Sermon Illustrations on Preparation
A Roaring Lion in Context
When you imagine a lion, what comes to your mind? For me, I envision a lion’s strong, giant, catlike torso that is covered with a tan coat and moving with a cocky strut. I see his unflinching facial expression, made by a stoic stare and down-turned mouth, all surrounded by a wispy, reddish-brown mane. I wince at the thought of his jaw-stretching yawn that exposes all four of his three-inch canine teeth. I can almost hear his ground-shaking roar.
Thoughts of encountering such a beast in the wild are enough to induce paralyzing fear into most of us. But those familiar with the lion’s ways, like his peers in the animal kingdom, know that behind that ferocious exterior is good reason not to be afraid. A lion has a relatively small heart and lungs in relation to the rest of its body. What this means is that it is an incredibly inefficient runner. In fact, the lion is considered one of the slowest runners in the animal kingdom. While it can reach up to fifty miles per hour, it can only do so in short bursts. A lion simply does not have much stamina.
Being a sprinter rather than a marathon runner affects how the lion hunts. When it happens upon one of its favorite meals, such as a wildebeest, zebra or antelope, it cannot launch after it in the moment. Any of those animals would likely outrun it in the long run. So it stalks.
Writing to battle-weary Christians, the apostle Peter warned, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). As with all illustrations in the Bible, Peter’s likening of the devil to a lion is not coincidental…Peter penned this at a time when wild lions still roamed parts of the Middle East.
I believe this is why Peter compares the enemy to a roaring lion. Wildlife experts contend that most of a lion’s roars are mock roars that are meant only to intimidate his victim or assert his power.
The Watchman in Scripture
The watchman was a very common theme in Old Testament days. In Biblical days, the Jews had vineyards with grapevines. On that farm with acres of grapes, the Jews built a tall tower called a watchtower. It was made out of rocks; some ten to fifteen feet tall. A watchman would be there all night long, watching for thieves who may come in and steal the crop. What was the greatest sin of a night watchman? To fall asleep. If the watchman fell asleep. If the watchman thought to himself, “It is a nice night tonight. There are no thieves out here. Nobody is going to come in here and steal our grapes tonight. This is not a threatening time tonight. Tonight is relaxed. It is time for me to take a nap, to get some rest.” That was the greatest sin of a watchman … was to let his guard down, to not be aware of the evil peril around him and was ready to attack his life.
The second place we find a watchman in the Bible was on the top of a watchtower on the city walls. The watchtowers were not found in small villages like Jackson, Minnesota, but on the city walls of grand and glorious capitals, like Jerusalem. High on the city wall was the watchtower and the watchman sat in that tower. He would watch for the enemy forces to come to raid the city; he would also watch for the friendly king and his armies to be welcomed to the city. And the greatest sin of the watchman to fall asleep to the evil lurking in the shadows, or to miss the grand powers of the king who would march into the city triumphantly.
The third place in the Old Testament where we find stories about watchman are the stories of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets were called, watchman, especially in the book of Ezekiel. The Old Testament prophet was to be keenly aware of the evil powers around them; they were also to be aware of the grand promises of the Messiah who was to come. And the worst sin of the prophet was to fall asleep, becoming lethargic to the surrounding evil, or becoming lethargic to the future possibility of the Messiah to come. The complacent prophets were the false prophets.
We then approach the New Testament and Jesus clearly calls out to us “to watch, be alert, don’t fall asleep,” don’t drift into spiritual lethargy about the evil around you, the evil peril around us and in us. Also, we are not to fall asleep to the grand possibilities of God’s wonderful miracles to unfold before our eyes. Stay awake. Don’t fall asleep.
Edward F. Markquart
Training Harder Than Necessary
As a young boy, around the time my heart began to suspect that the world was a fearful place and I was on my own to find my way through it, I read the story of a Scottish discus thrower from the nineteenth century. He lived in the days before professional trainers and developed his skills alone in the highlands of his native village. He even made his own discus from the description he read in a book. What he didn’t know was the discus used in competition was made of wood with an outer rim of iron.
His was solid metal and weighed three or four times as much as those being used by his would-be challengers. This committed Scotsman marked out his field the distance of the current record throw and trained day and night to be able to match it.
For nearly a year, he labored under the self-imposed burden of the extra weight, becoming very, very good. He reached the point at which he could throw his iron discus the record distance, maybe farther. He was ready.
The highlander traveled south to England for his first competition. When he arrived at the games, he was handed the wooden discus—which he promptly threw like a tea saucer. He set a record, a distance so far beyond those of his competitors one could touch him. For many years he remained the uncontested champion. Something in my heart connected with this story.
John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, Nelson, 1997.
Doing the Work Before the Work
In his highly insightful work, Inside Job, Stephen W. Smith provides an important analogy about the importance of spiritually preparing ourselves for the adversity and challenges that come with success in the world:
Long ago a Chinese man began his career making bell stands for the huge bronze bells that hung in Buddhist temples. This man became prized and celebrated for making the best, most elaborate and enduring bell stands in the entire region. No other person could make the bell stands with such strength and beauty.
His reputation grew vast and his skill was in high demand. One day the celebrated woodcarver was asked, “Please tell us the secret of your success!” He replied: Long before I start making and carving the bell stand, I go into the forest to do the work before the work.
I look at all of the hundreds of trees to find the ideal tree—already formed by God to become a bell stand. I look for the boughs of the tree to be massive, strong and already shaped. It takes a long time to find the right tree. But without doing the work before the work, I could not do what I have accomplished.
The Practice of Indirection
Payton Manning practiced indirection. He was the winning quarterback of Super Bowl XLI. It was a rainy night, and the ball was slippery. Rex Grossman, the quarterback for the losing team, fumbled the ball several times. But Peyton Manning never fumbled. A few weeks after the Super Bowl a reporter discovered that every few weeks during the year Manning had his center (the one who snaps him the ball), Jeff Saturday, snap him water-soaked footballs.
He practices handling wet footballs so he will be ready in case it rains-even though his team plays half of their games in a dome. Manning did what he could do (practice handling wet footballs over and over) to enable him to do what he could not without this preparation (play great in the rain). We cannot change simply by saying, “I want to change. We have to examine what we think (our narratives) and how we practice (the spiritual disciplines) and who we are interacting with (our social context). If we change those things-and we can-than change will come naturally to us.