As one who communicates the Gospel on a regular basis, I am sometimes asked where I come up with the illustrations I use. My answer, given tongue in cheek, is that I “beg, borrow, and steal them” from anywhere I can.
As a young man, right out of seminary, staring at as many as three sermons a week for the next thirty to forty years, I used to think: “What will I say in all that time?” After all, that’s a lot of pulpit time to fill!
Concerned over this, I initially invested substantially in books full of illustrations. (Yes, there really are such books available - a great many of them, to be honest. Back in the day, the Pastor’s section of the old Baptist Bookstores, now Lifeway, was full of such books.) I literally bought dozens of them.
Nowadays, things have changed a little. I often find myself thinking: “When will I say all that I need to say in the time I have left in the pulpit?” I also rely less and less on books full of illustrations. For one thing, the world has gone digital. These days, websites have replaced books. Elsewhere on my website, I have referenced organizations that provide digital illustrations for those who communicate.
But something else has changed as well. I have personally gotten a little older, and hopefully a little wiser along the way. And as I have lived my life, I have come to see that the best illustrations are simply the ones taken from life itself.
For instance, this past Sunday, in discussing the subject of spiritual gifts in my message, I made reference to how, as a child, I grew up playing with Hasbro G. I. Joes. All G. I. Joes were created equal, as it were. They literally came off an assembly line. Each and every one was endowed with the same basic set of gear.
But beyond this, G. I. Joe Adventure Team sets were available. These allowed each G. I. Joe to specialize in some particular capacity. There could thus be a Pilot G. I. Joe, a Scuba Diver G. I. Joe, an Astronaut G. I. Joe, a Skydiving G. I. Joe, a Tank Driving G. I. Joe, etc…
I hope you see the point. God creates each and every one of us in His image. And before the cross of Christ, we are all equal. But He then endows each of us with a unique combination of spiritual gifts that allows us to pursue some specific ministry within the church at large, all for His glory and honor.
Another good source of illustrations is the daily news. For instance, it was reported by numerous news organizations last week that the world famous annual Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas suddenly found itself without power. For two hours, no electricity at all was available at the event. In this time, all prospective clients could do was stumble around in the darkness while vendors pleaded with utility providers to get them back on the grid.
Now obviously, electronics cannot function without power. And for me, as a Pastor, the illustration is obvious. Neither can Christians properly function without the uninterrupted infusion of divine power in their lives by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the power supplied by the Holy Spirit, we are helpless in our efforts to affect God’s will. It is important, therefore, that we do nothing to hinder the Spirit or His work in our lives.
Similarly, in a story from the previous month, a squirrel chewed through a power line in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and caused $300,000 worth of damage to a community center, set to open in June.
The Bible warns us of the little foxes that spoil the vine. For this reason, we must be vigilant as believers and not allow the little things, so often seen as innocuous, to cause great damage in our lives by not giving them needed attention.
I hope this demonstrates that, after thirty years communicating the Gospel, spotting illustrations has almost become second nature to me. And I do not say this in any way to sound braggadocios. I say it rather to remind all who communicate that the best way to get better at finding illustrations is simply to attempt to do so on a regular basis.
After all, practice makes perfect. Whether we are shooting a basketball, or baking a cake, or riding a skateboard, or whatever else we undertake to do, the simple truth is: the more we do it, the better we get at it.
And so, my friend, if you are a communicator, whether as a teacher, a writer, a preacher, a speechwriter, or any of a hundred other such professions, be encouraged.
You too can find all the illustrations you need just by opening your eyes and taking a look around. The world is full of them; and if you learn to live your life observantly, you will soon surely discover more of them than you can ever hope to use.
Also, check out this neat poster I bought online, showing the various manifestations of G. I. Joe...