Sermon illustrations


The Care and Cure of Souls

Gary Moon and David Benner, visionary leaders in contemporary Christian soul care, provide a helpful background on the origin of this phrase:

The English phrase “care of souls” has its origins in the Latin cura animarum. While cura is most commonly translated “care,” it actually contains the idea of both care and cure. Care refers to actions designed to support the well-being of something or someone. Cure refers to actions designed to restore well-being that has been lost. The Christian church has historically embraced both meanings of cura and has understood soul care to involve nurture and support as well as healing and restoration.

Gary W. Moon and David G. Benner, Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls: A Guide to Christian Approaches and Practices, InterVarsity Press.

God’s Decided To Heal Me Some Other Place

I know a woman who, after her diagnosis of cancer, prayed twice every day for God to heal her. A year later, as she entered her third round of chemotherapy, she said, “Well, it looks like once again, God isn’t on my schedule. I guess God’s decided to heal me at some other place, in some other time.” She had been given a level of faith, in that time, I have yet to reach.

William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter: Keeping Preaching Fresh, Abingdon, 2009.

Healing (Sometimes) Requires Forgiveness

As a young pastor, I wanted to pray for Jean, who had been sick in bed for about a week. So I took Mike, a fellow leader in the church, with me to her home. Her husband, Jim, greeted us at the door and invited us into their bedroom. Jean had been bedridden for days and was barely able to talk. She looked miserable. We began praying fervently for God’s healing. We pleaded with God to restore her health. Suddenly, after a few minutes of prayer . . . nothing happened. Jean looked as bad as ever. But we were determined, so we continued to pray. Again nothing. Finally, we waited in silence before the Lord. I sensed the Lord saying that Jean harbored unforgiveness in her heart.

So I kneeled beside the bed and said, “Jean, do you need to forgive someone for hurting you? Are you holding a grudge?” Jean’s eyes got wet with tears. I encouraged her to confess her sins before the Lord and to make amends with the person who sinned against her. With a quiet, raspy voice she began to confess her sin and promised to forgive the person who hurt her. Within minutes, her countenance changed dramatically.

She got out of bed and washed her face; then together we rejoiced over God’s forgiveness and healing. This reminds me of what Jesus’ younger brother James says about healing and forgiveness: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:14-16).

Taken from Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations, and Communities by Rick Love Copyright (c) 2014 p.70 by Rick Love. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Heaven Getting Their Signals Crossed?

Right before my freshman year of high school, I was hospitalized for a severe asthma attack that landed me in the intensive care unit. It was one of a dozen such hospitalizations during my younger years. When I was released from Edward’s Hospital a week later, Pastor Paul McGarvey and a prayer team from Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois, came over to our house, laid hands on me, and prayed that God would heal my asthma.

God answered that prayer for healing but not in the way I expected. When I woke up the next morning, I still had asthma, but all the warts on my feet had mysteriously disappeared. I’m not kidding! At first I wondered if God had made a mistake. Maybe the signals between here and heaven were mixed. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone somewhere was breathing great but still had warts on his or her feet. I was a little confused, but that’s when I heard the still small voice. It wasn’t an audible voice; it was Spirit to spirit. And it was loud and clear: Mark, I just wanted you to know that I’m able!

Mark Batterson, Whisper, The Crown Publishing Group.

Healing with Words

Walker Percy wrote six novels in which he made us insiders to the spiritual disease of alienation that he found pervasive in American culture. His name for the condition is “lost in the cosmos.” We don’t know who we are or where we are. We don’t know where we came from or where we are going. Percy began his vocational life as a physician, intending to use medicines and surgeries to heal sick and damaged bodies. He had hardly gotten started before he changed jobs.

Sometimes we have to change jobs in order to maintain our vocation. Percy did. He became a writer so he could tend to the healing of souls, using nouns and verbs to cure what ails us. It is not insignificant that he was also a Christian. His diagnosis of the spiritual “lostness” of his American brothers and sisters was intended to wake us up to our desperate condition and set up a few signposts for finding our way home.

Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, Eerdmans Publishing.

I Know the Way Out

I can’t help but recall here a scene from The West Wing. White House chief of staff Leo McGarry reaches out to his deputy, Josh Lyman, who is struggling with PTSD. Leo tells him a parable:

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey, you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” 

The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me! Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

James K.A. Smith, The Christian Century, “I’m a Philosopher. We Can’t Think Our Way Out Of This Mess”, February 25, 2021.

Only The Symptoms Remain

At university, I knew a guy called Captain Scarlet (nicknamed after the lead puppet in a cult TV series to which he bore a striking resemblance). The Captain was the only nineteen-year-old I’ve ever known who viewed televangelists as aspirational role models. He was about as positive about positive thinking as it is possible to be.

One day, the Captain told me that he had been miraculously healed of a serious back complaint. I tried to give him a hug but he screamed. “I thought you’d been healed?” I said. “Oh I have,” he insisted, grinning furiously. “It’s only the symptoms that remain.”

Pete Greig, God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, Zondervan, 2020.

A Need to Heal the Past

One of the challenges, at least in the western church, is an inability to deal with our wounds in a healthy way. Our training as Christians has been focused on Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday worship. But little thought has been given to the connection between our emotional and spiritual lives. This, I believe, is why seemingly pious saints can wreak so much damage on the church. There’s tons of spiritual head knowledge, but without healing the wounds of the past, they are unable to experience healthy relationships. The Catholic priest Ronald Rolheiser describes this budding awareness of our unhealed past:

Once the sheer impulse of life begins to be tempered by the weight of our commitments and the grind of the years, more of our sensitivities begin to break through, and we sense more and more how we have been wounded and how life has not been fair to us. New demons then emerge: bitterness, anger, jealousy, and a sense of how we have been cheated. Disappointment cools the fiery energies of our youth, and our enthusiasm begins to be tempered by bitterness and anger . . . where once we struggled to properly control our energies, we now struggle to access them.

Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity (New York: Image, 2014), 6.

Pushed to the Brink of Destruction

Psychiatrist James Knight describes in graphic detail the experience that members of  Alcoholics Anonymous experience:

These persons have had their lives laid bare and pushed to the brink of destruction by alcoholism and its accompanying problems. When these persons arise from the ashes of the hellfire of addictive bondage, they have an understanding, sensitivity, and willingness to enter into and maintain healing encounters with their fellow alcoholics. In this encounter they cannot and will not permit themselves to forget their brokenness and vulnerability.

Their wounds are acknowledged, accepted, and kept visible. Further, their wounds are used to illuminate and stabilize their own lives while they work to bring the healing of sobriety to their alcoholic brothers and sisters, and sometimes to their sons and daughters. The effectiveness of AA’s members in the care and treatment of their fellow alcoholics is one of the great success stories of our time, and graphically illustrates the power of wounds, when used creatively, to lighten the burden of pain and suffering.

James A. Knight, M.D., in Psychiatry and Religion: Overlapping Concerns, ed. Lillian Robinson, M.D. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1986).

Remember it Ends

I saw a live podcast a few weeks ago, and the host, actor Dax Shepherd, gave the audience a couple minutes to ask questions. One young woman in the front row asked him, “How do you get through the hard times in life?” Dax didn’t even pause. He looked her right in the eyes and said, “Just remember it always ends.

You never get on a roller coaster and think, This is so fun, I will be here forever. The best things end, and so do the worst things. This will end.” I thought that was a profound and very tangible example for when we forget that the bad days don’t last forever and that the good days don’t last forever either.

Annie F. Downs, That Sounds Fun: The Joys of Being an Amateur, the Power of Falling in Love, and Why You Need a Hobby, Revell, 2021.

Restoring the Image in Leprosy Patients

The conversations that stand out sharpest to me now are those in which Dr. Brand recalled individual patients, “nobodies” on whom he had lavished medical care. When he began his pioneering work, he was the only orthopedic surgeon in the world working among fifteen million victims of leprosy. He and his wife, Margaret, performed several dozen surgical procedures on some of these patients, transforming rigid claws into usable hands through innovative tendon transfers, remaking feet, forestalling blindness, transplanting eyebrows, fashioning new noses.

He told me of the patients’ family histories, the awful rejection they had experienced as the disease presented itself, the trial-and-error treatments of doctor and patient experimenting together. Almost always his eyes would moisten and he would wipe as he remembered their   suffering.  To him these people, among the most neglected on earth, were not nobodies but persons made in the image of God, and he dedicated himself to honor and help restore that image.

Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

True Healing Occurs When…

Paradoxically…healing means moving from your pain to the pain…When you keep focusing on the specific circumstances of your pain, you easily become angry, resentful, and even vindictive. You are inclined to do something about the externals of your pain in order to relieve it; this explains why you often seek revenge.

But real healing comes from realizing that your own particular pain is a share of humanity’s pain. That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life. Every time you can shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a “light burden” and an “easy yoke” (Matthew 11:30).

The Essential Henri Nouwen, Shambhala, 2009, 54.

The Weight of Hell Shifts to the Weight of Glory

In her book The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp shares a beautiful exchange between her and her husband (The farmer). His encouragement is for all of us: that God uses the broken things in this world for good.

“You know—everything all across this farm says the same thing, you know that, right?” He waits till I let him look me in the eye, let him look into me and all this fracturing. “The seed breaks to give us the wheat. The soil breaks to give us the crop, the sky breaks to give us the rain, the wheat breaks to give us the bread. And the bread breaks to give us the feast. There was once even an alabaster jar that broke to give Him all the glory”…

He looks right through the cracks of me… He says it slowly, like he means it: “Never be afraid of being a broken thing.” I don’t—I don’t even know what that means. I am afraid. And I think this journey, this way, will not spare any of us. But maybe—this is the way to freedom? I’ve got to remember to just keep breathing—keep believing.

In Christ—no matter the way, the storm, the story—we always know the outcome.

Our Savior—surrounds.

Our future—secure.

Our joy—certain.

…I’ll take his words like a daring covenant, not knowing yet what’s to come: there is no growth without change, no change without surrender, no surrender without wound—no abundance without breaking.

Wounds are what break open the soul to plant the seeds of a deeper growth. I whisper it to the Farmer, one line that unfolds like willing, cupped hands: “Brokenness can make abundance.” And the weight of hell shifts almost imperceptibly to feel more like the weight of glory, even if I’m not quite sure yet if that greater grace will come.

Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way, Zondervan.

Who Should Minister to the Suffering?

A Chinese Christian who heard me speak once asked me if I would write a tract about suffering for his fellow believers in the Orient. I told him I would think about it. But when I did, I realized that in comparison to those Chinese believers I knew very little about the topic. I do know this: sufferers want to be ministered to by people who have suffered.

When I was a teenager, I knew a family whose son was terribly burned when he ran into a car and the gas tank on his motorcycle exploded. In the hospital burn unit he begged his mother to just let him die. She responded by inviting friends to cheer him up, but he refused to see anyone. Finally one day there was a knock on his hospital room door. When his mother opened the door there was a stranger with hideous scars all over his face and arms standing there.

The mother slammed the door, hoping her son hadn’t seen the man. But he had, and insisted that his mother let the man in. His mother resisted, thinking the sight would further discourage her son. Instead of discouraging the boy, however, that man convinced the boy that there was reason to live. People who suffer want people who have suffered to tell them there is hope.

They are justifiably suspicious of people who appear to have lived lives of ease. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the reason that Jesus suffered in every way that we do, while he was here. First Peter 2:21 says, “This [your] suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps” (NLT ).

Taken from Suffering & The Sovereignty of God by Stephen F. Saint, edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor © 2006, p.111-112. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

See also Illustrations on The Body, Grief, IllnessLossMedicine, Mental Illness, PainSuffering

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

Follow us on social media: