smaller ways. You can even be stuck in multiple ways at once.

You likely are stuck in some way right now. You might feel like you don’t know where you are headed in life, which is certainly one major type of being stuck. Or you might know where you want to go but keep running into obstacles—another way of being stuck. You might be trying to do something large and important that you just can’t push forward. Or the ride to accomplishing your goals is just plain bumpier than it ought to be because of various “sticking points” in your productivity approach, workplace environment, or time-management tools. You know there are ways to do things more effectively, but you just aren’t sure what they are.

The encouraging and surprising truth is that it’s okay to be stuck. Being stuck can be a mark that you are doing important things, because important things are often hard. And when things are hard, we are likely to get stuck. Further, God meets us where we are stuck. In fact, it’s when we are stuck that he often meets us most deeply. David often prayed things like, Rescue me from the mud; don’t let me sink any deeper! Save me from those who hate me, and pull me from these deep waters. (Ps. 69:14 NLT) Now that’s being stuck.

Matt Perman, How to Get Unstuck, Zondervan, 2018, pp. 11-12.

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.

See also illustrations on Disorientation, Failure, (Being) Lost, Mediocrity, Quitting