Sermon illustrations


Christopher Parkening’s Search For Happiness and Purpose

Considered perhaps the greatest guitarist alive, Christopher Parkening appeared to have it all. Signed to an international recording deal as a teenager, Parkening traveled across the world playing beautiful music. But by the age of 30, having achieved all the musical success he could ever imagine, Parkening felt empty. He was tired of touring and wanted to take a break from the rigors associated  . Parkening ultimately decided to move to Montana and took up fly-fishing as a hobby.

Soon Parkening was not only one of the greatest guitarists in the world, but also a world-class fly fisherman, with all the money and time he could ever want. And yet, despite all his success, his life was empty.

He wrote: “If you arrive at a point in your life where you have everything that you’ve ever wanted and thought would make you happy and it still doesn’t, then you start questioning things. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

At this point, Parkening began to wonder if anything could fulfill the deep longings of his heart. Around this time, while visiting friends, Parkening attended church. During the service, Parkening was struck by 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

He explains, “I realized there were only two things I knew how to do: fly fish for trout and play the guitar. Well, I am playing the guitar today absolutely by the grace of God. . . . I have a joy, a peace, and a deep-down fulfillment in my life I never had before. My life has purpose. . . . I’ve learned first-hand the true secret of genuine happiness.” Now Parkening teaches classical guitar to students at Pepperdine University, but instead of doing it for himself, he now has the opportunity to do it all for the glory of God.

Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Janet Bartholomew, Does God Care? (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation, 2000), 153–54.

The Eternal Weight of Glory: The Shadow of Our Future Selves

In this short excerpt, the scholar and Anglican clergyman N.T. Wright discusses the famous “weight of glory” passage in 2 Cornthians 4:17: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (NIV):

“The weight of glory” thus seems to refer to a superabundant expression of that humanness: God’s people will be more truly themselves. We sometimes speak of somebody who has been very sick being “just a shadow of their former self.” But what Paul seems to be saying here is that human beings are just a shadow of their future selves. God has prepared a larger selfhood which is the true fulfillment of all that they are at the moment, which will be the final, glorious enriching of it.

Everything that humans, at their deepest and best moments, are reaching out for, struggling after, longing for, and dreaming of, will finally be fulfilled. Not necessarily, of course, in the ways we would currently imagine; rather, in the ways that God knows will be truly fulfilling for us.

So the “eternal weight of glory” of which Paul is speaking is the new life, patterned on the risen humanity of Jesus, expressing not only what we are at the moment truly as God’s children, as his creation. Bat what we will be when God has completed what he has begun in the Spirit. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6, what God has begun in Christians he will bring to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.

Taken from N.T. Wright, Reflecting the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World, Augsburg Press, 1998, p.39.

Foolishness to the Greeks

Nevertheless, what was shameful, even odious, to the critics of Christ, was in the eyes of his followers most glorious. They had learnt that the servant was not greater than the master, and that for them as for him suffering was the means to glory. More than that, suffering was glory, and whenever they were ‘insulted because of the name of Christ’, then ‘the Spirit of glory’ rested upon them.

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John Stott. Copyright (c) 1976, 2006, Kindle Location 763 by John Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Glorifying God in our Work

Work is one way, perhaps even the main way, we can glorify God in this life.

This may sound confusing if you tend to think of glorifying God as what we do in church when we sing praises to God. No question, this counts as glorifying God. But there is so much more to glorifying God than praising God, no matter how essential and wonderful this might be.

Let me use a personal illustration. I love it when my adult children want to spend time with me. I am doubly happy when they tell me how much they love me. These are, indeed, some of the sweetest moments of my life. But I wouldn’t want Nathan and Kara to spend their whole lives doing this. My wife and I have raised them, not just to be with us and to express their love to us, but also and mainly to be responsible citizens, influential leaders, and faithful disciples of Jesus.

My children honor me when they work hard in school, when they mentor high school kids, stage manage plays, contribute to academic conversations, or write pieces that inform and inspire others. To use language I would not ordinarily use, I am glorified when Nathan and Kara work, when they work hard, when they use well their gifts, when they excel at the tasks for which they are well suited.

Genesis 1-2 reveals that God made us to work. Thus, we glorify God when we do that for which we were made. Moreover, when we work for God’s glory, when we steward well all that God has given us for his purposes, we can enjoy God, sensing the joy he feels in us as we work. To be sure, there are times when we ought not to work. And there will be times when we glorify God through the praise of our lips and the worship of our hearts. But, God has created work as a chief means for us to glorify and enjoy him. This truth can change our lives, our workplaces, and our cultures.

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary

The Glory Being Revealed To Us

In Romans 8:18, Paul describes the future of those who persevere in the faith: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” in The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkein provides a stirring image of this glory at the death of the great king Aragorn (that is, after his life-long struggle against the evil forces in Middle Earth, and his own personal demons):

Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.

The idea here is that the same thing will happen to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. We are, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “no mere mortals.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. , Source material from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings (New York: Ballantine, 1955), 378.

The Gloryscope

Sadly, many of us live this way every day even though God has designed the world in which we live to be a gloryscope. What does this term mean? Just as a telescope points you to the stars and magnifies them for you to see their illuminating glory, so the earth focuses our eyes on God and magnifies his glory, so it can produce wonder in us.

Every beautiful and amazing sight, sound, color, texture, taste, and touch of the created world has gloryscopic intention built into it. Every powerful and mighty thing, animate and inanimate, is gloryscopic by design. No created beauty is an end in itself. No physical wonder exists in isolation. Nothing that is, just is. Everything exists for a grand, vertical purpose. The glories of the physical world don’t reflect God’s glory by happenchance.

No, God specifically and carefully designed the physical world to reflect him, that is, to be the gloryscope that our poorly seeing eyes so desperately need. As the technician grinds the lens of the telescope for the best clarity and magnification possible, so God fashioned his world in such a way that it would bring his glory into view. God created every fish, stone, flower, bird, cloud, tree, monkey, and leaf to be gloryscopic because our loving Creator knows how fundamentally blind we can be.

Taken from Awe: Why it Matters to Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp, © 2015, pp.65-66. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

God’s Glory and a Surpassing Beauty

God’s “glory”: the phrase means, no doubt, that when people eventually see God the sight is astonishingly bright and dazzling. But beyond that it also means that it is surpassingly lovely and beautiful. We don’t talk as much about the beauty of God as we do about the glory of God, but glory surely embraces beauty, and a sense of awe and delight, as well as simply a sense of utterly dazzling light. And this is because God’s glory, ultimately, is the revelation, the shining of who God actually is. In the gospel we discover that God is at Heart the God of total self-giving love.

The experience is a bit like traveling alone, away from the people we love, and having nobody around with whom we can relax, with whom we can be friendly. And then somebody we know comes to meet us, in an airport or railway station, or when we finally arrive back home. Our hearts are warmed, deeply comforted, by this sudden presence of somebody with whom we can be truly ourselves. someone who will give themselves to us.

That is a very pale illustration of what it’s like when you are away from God, not knowing who you are, not knowing who God is, and then you discover that the God who made the world is the God of utter self-giving love who longs to be there for you; to give himself to you and help you discover who you are.

All of this is contained in the remarkable claim that “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” We can know God deeply inside ourselves, in the face of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen one. When Paul says the word “Jesus,” he never forgets that this is the Jesus who died on the cross. If we want to know who God really is, we don’t discover it by forgetting that Jesus died on the cross, by skipping past that and going on to what, seems to obviously like “glory.” We discover it as we look at the face which is crowned with the crown of thorns.

Taken from N.T. Wright, Reflecting the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World, Augsburg Press, 1998, pp.30-31.

He is Coming: A Triumphal Entry

Just under 80 years ago, a crowd gathered on a humid August day to commence what was to be an unparalleled event for its time. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, police officers, and soldiers gathered for an event so spectacular, so colossal, it almost seemed to come out of a fairy tale rather than real life. Some six continents and 49 countries were represented, with most guests, especially the athletes wearing clothing with their own home flag represented, either on their person, or as they waved their flag for the crowd to see. 

But the most obvious flag, the most conspicuous flag that day, was by far, the Swastika. It was draped anywhere and everywhere there was room. For this was the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. And while most of the athletes were present, the main attraction that day was not the athletes who would compete for medals, but the one who would preside over them, Adolf Hitler. 

At 3:18 p.m., according to the author Daniel James Brown, “Adolf Hitler left the chancellery in central Berlin, standing upright in his Mercedes limousine, his right arm lifted in the Nazi salute. Tens of thousands of Hitler Youth, storm troopers, and helmeted military guards lined his route from the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten and out to the Reichssportfeld. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary German citizens had massed along the way, leaning from windows and waving flags or standing twelve or more deep along the street, again using periscopes to get a glimpse of Hitler. 

Now, as his limousine passed, they extended their right arms in the Nazi salute, their faces upturned, ecstatic, screaming in pulsing waves as he rode by, “Heil! Heil! Heil!” At the Maifeld, where the U.S. Olympic team members stood, the athletes began to hear the distant sound of crowds cheering, the noise slowly swelling and growing nearer, then loudspeakers blaring, “He is coming! He is coming”. “He is coming! He is Coming!” Chilling words aren’t they?

And I would argue not just because we know what leadership under Hitler would bring to the modern world, but also, the messianic overtones that we hear in the shouts of Hail! And He is coming. I could not help but compare this scene to the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday…the day Jesus entered into the Holy City, not standing on a Mercedes, or even the ancient world’s equivalent, the chariot, but rather he came on a donkey.

Stuart Strachan Jr. Sermon: “Witnessing to the Light”, June 2015. Source Material from Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Penguin Books, 2014.

The Light that Enlightens Them

In a sermon delivered at his home church (Church of the Holy Family, Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas turns his attention to the topic of glory:

Our glory, therefore, is Gods glory as shown through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This means that the glory of God entails a politics with death at its center. It is a politics well diagnosed by Augustine, who contrasted the Christian understanding of what it means for us to reflect the glory of God with the Roman desire for glory.

According to Augustine, it is the martyrs who exemplify what it means for us to be glorified. The martyrs endured what was inflicted on them because they sought not their own glory but only to reflect the glory of the One who endured and triumphed through cross and resurrection. The martyrs did not try to guarantee that they would be remembered and glorified by the standards provided by the world. Yet the martyrs quite literally glow, radiate a light so brilliant it cannot be denied, because the light that enlightens them is that which is but a reflection of Gods glory.

Stanley Haurewas, Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church, Seabury Books, 2013, p.15.

Presenting the Glory of God

Speakers and writers must present the glory of God as clearly and compellingly as human language will permit. Otherwise both preacher and people will be reduced to dreaming little dreams and attempting for God only little things, when they could be doing so much more. Otherwise they will succumb to what Annie Dillard terms ‘the enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end.’

The trouble with that, says Dillard, is that God and ‘the world is wider than that in all directions, more dangerous and more bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.’

James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, p. 492.

The Purpose of Music

Johann Sebastian Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.”

He headed his compositions: “J.J.” “Jesus Juva” which means “Jesus help me.”
He ended them “S.D.G.” “Soli Dei gratia” which means “To God alone the praise.”

Joseph Stowell, Kingdom Conflict, Moody, p. 77.

“Remember: You are Human.”

When Julius Caesar returned to Rome after many years of fighting its battles abroad, he planned great festivities and triumphal processions to celebrate his victories over Gaul, Egypt, Pontos, and Africa. Each of the four processions took an entire day. His goal was to hold the city spellbound by his greatness.

The cavalcades wound through the streets and ended at the temple of Jupiter, displaying treasures, booty, large paintings of battles, and maps. Then came the prisoners with their barbarian kings; then the Roman officials; and then the commander himself, riding on a chariot drawn by three white horses. He wore a laurel wreath and purple toga, carried the eagle scepter, and colored his face with red lead to represent Jupiter, whose power had made the armies victorious, while over him a slave held the golden wreath. Yet the same slave also served as counselor to this demigod by repeating in his ear, “Remember, you are human.”

Christian Meier, Caesar (New York: Basic Books, 1982), p. 443.


If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials, “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, “Jesu Juva,” which is Latin for “Jesus, help!” There’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure.

Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, B&H Books, 2019.

Seeing (and not Seeing) God’s Glory

I remember taking my youngest son to one of the national art galleries in Washington, DC. As we made our approach, I was so excited about what we were going to see. He was decidedly unexcited. But I just knew that, once we were inside, he would have his mind blown and would thank me for what I had done for him that day.

As it turned out, his mind wasn’t blown; it wasn’t even activated. I saw things of such stunning beauty that brought me to the edge of tears. He yawned, moaned, and complained his way through gallery after gallery. With every new gallery, I was enthralled, but each time we walked into a new art space, he begged me to leave. He was surrounded by glory but saw none of it. He stood in the middle of wonders but was bored out of his mind. His eyes worked well, but his heart was stone blind. He saw everything, but he saw nothing.

Paul David Tripp, Awe: Why it Matters to Everything We Think, Say, and Do, Crossway.

A Strange Exaltation

While summarizing the work of Joel Marcus, professor Lauren Winner describes the irony that in crucifixion, the victim is literally elevated above the rest of the crowd:

As Joel Marcus explains, this strangely “exalting” mode of execution was designed to mimic, parody, and puncture the pretensions of insubordinate transgressors by displaying a deliberately horrible mirror of their self-elevation.

For it is revealing that the criminals so punished were often precisely people who had, in the view of their judges, gotten “above” themselves—rebellious slaves, for example, or slaves who had insulted their masters, or people of any class who had not shown proper deference to the emperor, not to mention those who had revolted against him or who had, through brigandage or piracy, demonstrated disdain for imperial rule. Crucifixion was intended to unmask, in a deliberately grotesque manner, the pretension and arrogance of those who had exalted themselves beyond their station.

One who is slapped. —John Chrysostom’s definition of “fool” Jesus’s crucifixion was layered with many more layers of irony—calling Him king, clothing Him in mock-royal garb. But if Jesus’s elevation was mocked by the Roman punishment, that very mocking was in turn undone by the resurrection. It was not the Romans who had the last laugh.

Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God, HarperOne, 2015, p.198.

To Glorify is to Unconditionally Serve

You’re glorifying something when you find it beautiful for what it is in itself. Its beauty compels you to adore it, to have your imagination captured by it. This happened to me with Mozart. I listened to Mozart to get an A in music appreciation in college. I had to get good grades to get a good job, so in other words, I listened to Mozart to make money. But today I am quite willing to spend money just to listen to Mozart, not because it’s useful to me anymore but because it’s beautiful in itself. It’s no longer a means to an end. And when it’s a person you find beautiful in that way, you want to serve them unconditionally.

When you say, “I’ll serve, as long as I’m getting benefits from it,” that’s not actually serving people; it’s serving yourself through them. That’s not circling them, orbiting around them; it’s using them, getting them to orbit around you…To glorify others means to unconditionally serve them, not because we’re getting anything out of it, just because of our love and appreciation for who they truly are.

Timothy Keller, Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God, Penguin Publishing Group.

See also Illustrations on Art, Awe, Beauty, Fame, Wonder

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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