Sermon illustrations


The Brother of David Livingstone

Nearly 200 years ago there were two Scottish brothers named John and David Livingstone. John had set his mind on making money and becoming wealthy, and he did. But under his name in an old edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” John Livingstone is listed simply as “the brother of David Livingstone.”

And who was David Livingstone? While John had dedicated himself to making money, David had knelt and prayed. Surrendering himself to Christ, he resolved, “I will place no value on anything I have or possess unless it is in relationship to the Kingdom of God.” The inscription over his burial place in Westminster Abbey reads, “For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize.”

On his 59th birthday David Livingstone wrote, “My Jesus, my King, my Life, my All; I again dedicate my whole self to Thee.”

Billy Graham in Breakfast with Billy Graham. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 6


The Courage of the First Disciples

These disciples turned the world upside down because they saw a dead man come back to life by the power of God. And whatever that “knowing” and “seeing” did in them, it did it at a deep level because they spent their lives talking about Him and doing what He did. Further, they weren’t just fair-weather friends. They stuck it out. Even when it got tough.

  • Peter was crucified upside down.
  • Andrew—the brother of Peter—was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer longer. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.
  • James (son of Zebedee, aka James the Greater) was arrested and led to a place of execution, whereby his unnamed accuser was moved by his courage. He not only repented and converted on the spot but asked to be executed alongside James. The Roman executioners obliged, and both men were beheaded simultaneously. John was boiled alive. When that didn’t work, they exiled him to Patmos where some say he died. Philip was scourged in Heliopolis (Egypt), thrown into prison, and crucified.
  • Bartholomew, by two accounts, was either beaten and then crucified or skinned alive and beheaded.
  • Thomas was run through with a spear.
  • Matthew was stabbed in the back in Ethiopia.
  • James (son of Alphaeus, aka James the Less) was head of the church in Jerusalem and one of the longest-living apostles, perhaps exceeded only by John. At the age of ninety-four, he was beaten and stoned by persecutors, who then killed him by hitting him in the head with a club.
  • Thaddaeus, aka Judas or Jude, was crucified at Edessa (the name of cities in both Turkey and Greece) in AD 72.
  • Simon the Canaanite was crucified in England.

What would do this in these men? …They believed something so deeply that they did not turn tail and run when the executioner appeared with blood dripping off his axe. Would you? Would I?

Charles Martin, They Turned the World Upside Down: A Storyteller’s Journey with Those Who Dared to Follow Jesus, Thomas Nelson, 2021.

I Am Done With Great Things

In one of his letters, the philosopher and psychologist William James shares a conviction regarding his focus not on big, grand things, but with the small “almost invisible” decisions:

I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.

The Letters of William James, ed. by his son Henry James (Boston: Atlantic Monthy Press, 1920), 2:90; letter to Mrs. Henry Whitman, June 7, 1899.

The Indispensable Journalist

The Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst once offered columnist Arthur Brisbane a six-month vacation with full pay as a reward for his dedicated and successful work. Brisbane ultimately turned down the offer, which prompted Hearst to ask why. Brisbane gave two reasons:

“The first is that if I quit writing for six months it might damage the circulation of your newspapers.” He paused for a moment; then said: “The second reason is that it might not.”

Adapted by Stuart R Strachan Jr.

The Wake

One of my favorite things to do is to sit on the aft deck of a boat going across the ocean and just watch the wake. It is such a beautiful, ever-changing creation as the ship continues on its path. You can tell a lot about a ship as you look at its wake. If it is in a straight line, you get a feeling that the boat is steadily on course, and that the captain is not dozing at the wheel, or that an engine or a shaft is not somehow out of whack. But if it is wavering, you begin to wonder. Also, if it is smooth and flat, you know something about the speed of the boat, and if it is steep, you can tell something about its drag. In other words, what the wake looks like can tell you a lot about the boat itself.

With people, the same thing is true…And just as with a boat, there are always two sides to the wake that a leader or someone else leaves when moving through our lives or the life of an organization. The two sides of the wake are: The task & the relationships.

When a person travels through a few years with an organization, or with a partnership, or any other kind of working association, he leaves a “wake” behind in these two areas, task and relationship: What did he accomplish and how did he deal with people? And we can tell a lot about that person from the nature of the wake…The wake is the results we leave behind. And the wake doesn’t lie and it doesn’t care about excuses. It is what it is.

No matter what we try to do to explain why, or to justify what the wake is, it still remains…On the other side of the wake are the relationships. Just as we leave the effects of our work behind in results, we leave the effects of our interactions with people behind in their hearts, minds, and souls…So, we must look out over the transom (the flat surface forming the stern of a vessel) and ask ourselves, “What does that wake look like?”

Henry Cloud, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality HarperCollins.

What Did Jesus Leave to Grow?

H.G. Wells, himself an atheist makes this point about the nature of greatness as it relates to Jesus:

A historian like myself, who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man…. The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow?’ Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.

H. G. Wells: Quoted from The Greatest Men in History in Mark Link, S.J., He Is the Still Point of the Turning World., Argus Communications.

What I Can Do

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), an American Unitarian minister and writer, who lived and worked in Boston, Massachusetts, and inspired many by his story Ten Times One Is Ten:

I’m only one,

but I am one.

I can’t do everything,

but I can do something.

What I can do,

I ought to do.

And what I ought to do,

by the grace of God

I will do.

Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Woman Who Started the Civil War

Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, President Lincoln was purported to have said that it was nice to meet the woman who started the Civil War.

Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet, Zondervan.

See also illustrations on Achievement, Actions, Change, Creation, Divine Love (Agape), Identity, Power, Relationships

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

Follow us on social media: