One of the major irritants for me in the training of preachers is the dependence people can develop on books and websites for their illustrations.
"Omnibus volumes (and websites) of sermon anecdotes are the last refuge of a bankrupt intelligence." They sound so second-hand, so predigested, so stale...
We tend to walk past our best illustrations. So it is about pausing to listen and to watch. Then it is about using our imagination to think creatively. This will yield - consistently - the best illustrations. There is an immediacy about them. There is an intimacy with them. There is an everydayness. Everyone identifies with the everyday. That is why it is called 'everyday'.
Being able to see the spiritually significant in the utterly ordinary is the key. The best illustrators are like fishermen who trawl and photographers who click ... and then think for a bit.
Let me illustrate(!) what I mean. During the Langham Preaching seminars in which I am involved I now get people out of their seats and we go for a walk together. "Look at this. Look at that. What truth might they illustrate?"
When in Pakistan a few weeks ago we did this. I had them look at a vast slab of immoveable concrete out of which, in one section, a bit of a plant was growing which carried a tinge of greenery.
What might this illustrate?
They looked and looked. Not a lot of firing-up of the imagination in that rote-learning style of education! I wondered whether this approach would work?! Silence. Gulp - did I misread things here?
A voice speaks. Then the translator speaks.
"It is a bit like how it is for us as God's people in this (Muslim) majority culture in Pakistan."
What do you mean? Please tell me more.
"It is just so hard here - but maybe God can still bring some growth."
I will never, ever forget that moment. I don't think they will either. Immediacy. Intimacy. Everydayness. And we didn't walk right past it...
This morning I walked back from the letterbox and caught the sight of this rose. Just for a bit of fun, what illustrations might this image generate? I invite readers to offer their suggestions and see how many we can gather...
OK? Click on it to get the closer view...
What d'ya reckon?!