Let the Lord Give You Your Own Illustrations

by Joe McKeever

My minister friend said, “My pastor is letting me preach sometimes. I’m really enjoying it.” Long pause. “Joe,” he said, “where do you get those stories? You always have some great stories and they can really dress up a sermon.” I said, “You just start paying attention. Things are happening around you all the time, but because you’ve not been needing sermon stories, you didn’t notice them.” We were traveling into the city to have lunch with a mutual friend and then to attend a funeral. I said to him, “Get your notebook. I’ll nudge you every time we find a sermon illustration.” While we drove, we talked. Twice I said, “Okay, that’s a good point. Put that in your notebook.” At lunch, our guest told us a story about the waitress. Fred made a note of it. Later, I saw him jotting down insights from the pastor during the funeral. By the end of our day, he had the beginnings of quite a collection of sermon stories and insights. That’s how it’s done. You pay attention. If we believe that the Holy Spirit is always with believers, that He guides us and teaches us, it only makes sense that He would be calling things to our attention all day long. That’s what a Great Teacher does. Whether we are listening is the question. God speaking to us personally is not a privilege just for the ordained, but standard issue for every believer. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” If you are not hearing from the Lord on a regular basis, you’re missing out on an essential component of the Christian life. Hurry. Crowds. Noise. The three great characteristics of this age are also the three great enemies of your spiritual life. These are guaranteed to block any reception of messages from heaven. Be still. Be alone. Be quiet. Only those willing to take these steps may expect to hear from heaven. Walter Moore was an IBM service repairman. One afternoon he was working in a local bank when quitting time came. The office force turned off their machines and left the building. Walter was alone in the huge room. That’s when he noticed for the first time that the bank provided piped-in music for the office. No one could hear it for the noise. The Lord Jesus looked out at his audience and saw the glazed-over look which every preacher knows and hates. The people were not getting it. The stories he was telling were not registering with them. He interrupted his story-telling to speak to them about the deadness of heart that was destroying them. It’s like what Isaiah said: “You have ears but you do not hear, eyes but you do not see. The heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear” He turned to the disciples and said, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous people have desired to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it” (Matt: 13:16,17). Some people pick up on everything the Lord says, and some just do not get it. What’s the difference? Some are listening. Paying attention. They’re expecting God to be there, to call their attention to opportunities and insights and lessons, and they watch. C. C. Hope told me once he never, ever was without something to write on and something to write with. He would make notes of the names of people he met and ideas that came to him, quotes he ran across, and things to do when he got back to the office. Some people who don’t know how to work a pen do this with a small tape recorder—whatever works for you. Never pray without a pen and paper handy. Never go to church without expecting God to speak to you; show that you expect it by being ready to write down the insights and instruction. You are not looking for sermon illustrations, in all likelihood. But—like us preachers—you are expecting the Holy Spirit to guide you to what you need to know and do. Messages with your name on them. Just for your situation. The Lord specializes in this. It’s one of the ways you know you are His and that He loves you. Every day of our lives, let us pray the prayer of the child Samuel: “Speak Lord, thy servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10). Dr. Joe McKeever ministers at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana