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 Sermon illustrations

 

Slowing Down

Be More Productive by Taking Breaks

A New York Times story reports on the positive impact school recess has on academic performance. Here’s how it begins: “The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.”

The paradoxical lesson of this story is relevant not just for schoolchildren but for us grown-ups, too: Taking time out to restore and rejuvenate ourselves results not in reduced performance caused by less time dedicated to work, but to increased performance caused by the stronger, more focused effort you bring to work after fruitful rest. But how can anyone think seriously, and without guilt, about undertaking activity that isn’t directly reducing costs or increasing revenues? The short answer is that you can’t afford not to.

Harvard Business Review, HBR Guide to Managing Stress, Harvard Business Review Press.

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

 

The Land Slows Us Down

It’s been right here all along—the land teaching us how to un-hurry our hurry-sick hearts. Land speaks stunning truths through Scripture. The Hebrew word for land is eretz. It is the fifth most frequently used noun in the Hebrew Bible, after the Hebrew words for LORD, son, God, and king.

The land is more than a backdrop for the stories told in the Bible. Rather, the land is a leading character in the magnificent biblical narrative, from the very beginning when God made life in a garden. The lessons Jesus drew from the land were clear to first-century agrarian culture, and we don’t want to miss them in this modern age—the vineyards, wheat, threshing floors, gleaning, fields for grazing. Rain signaled God’s provision. Literal droughts tested the faith of the people.

Jesus was known not only as the true vine, but the good shepherd, who minds both the land and its creatures. The land, with its seasons and complexity, is central to God’s promise to his people, not only to the nomadic Israelites in search of a place to call home, but to each one of us, in our everyday lives at Target, Starbucks, the chemo infusion center, the nursing home, the altar, and the laundry room.

Jennifer Dukes Lee, Growing Slow: Lessons on Un-Hurrying Your Heart from an Accidental Farm Girl, Zondervan, 2021.

Lessons in Slowing Down: Grapes and A Ford Model-T

As I thought about this unique eating experience, I remembered an event that happened when I was home on Christmas break in college. My friend’s father had recently purchased a Ford Model-T. If you’ve never heard of the Model-T, it is widely considered the first affordable car ever produced, enjoying a production run from October 1, 1908 to May 26, 1927. Now, as you might imagine, one does not purchase a Model-T nowadays for its speed. In fact, the top speed for the Model T is about 40 mph, though on that December day when my friend invited me to ride in theirs, I would say we never went above 15 mph. What’s the connection to grapes? During that slow ride I noticed things about the neighborhood I had never noticed before.

When you are moving through the neighborhood a little more slowly, it gives you the ability to appreciate your surroundings. The beauty of my neighborhood was revealed to me by riding in a Model-T in a way that riding in our newer, faster car never could. Not because our Volkswagen wouldn’t go that speed, but because I never thought there was any reason drive slower. Our lives are a lot like aren’t they? We go at a certain speed that keeps us from being able to appreciate our surroundings. Perhaps we all need some grapes with seeds in them, or a ride in a classic car that moves at walking speed.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Praising Slowness

In our culture slow is a pejorative. When somebody has a low IQ, we dub him or her slow. When the service at a restaurant is lousy, we call it slow. When a movie is boring, again, we complain that it’s slow. Case in point, Merriam-Webster: “mentally dull: stupid: naturally inert or sluggish: lacking in readiness, promptness, or willingness.”[i]

The message is clear: slow is bad; fast is good.

But in the upside-down kingdom, our value system is turned on its head: hurry is of the devil; slow is of Jesus, because Jesus is what love looks like in flesh and blood.

Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

[i] Merriam-Webster Dictionary, s.v. “slow.”

Slowing Down with Ten Kids

Susanne Wesley, wife of Pastor Samuel Wesley, lived in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s

She gave birth to nineteen children, ten survived.

Everyday she would take her Bible to her favorite chair and throw her apron up over her head and sit their for two hours.

All the children knew to respect that moment—under that apron she was alone with God and was not to be disturbed.

There, in that tent of meeting, in that place of silence and solitude, Susanne Wesley interceded for her husband and her children and plumbed the depths of the mysteries of God.

Did it pay off?

Her son Charles Wesley wrote 6,500 Christian hymns many of which are sung today.

Another son, John Wesley, founded the Methodist Church, with 80 million members world-wide today, not to mention the holiness churches like the church of the Nazrene and the Pentecostal churches like the Assemblies of God that sprung from the methodist churches.

Jerry Orf

Strategic Withdrawal

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 contrasts the idea of “retreat” vs. “stragetic withdrawal”

When we hear the word retreat many of us think of the military use of the word, which refers to the tactic troops use when they are losing too much ground, when they are tired and ineffective, and when there have been too many casualties or the current strategy is not working.

When any of these scenarios are in play, the commander might instruct the troops to pull back and put some distance between themselves and the battle line. We often see this as a negative thing; however, military retreat can also be a wise tactic—an opportunity to rest the troops and tend to their wounds, to stop the enemy’s momentum, or to step back to get a panoramic view of what’s going and set new strategies.

In fact, the military is now using a more positive term—strategic withdrawal—to describe retreat, and I like it! Strategic withdrawal captures the more positive connotations of the word retreat, namely, that there are times when the better part of wisdom in combat is to withdraw for good reasons—which can apply to us as well.

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

 

Waiting For Their Souls To Catch Up With Their Bodies

The story goes like this: It’s the height of British colonialism. An English traveler lands in Africa, intent on a rapid journey into the jungle. He charters some local porters to carry his supplies. After an exhausting day of travel, all on foot, and a fitful night’s sleep, he gets up to continue the journey. But the porters refuse. Exasperated, he begins to cajole, bribe, plead, but nothing works. They will not move an inch. Naturally, he asks why.

Answer? They are waiting “for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

Lettie Cowman, in her telling of this story, wrote,

This whirling rushing life which so many of us live does for us what that first march did for those poor jungle tribesmen. The difference: they knew what they needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not.[i]

Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

See also Illustrations on Anxiety, Busyness, Hurry, Productivity, Rest, SabbathSleep, Stress

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