Sermon Illustrations on renewal


Anticipation Lifts the Heart

Anticipation lifts the heart. Desire is created to be fulfilled – perhaps not all at once, more likely in slow stages. Isaiah uttered his prophetic words about the renewal of the natural Creation into a wilderness of spiritual barrenness and thirst. For him, and for many other Old Testament seers, the vacuum of dry indifference into which he spoke was not yet a place of fulfillment.

Yet the promise of God through this human mouthpiece (and the word “promise” always holds a kind of certainty) was verdant with hope, a kind of greenness and glory. A softening of hard-heartedness, a lively expectation, would herald the coming of Messiah. And once again, in this season of Advent, the same promise for the same Anointed One is coming closer.

Luci Shaw, “Third Sunday of Advent” in God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas

Burnout and A Loss of Meaning

Burnout is the disease of our age. Time magazine had an editorial way back in the 1980s about “the burnout of just about everybody.” I concluded that the metaphor of burnout was not quite right, particularly when applied to those of us in the church. Burnout is a term that is borrowed from rocketry, when a rocket rising from the earth runs out of fuel, “burns out,” and falls to the earth.

Burnout implies that our problem is a lack of energy. I have concluded that many people who think they are “burning out” do so, not from the lack of energy, but from a lack of meaning. 

We are tired and despondent. The French call it ennui; the Bible speaks of the “noonday demon,” depression. Advent is an appropriate season to ask, “Wherein will renewal and restoration be found for tired people like us?” The prophet Isaiah may be of some help here. “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength” (Isa 40:31 NRSV).

Will Willimons Lectionary Sermon Resource: Year A Part 1, Abingdon Press, 2019.

Finding a Private Relaxation Activity

In his highly insightful work, Inside Job, Stephen W. Smith shares the importance of finding ways to rest and relax as part of a healthy, balanced life:

I once read a book in which the author said everyone needed a private relaxation activity—something that was a “no-brainer.” For a friend of his, it was raking leaves in the driveway. For the author, it was ironing his shirts.

For my friend Brian, a CEO of a gas company, it is (believe it or not) washing dishes—much to the joy of his wife Nan and their kids! Brian told me that his daughter Brie sometimes says, “Dad, you look stressed so I am leaving my dishes in the sink for you to wash.” Isn’t that thoughtful?

Taken from Inside Job by Stephen W. Smith (c) 2009 by Stephen W. Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Leaders Must Manage Resistance to Change

Humans are wired for stability and continuity, so we are deeply grateful for a good manager who keeps everything running well. But leading change is disruptive. And everything within us resists disruption.

When we are faced with change, we need leaders who can stand it when we resist the very thing we want and need, even to the point where we will turn on them, oppose them, sabotage them. According to the late Edwin Friedman, one of the critical attributes of a leader who is going to bring about a “renaissance” or renewal of deep change is “persistence in the face of resistance and downright rejection.”

Taken from Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod E Bolsinger. Copyright (c) 2021 by Tod E Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


A Social Media Sabbath

It’s been eight years since I started using Instagram. May 7, 2011, to be exact. We’d moved to the Upper East Side of New York City the previous summer, and though many of my friends were becoming more active on social networking platforms, I was not a savvy social-media user. I hadn’t embraced Facebook or Twitter, but the idea of keeping a real-time photo journal to share with friends and family? This was something I could get behind. After one weekend of using the photo-sharing app, I was hooked…My first post was of the hot dog cart on our street corner (61st Street and 3rd Avenue) on my morning walk to Central Park, the same cart that would rattle over the same pothole each and every day at five a.m

…I captured silly moments with the kids in our big-city playground, documented our season of awe and wonder with a child’s perspective. I wanted to keep an account for my own memory bank, a record of this life-transforming season….As the number of my followers grew, so did the compulsion to share.

I became more strategic, gave people what I thought they wanted, fearing they’d leave if I didn’t. Anything less seemed self-indulgent, at least that’s what I told myself. In that season, without me realizing it, social media became the master. I became the slave. Instead of taking time to process the moments of my life, instead of reflecting in solitude over weeks, months, even, I processed everything in real time in the company of strangers. Whenever I felt anxiety setting in, I’d grab my phone, the distraction of choice…In the spring of 2018, I felt God whispering that I should fast from social media…

When I jumped off social media, things changed. First, I started dreaming again…I wasn’t copying, comparing, or envying the lives of others. Something shifted deep in my spirit. Unconcerned about what others might think, I logged reflections, took note of new dreams that began to emerge. Second, I was sleeping better than ever…Third, I pursued learning again. Every choice to peruse social media was a choice not to do something productive with my time, and in that extra time garnered by fasting from it, I read more books, listened to more podcasts and talks.

…A month into this experiment, this rest from social media, I was driving home at sunset through the rolling hills of Franklin, Tennessee, where we had moved from New York. I passed around a bend in the road and gasped at the sky, ablaze with pinks and reds. My eyes welled up at the beauty. Normally, I would have pulled over to the side of the road and angle for the perfect shot to share on Instagram. Even before I reached for my phone, I realized I didn’t have it with me—and I didn’t care. I drove on, reflecting on this change of heart, mind, and soul for a few more minutes. That’s when God reminded me of the truth I needed to hear: You are worthy to receive something beautiful, and you don’t have to share it.

Rebekah Lyons, Rhythms of Renewal, Zondervan, 2019, pp.34-37.


The Essential Preparation of Wintering

We may not see tangible evidence of where we are going, what God is doing, or how we are growing, but wintering is essential preparation for life to flourish. Uncertainty, like winter, clears the landscape of familiarity so we can see ourselves clearly as Christ’s masterpiece, bringing value and beauty into the world.

Renewal is the outcome of trust in God’s hidden work within us. And my heart is renewed by stilling images from the Exodus story. Before Moses was tasked with leading the Israelites out of Egypt, his leadership experience on a résumé could have read: tended borrowed sheep on land owned by his wife’s father; isolated in a strange place for forty years.

And the Israelites weren’t equipped with prior experience or familiar maps on making the transition from enslavement to freedom either. Everything about the Exodus journey was new, unfamiliar, and rife with uncertainty.

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

More Resources

Related Themes

Click a topic below to explore more sermon illustrations! 



God’s Presence




Spiritual Disciplines

& Many More