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Sermon illustrations

Worry

I am Baptized

If you’ve read or watched any of the biographies of Martin Luther, you will already know that he struggled at times with bouts of anxiety, self-loathing, and perhaps even depression. Shortly after his unwillingness to renounce his views in front of an imperial meeting (the famous Diet of Worms), Luther was spirited away to a remote castle, where he would eventually translate the Bible into German.

It had to have been an extremely harrowing time. The Catholic Church had condemned him, labeling him a heretic. Alone for much of the days, Luther fought against his demons, perhaps literal and figurative. At one point he was said to have thrown an inkpot across the room at the devil.

But his response to these attacks was just as interesting. Luther would shout out loud Baptizatus sum, “I am baptized.” As Tim Chester writes, “His circumstances looked bleak. But his baptism was a fact, and it embodied the promise of God.”

When times were most tough, Luther leaned on the sacraments as a promise that Luther was saved, no matter what his demons might whisper in his ear.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Mapping our Worries

I ask people to anonymously write their worries on sticky notes. We post them to a wall and look at them together. Participants are often surprised by the raw honesty of what is shared and the private burdens that people they know carry. Here are a few examples:

► I worry I’ll never find love and that I’ll die alone.

► I worry about having money to buy groceries for my family.

► I worry about whether people like me or just put up with me.

► I worry that I will never overcome my addiction.

► I worry that I am missing God’s path for my life.

► I worry that I’ll never get out of debt or own a home.

► I worry about the climate crisis and the future of the planet.

► I worry that I can’t think of any worries. Am I in complete denial.

We don’t all have the same worries, but there are predictable patterns to the kinds of things we tend to worry about: (1) money, job, and finances; (2) physical and mental health; (3) relationships and the well-being of those we love; (4) esteem, identity, and significance; and (5) anticipating future difficulties, pain, and uncertainty.

Taken from The Ninefold Path of Jesus: Hidden Wisdom of the Beatitudes by Mark Scandrette Copyright (c) 2021 by Mark Scandrette. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Saint Like Us

For the most part, when we think of saints or heroes of the faith, we think of people who are altogether different than we are. They seem to embody a quality of communion with God that is impossible for the rest of us. On closer inspection, we find that most great “saints” are ordinary people who, in the midst of daily living, discover and interact with the reality of God’s presence.

One man like this was Nicholas Herman. His life seemed much like our own. Nicolas had a number of jobs in his life, starting out in the military and then in the transportation industry. After that, he found work in the food service industry, serving as a short-order cook and bottle-washer.

Eventually Nicholas became deeply discouraged by his life. He spent a lot of time, like us, thinking about himself. “Am I saved” was a particular question that burrowed deep into his soul. He struggled deeply with worry, until one day when everything changed. On that day, he was looking at a tree, not the most thrilling exercise, but something occurred to him: what makes a tree flourish is not its self-reliance, but it’s rootedness in something other than and deeper than itself.

With this in mind, Nick began an experiment to have a habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God. Today we know Nick as Brother Lawrence, whose book, The Practice of the Presence of God has become a spiritual classic, continuing to beckon readers to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God 300 years after it was first written.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Sleeping Well

Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, had quite the sharp wit. After hearing about a Roman nobleman who had passed away with enormous debts (which were kept private throughout his lifetime), he sent one of his emissaries to the auction to bid on a single item. Augustus told him to bid on the man’s pillow. His reason: “That pillow must be particularly conducive to sleep, if its late owner, in spite of all his debts, could sleep on it.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Worry Is the Worst

I would even argue that the vast majority of the stress we experience is self-induced. That is, we feel stress when there is no real external threat to us, only some challenged belief, value, or expectation of ours. In other words, a thought. Yep, most of our stress is imaginary. Those no-good stinking unicorns. Worry is a thought process that falls into this category and it is just the worst. Worrying is nothing more than internally generated stress—stress we impose on ourselves thanks to some particularly troublesome thoughts.

Worrying is a behavior, although a mental one, and we often worry about life stressors, but worry itself can sometimes be the cause of additional stress. Let me give you an example, again with the traffic. Imagine you get up a little late one morning and hop in the car for your morning commute. On your way to the highway you start thinking about the fact that you woke up later than usual and because of this you might hit additional traffic. You could think to yourself, Oh man, I bet there is going to be traffic. I am so going to get fired.

Consider what just happened—you are driving normally and you have just caused yourself to elevate your stress level in anticipation of something that hasn’t even happened and may not happen. You have generated stress unnecessarily thanks to your own thoughts. And another thing, Judy, you really should get your life together. I often speak out against worry, and I do so for the reason that it is a really bad habit and one that we may not recognize as such. As a form of mental behavior, worrying too much, over a lifetime, can be a major contributor to developing an emotional disorder like anxiety or even depression. It is a behavior that we can change, and doing so is probably in our best interest.

Brian King, M.D., The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic, and the Rest of Life’s Stressors, Apollo Publishers, 2019.

See also Illustrations on Anxiety, Fear.

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on worries. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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