One of the greatest preaching challenges for every young preacher is to find and utilize illustrations, poems and quotes. Some of the best illustrations come from life experiences but young men are limited in personal experience. However there are ways to find good illustrations that will greatly enhance your preaching.
Why use illustrations? Charles Spurgeon was fond of referring to illustrations with the metaphor of a window. He said in his book Lectures to My Students: “Our Saviour, who is the light of the world, took care to fill his speech with similitudes, so that the common people heard him gladly: his example stamps with high authority the practice of illuminating heavenly instruction with comparisons and similes.” Good illustrations move the emotions, stir the heart, and heighten our senses. We become more alert and sensitive to what is being said. A good illustration can mean the difference between an average sermon and an outstanding sermon. It may be the difference between a sermon that changes lives and one that does not. Illustrations inform, instruct, explain and clarify. They help people see the immediate importance of the biblical text for their lives. In addition, illustrations explain biblical doctrine and personal duty in an understandable and compelling way.
Illustrations are not the most important part of a sermon. The meat is the exposition of the text.
A sermon illustration serves to reinforce the point of the message. Illustrations also help the listener to understand your points, especially the more abstract or theological ones. If you use too many illustrations, the sermon will be unbalanced. The sermon will become about the illustrations rather than the text. Think of illustrations like a spice or a seasoning; most people don’t like to feast on four or five heads of garlic for dinner. However, diced-up, strategically deployed garlic greatly enhances our meals. Don’t use illustrations that fail to help your point. The text is the master and the illustration is the servant. If you get these mixed up, illustrations will actually harm rather than help your preaching.
Where can you find good illustrations? Other than real life experiences one of the best places to find great illustrations is from stories of great hymns. Many of the songs we sing in church were written expressing God’s deliverance and sustenance through some trial or difficulty by the author. Fanny Crosby wrote over three thousand hymns and, though blind, she had the ability to visualize Bible truths better than almost any songwriter. History provides many life lessons of what not to do and what to do. Knowledge of history is an invaluable resource for illustrations. Current news can also provide pertinent information that can resonant with the congregation. Biblical examples often provide great examples of truth and also provide a deeper knowledge of Scripture. It has been said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. Jonathan Edwards and many other early American preachers often used illustration from nature. Stop and meditate on a spider, a bee, or a bird and significant truths will come to mind. Jesus often used animals, plants and fish to illustrate eternal principles. There are several books of illustrations that usually are worthwhile to obtain. The Sword of the Lord has two volumes of the Sword Scrapbook containing many wonderful illustrations. Every issue of the Sword of The Lord has several practical illustrations that may be fitting for your next sermon.
Humans are visual by nature, and we live in a visual age. Crafting “mental pictures” taps into this reality and engages the emotional aspect of human nature. Spending time finding and utilizing practical illustrations is well worth the effort.