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Sermon illustrations

Providence

Charlie Stoltzfus

One of my favorite stories about intercessory prayer comes from Tony Campolo.  A prayer meeting was held for him just before he spoke at a Pentecostal college chapel service.  Eight men took Tony to a back room of the chapel, had him kneel, laid their hands on his head, and began to pray.  That’s a good thing, Tony wrote, except that they prayed a long time, and the longer they prayed, the more tired they got, and the more tired they got, the more they leaned on his head.  “I want to tell you that when eight guys are leaning on your head, it doesn’t feel so good.”

To make matters worse, one of the men was not even praying for Tony.  He went on and on praying for somebody named Charlie Stoltzfus: “Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus.  He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile.  You know the trailer Lord, just down the road on the right-hand side.”  (Tony said he wanted to inform the pray-er that it was not necessary to furnish God with directional material.)  “Lord, Charlie told me this morning he’s going to leave his wife and three kids.  Step in and do something, God.  Bring that family back together.”

Tony writes that he finally got the Pentecostal preachers off his head, delivered his message, and got in his car to drive home.  As he drove onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he noticed a hitchhiker.  I’ll let him tell it from here:

We drove a few minutes and I said: “Hi, my name’s Tony Campolo.  What’s yours?”  He said, “My name is Charlie Stoltzfus.”  I couldn’t believe it!

I got off the turnpike at the next exit and headed back.  He got a bit uneasy with that and after a few minutes he said, “Hey mister, where are you taking me?”  I said, “I’m taking you home.”  He narrowed his eyes and asked, “Why?”

 I said, “Because you just left your wife and three kids, right?”  That blew him away.  “Yeah!  Yeah, that’s right.”  With shock written all over his face, he plastered himself against the car door and never took his eyes off me.

Then I really did him in as I drove right to his silver trailer.  When I pulled up, his eyes seemed to bulge as he asked, “How did you know that I lived here?”  I said, “God told me.” (I believe God did tell me) …

When he opened the trailer door his wife exclaimed, “You’re back!  You’re back!”  He whispered in her ear and the more he talked, the bigger her eyes got.

Then I said with real authority, “The two of you sit down.  I’m going to talk and you two are going to listen!”  Man, did they listen! … That afternoon I led those two young people to Jesus Christ.

John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, expanded edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002).

Fate Is Blind, Providence Has Eyes

Charles Spurgeon, the most popular preacher of nineteenth-century London, battled depression throughout his life. He said, “If God is in control, if his name is hallowed, then that means he is in control of my depression. Fate is blind; providence has eyes.”

Taken from Still Life by Gillian Marchenko Copyright (c) 2016, p.102 by Gillian Marchenko. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

 

How Did I Get Here?

In John Perkins’ memoir, Dream with Me, the civil rights leader describes how a life lived with God can change very suddenly, and what was seemingly impossible can become possible:

How in the world did I get here? The only answer I know to give is that these things can happen when you walk with God. It’s easy to look at a person—to see where he started and how far he has come—and think you know how the story will end. But I’ve learned what Saul learned on the road to Damascus: when God’s involved, everything can change in an instant.

You may think you know where you’re headed, but often God has a different plan—something “exceedingly abundantly above all that [you] ask or think” (Eph. 3:20 NKJV). Sometimes a light drizzle becomes a deluge. Other times you open your eyes to find yourself by still waters. Sometimes you hear thunder clapping along with the rain. Other times the clouds disappear so you can see a billion stars in the sky.

John M.Perkins, Dream with Me, Baker Publishing Group.

Living out our Belief in the Sovereignty of God

Because the results of God’s sovereignty are delayed, waiting remains an act of faith. We believe results will occur one day. By waiting on God, we affirm our belief in his providence. We trust his timetable. We hope in heaven. Waiting on God is inseparably bound to our belief in the sovereignty of God to bring about the good he promises.

…Waiting is often the application of many other, more abstract, biblical qualities of character. Hope, for instance, requires waiting. Faith is all about waiting. Patience and waiting are yoked together. Trust requires delayed gratification. In fact, run down your mental list of the fruit of the Spirit and see if waiting doesn’t play into every single one of them (see Gal. 5:22–23).

Wayne Stiles, Waiting on God, Baker Publishing Group, 2015, pp. 16-17.

Unlikely Providence

“When the plane leveled off at 14,500 feet, Joan Murray took a deep breath and jumped out the door. The bank executive from Charlotte, North Carolina, was enjoying her free fall through the air until she pulled the ripcord for her parachute and nothing happened. Just about then she had an extreme rush of adrenaline.

“But she didn’t panic – she knew she had a back up parachute. She was falling 120 miles per hour when she released the reserve chute. It opened just fine, but she lost her bearings and in her struggle to right herself she deflated the chute. While the chute briefly slowed her descent, she continued to fall at 80 miles per hour.

“She struck the earth with a violent blow shattered her right side and jarred the fillings from her teeth. She was barely conscious and her heart was failing. Just when it seemed things could not get much worse, she realized she had fallen into a mound of fire ants that didn’t appreciate her disturbing their solitude. All told they stung her about 200 times before the paramedics arrived.” [People’s Stories of Survival, 15]

It reminds you of the old “Hee-Haw” song, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

But things are not always as they seem. The doctors that treated Joan believe that the ants actually saved her life. They theorized that the stings of the ants shocked her heart enough to keep it beating!

Jerry Gifford

Which Way does the Mississippi Flow?

“Ask any school boy, ‘Which way does the Mississippi River flow?” He will say, ‘From north to south.’ If you have flown over the Mississippi there are times and places where the Mississippi River will flow north. There are times and places where the Mississippi River will flow due west, but it ultimately and finally flows south. So the elective purpose of God in Christ Jesus is frustrated, turned, twisted, but it is God’s purpose of the ages that the reign and kingdom shall belong to Him.

W.A. Criswell, Ephesians: An Exposition, Zondervan.

See also Illustrations on God’s Design, God’s Will

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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