sermon illustrations on crying out to God

A Consuming Fire

“Holy, holy, holy.” What are they saying? Have you ever wondered that? What does that mean? Many people have tried to understand what God’s holiness means. Some describe it as his perfect morality. God’s holiness means he is sinless and untouched by corruption, which of course is true. But do you imagine the angels essentially crying out, “Moral, moral, moral is the LORD of hosts!” That doesn’t quite seem to capture what’s happening. It seems to domesticate it a bit, doesn’t it? Others have tried to explain it through the category of the “complete Other”—that God is Creator, eternal, but we are not.

We are creatures, finite in our being. The Bible seems to say over and over and over that there is no one like God, no one beside him, no equal in worth, being, and power. Yes, we must agree, God is the God of otherness. But when we then imagine again our seraphim singing “Other, other, other,” something is still missing.

When the Bible seeks to explain God’s holiness, it says that God is a “consuming fire” (Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29)—a dangerous and terrible presence. The presence of not just a fire that warms our hands and charms our campsites, but a consuming fire. Turn away!

And so the angels do. When Isaiah encounters this God, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost;” (Isaiah 6:5). Translations differ: “I am lost!” or “I am undone!” or “I am ruined!” Something is coming apart in Isaiah in the presence of God. Yet, at the same time, Isaiah and the seraphim don’t flee the terrible presence. The danger is real, but obviously so is the splendor. So terrifying and attractive, so immense and wonderful is God. So much so, when God is looking for someone to go to his people on his behalf, Isaiah says, “Here I am! Send me” (v. 8)

Taken from The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World by John Starke Copyright (c) 2020 by John Starke. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Cry

In his book, We Need Each Other, Jean Vanier shares the story of his vocational shift from the military to serving the extremely disabled at L’Arche:

This was the beginning of my vocation in L’Arche. I was introduced, to people with disabilities, who at the time were living in an institution. Theirs was a constant question, “Do you love me?” I later realized that in the Gospel Jesus asks the same question: “Do you love me?” It was at this point that I discovered that people with disabilities, those who have been hurt, rejected, looked down upon, and sometimes tortured, those who have been pushed away, locked up in institutions, and who are not listened to with respect and love, have this same cry, “Do you love me?” This touched me and called me forth as I realized that in their cry there is also the cry of Jesus, “Do you love me?

Jean Vanier, We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together, Paraclete Press, 2018, p.16.

God Forsaken by God

Psalm 22:1 was on our Savior’s lips on the cross, and it is in that context a mystery: God forsaken by God! Christians have been trying to unravel this mystery for centuries, without reaching consensus. So Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “On Cowper’s Grave,” is only one of those efforts, but an intriguing one and quite in line with biblical theology. Her interpretation is that our Lord’s cry of dereliction on the cross was the ultimate and absolute cry of despair that had no echo in the universe so that no human being would ever have to make such a desperate cry again.

      Deserted! God could separate from His

                  own essence rather;

      And Adam’s sins have swept between

                  the righteous Son and Father;

      Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry

                  His universe hath shaken—

      It went up single, echoless, “My God, I

                  am forsaken!”


      It went up from the Holy’s lips amid

                  His lost creation,

      That, of the lost, no son should use

                  those words of desolation!

      That earth’s worst phrensies, mar-

                  ring hope, should mar not hope’s


      And I, on Cowper’s grave, should see

                  His rapture in a vision.

Introduction by Hassell Bullock, Source Material from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Cowper’s Grave,” The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London: John Murray, 1914), 143. “Cowper” is the hymn writer, William Cowper (1731-1800), who wrote such hymns as “God Moves in A Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform” and “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”


Talking to God During Great Grief

The first funeral I officiated was for an eighteen-year-old girl killed in a car accident. To this day I’ve never experienced a more difficult funeral. And as I spoke and looked out into a sea of grief, one face stood out—that of her boyfriend. I met with him shortly after the funeral and learned that days before the accident he had purchased an engagement ring and had been planning to propose.

Neither of us spoke much during that initial meeting; words felt treasonous. But in the meetings that followed, we gradually opened up to one another, and he asked me how to deal with all the anger and grief. He told me prayer had never come easily for him. He never knew how to talk to God, and at this particular moment he had nothing nice to say. So I gave him a Bible, put a small bookmark in Job 1, and suggested this was a good place to start. We met a few weeks later, and when I asked him how the reading was going he said, “I didn’t know we could talk to God like that. If I can talk to God like that, maybe I can talk to God.”

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer p.36. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also illustrations on Discouragement, Frustration, God’s Absence, Lament, Mourning, PainSuffering