Sermon illustrations


Thought/sAm I Fighting the Right Battle?

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she describes an encounter with a pastor:

I will never forget one pastor’s comment after taking some time to reflect on the military aspects of the invitation to retreat. After emerging from solitude he commented ruefully, “In the silence, I realized that I’m not even sure I’m fighting the right battle. I just want to know I’m fighting the right battle.”

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Daring to Glance 

One helpful, practical tool to understand our blind spot is what’s called the Johari Window, an image developed as a counseling tool in the 1950s. Subjects were given a list of fifty-six adjectives, adjectives, and were asked to pick those that best described them. The same was done with peers of each subject, and then all of the answers were placed on the grid for discussion.

There are four areas on the grid (see fig. 1). The areas that are known to us and to others are termed our open areas. Others do not know about some areas of our lives because they are hidden, but we know them well. And there are unknown areas that contain things we and others don’t know about us. And then we have blind spots. These are the things we don’t know, though they are clear to others.

Terry Linhart, The Self-Aware Leader: Discovering Your Blind Spots to Reach Your Ministry Potential, InterVarsity Press.

Click here for an image of the Johari Window.

A Life Re-Defined by The Spirit of God

In his excellent book on worship, The Dangerous Act of Worship, pastor and president of Fuller Seminary Mark Labberton shares a story of the transformation of one of his former congregants:

Ben was a very successful man. His professional life flourished. His family life was challenging, as a parent of several teenagers. For him, Christian faith was a distant and disconnected reality. But he began to have conversations about it with his wife and later with me.

One Sunday I was surprised but pleased to see him in the worship service. As he approached me at the door afterward, his eyes began to fill with tears. He explained that while visiting Washington, D.C, for a professional conference, he had gone to visit the National Cathedral. He slipped into an empty side chapel and sat down for some quiet time and reflection.

There, unexpected and unsought, God’s Spirit simply came upon him. Ben became a new person. The awe and wonder of grace and truth beyond his own mind, his own questions, his own needs, simply met him and changed him. It was as though his life was utterly redefined, and it has been ever since.

Taken from The Dangerous Act of Worship by Mark Labberton. Copyright (c) 2007 by Mark Labberton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

“A Picture Paints a Thousand Words”

In photography, a still image communicates meaning. Sometimes referred to as freeze frame, these images provide details that lead to greater insight. Use of space, body language, facial expression, and feelings become more evident, adding dimension to the subject matter. God uses stillness as a process providing clarity about who you are and who he is to you. The familiar statement

“A picture paints a thousand words” is truth and wisdom. Think of stilling a frame of your life like capturing a snapshot from God’s storyboard with your name as the title in big, bold letters. How might stilling this scene you’re currently living provide definition for the big picture? Like a photographer looking through a viewfinder, allow God to reframe what you are currently experiencing through the lens of Truth and being known by him.

What is the truth in your circumstance? What is God saying to you in the silence of preferred outcomes? What are you missing in the hurry for closure? How is God using uncertainty to shape your values about life, faith, family, relationships, work, and rest?

Shelly Miller, Searching for Certainty: Finding God in the Disruptions of Life, Bethany House Publishers, 2020.

Pointing to Qualities Hard to Articulate

In a short story, Jhumpa Lahiri writes about Mr. Kapasi, a man who translates to a city physician what rural Indian people say about their illnesses. When Mr. Kapasi complains to a friend, Mrs. Das, that the job is meaningless, she tells him that his occupation is a significant responsibility, that he is “interpreting people’s maladies.”

Mr. Kapasi is greatly affected by her description. He feels named, enriched, emboldened, a person conveying delicate and dark truths. For Mr. Kapasi, the words from Mrs. Das opened a window. He had perceived his work as a typical mindless job, but Mrs. Das offered a fresh perspective, a different and beautiful way to frame his work. She fulfilled Walker Percy’s rich phrase that one of the noblest roles of a communicator is “to render the unspeakable speakable,” to point to qualities others have been unable to articulate.

Gregory Spencer, Reframing the Soul: How Words Transform Our Faith, Leafwood Publishers, 2018.

Stuck in the Houses Our Words Construct

All day long, all of us are framing and reframing our lives. We talk about the memory of our adorable but sexist grandpa. We label ourselves as movie critics or introverts or justice-lovers. We say that the future is full of doom and despair—or stocked with opportunities and adventure. Most of us sort out life well enough to keep moving along. Then something happens—a car accident, a promotion, a cancer scare, an offer of marriage, a terrorist threat, a retirement party—and our world gets turned inside out.

Our sense of order bursts with joy or unravels. Our words seem inadequate. They don’t say enough or they say too much. When these kinds of events happen, if we slow down long enough to examine our speech, we may see cracks in our frames and begin to search for ways to reframe. One disruption might lead a person to say, “I thought I trusted God for the future, but my anxiety about my children is so faithless.”

The way we describe reality matters because, as simple as it sounds, we cannot see through a window unless the window is there. We are stuck in the houses that our words construct. What if my windows are small and barred and leave me in a prison of prejudice? What if I realize that I can make my windows larger—to see more and appreciate the landscape before me? Specific language choices give us access to specific realities.

Gregory Spencer, Reframing the Soul: How Words Transform Our Faith, Leafwood Publishers, 2018.

See also Illustrations on The Mind, Perspective, Retreat, Thought/s