Sermon Illustrations on Negativity


Dickens on Dark Thoughts

The mind in all its intricate beauty can be a place of great anguish. Thoughts can both grip us for the good and plague us for that which is not. In Dickens’ Christmas novella, The Chimes, he describes the wave of overpoweringly negative thoughts that torment the protagonist, Tobias “Trotty” Veck,

Black are the brooding clouds and troubled the deep waters, when the Sea of Thought, first heaving from a calm, gives up its Dead. Monsters uncouth and wild, arise in premature, imperfect resurrection; the several parts and shapes of different things are joined and mixed by chance; and when, and how, and by what wonderful degrees, each separates from each, and every sense and object of the mind resumes its usual form and lives again, no man—though every man is every day the casket of this type of the Great Mystery—can tell.

Introduction from Scott Bullock, taken from Charles Dickens, The Chimes p. 696.

Fighting Your Own Thoughts

One of my continual battles is the one that happens in my own heart and mind. I continue to discover and fight negative patterns of thought and emotion that are shaped less by Jesus and more by the world around me. The words of David’s psalm ring true for me…. Like his enemies, my negative thoughts and emotions insinuate that I’ll be finding no help from God. Such thoughts and emotions pester me and hound me. They rise against me. They whisper that I am abandoned and alone. They oppose everything good that God intends for me. So I’m grateful when I am awake enough to respond as David does with a hearty “But you, O LORD, are . . . ” (Psalm 3:3). What is God? He is my shield. He surrounds me with protection. He is my glory. He makes my life shine so that it has impact. He is the one who lifts my head. He encourages my soul in the face of discouragement or accusation. When I feel surrounded by trouble, like David I can cry out to the Lord. He answers my cry with holy help. He is my strong friend when the thoughts in my heart and head feel like enemies.

Alan Fadling, A Year of Slowing Down: Daily Devotions for Unhurried Living (IVP, 2022).


Jonathan Swift’s Exhortation for Two

While primarily known today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift also served as an Anglican priest in his home country of Ireland. While his writing gained significant traction throughout Britain, his ministry was not quite so successful. 

While serving a small parish in Laracor, Ireland in 1709, the author and clergyman regularly drew less than a dozen souls to Sunday worship. His prayer meetings were even less well received, where he could only depend on a “congregation of one,” his clerk and bell-ringer Roger Cox. Apparently, it was recorded at the beginning of one of these meetings, “Dearly beloved Roger, the Scripture moveth you and me in sundry places …’ 

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Hesketh Pearson, Lives of the Wits, 1962

The Snake in the Cell

John O’Donahue, in his book, Walking in Wonder, shares a story from India that is thousands of years old, but just as relevant today as it was back then. It’s about a man who was forced to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. Any movement, even the smallest stirring, would cause the snake to strike with a lethal bite. The man convinced himself the best course of action was to stand in the corner of the cell, as far away from the snake as possible, as still as humanly possible. So the man stayed awake all night, huddled in the corner, praying that he would not arouse the poisonous snake and meet an early end. 

As dawn began to settle on the cell, the man began to make out the shape of the snake, and he was relieved that he had stayed so still for such a long period of time. But as the light began to more fully illuminate the room, something strange became evident: the snake was no snake at all, just an old rope.

The point of the story is clear: there are many rooms in our minds where ropes, not snakes exist. These snakes keep us from fully living, entrapped as we are by the fear of being stricken. We become prisoners of our own making. The solution is not to merely protect ourselves, but to face the dangers head on, so that we can experience the fullness of life Jesus offers us in his Word.

Stuart Strachan, Source material from John O’Donahue, Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World (Convergent Books, 2018).


Eeyore and Christians

A sour outlook is pessimistic about the future. Such people are always anxious, fretful, gloomy, negative, seemingly hopeless. How can a Christian be like that? We should be radiant with hope, fully expecting the future to be bright in the hands of a loving Father. But such people are like Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame:

“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he. “Why, what’s the matter?” “Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” “Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose. “Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

Andrew M. Davis, The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.42-43.

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