I am a glutton for illustrations. I have boxes of illustrations that I save and keep on file (and occasionally, lose). They are priceless to my preaching.
A good illustration is worth every minute it takes from your sermon. I didn’t always think so. I used to think an illustration was a waste of time. I no longer believe that. The men and women who have deeply ministered to me are people who have been able to take a story and help me see its relevance in light of biblical truth.
Through all the years and in all the places I have been engaged in ministry, I have learned the value of good illustrations. Interesting illustrations. Illustrations that grab the attention and clear the minds of the listeners. Illustrations that open the windows and have surprise elements, bringing light to truth. More times than I can count, I remember watching God pry open the eyes and unstop the ears (not to mention soften the hearts) of others, many of whom were bound and determined not to give me the time of day . . . until they were stabbed awake and compelled to listen. A well-chosen illustration can transform a hostile skeptic into an interested participant. I know; I’ve seen it happen.
Be a good storyteller—even if the story is only three sentences. Pay attention to the way you turn a phrase. Pay attention to details. You don’t need a lot of words, but you do need some color to make the stories stick. Show emotion. Gesture. Raise and lower your voice. You can even whisper. When you teach the Scriptures and apply them, people may forget your insightful observations of the text—but believe me, they won’t forget meaningful and creative illustrations.
Every good novelist knows the axiom: “Show, don’t tell.” That works in preaching as well. Even Jesus, the Master-Preacher, told stories to illustrate biblical truth. How could we not do the same?