Illustrations—A Key to Reaching Hearts
DAVID has been running for his life. His enemy is Saul, anointed king of Israel. However, Saul is a man full of hatred for David, consumed by jealousy. In his murderous quest, the king has now brought along 3,000 soldiers. Greatly outnumbered, David and his men have hidden deep inside a cave in the wilderness.
As David and his men huddle together in the darkness, the situation takes a surprising turn. King Saul steps into this very cave to ease nature. David quietly comes upon his helpless foe, weapon in hand. But to the astonishment of David’s men, he does not kill the king. He merely cuts off the skirt of Saul’s garment. Regretting even this, David says: “It is unthinkable, on my part, from Jehovah’s standpoint, that I should do this thing to my lord, the anointed of Jehovah, by thrusting out my hand against him, for he is the anointed of Jehovah.”—1 Samuel 24:1-6.
This Bible account teaches a profound lesson about respect for God-given authority. It also reaches the heart, perhaps even more effectively than straightforward counsel. Such is the power of accounts recorded in God’s Word for our instruction.—Romans 15:4.
Accordingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to do more than state facts when they preach the good news, conduct home Bible studies, give Scriptural talks, or witness informally. They try to reach hearts by relating experiences and using illustrations. Their Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook explains: “Illustrations stimulate interest and highlight important ideas. They stir up one’s thinking processes and make it easier to grasp new thoughts. Well-chosen illustrations couple intellectual appeal with emotional impact. . . . On occasion, an illustration can be used to sidestep prejudice or bias.”a—Page 168.
In his book Essentials of Public Speaking, Warren DuBois notes: “Let the writer or speaker express his ideas through the actions or words of human beings, and the dullest subject takes on life and color.” Thus, adding life and color to a message already vibrant and life-giving is sure to help Christian ministers to reach the heart.
Illustrations That Teach
What kind of illustration works best? Usually, one based on something listeners can relate to easily. Jesus Christ set a fine example in this regard. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about such common things as salt, lamps, and birds. (Matthew 5:1–7:29) For instance, everyone was acquainted with lamps that burned olive oil and that were sometimes set on a lampstand. Therefore, Jesus’ disciples must have realized that they should be bearers of spiritual light when he told them: “People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house. Likewise let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:15, 16) Uncomplicated illustrations that fit a subject will help Christian ministers to clarify ideas and Bible teachings.
Perhaps Jesus’ most powerful illustrations focused on people. Consider those recorded in Luke chapters 15 and 16. The scribes and the Pharisees had criticized Jesus for receiving sinners and tax collectors. In response, he told moving stories about people. He spoke about a shepherd who found his lost sheep, a woman who retrieved a lost coin, a prodigal son who returned home, and an unrighteous steward.
Realistic illustrations and true-life experiences can be very useful to a Christian minister. For example, note how Alexander H. Macmillan, who traveled extensively as a public speaker for 60 years, explained Bible truth about the dead. Shortly before the death of his father, who believed that the soul never dies, Macmillan had this conversation with him:
“My father asked me the direct question: ‘Son, will I be lonesome in the grave while I am waiting for the kingdom to begin its work of filling the earth with perfection?’
“That was a question a young man could not readily answer to the satisfaction of an older person who had never thought along that line.
“In reply I asked him: ‘Father, did you sleep well last night?’
“He answered, ‘Yes, my son, I did after the doctor gave me some sleeping pills.’
“‘Were you lonesome while you were asleep?’
“‘No, I was not. I wish I could sleep all the time, for then I feel no pain.’”
A. H. Macmillan then read Job 14:13-15 and Job 3:17-19 to his father and said: “So you see, father, the dead are in a death sleep and know nothing while in that condition, so how could they be lonesome?”
What effective teaching! If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you too can use scriptures and illustrations to appeal to the mind and the heart.
But where can you find effective illustrations or true-life experiences? Many can be brought out of your treasure trove of personal experience. For instance, do you need to demonstrate the blessings of faith, the power of prayer, or the joy of the ministry? If you are a dedicated Christian, likely you could relate various incidents in your own life. You may hear fine experiences at a congregation meeting or when talking with fellow Christians. Or you may read an encouraging experience in the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, the Watch Tower Publications Index provides access to printed experiences from around the world.
How can you tell an experience effectively? For one thing, creating a measure of anticipation helps you to hold the attention of your listeners. You might preface an experience by saying: “One pioneer learned firsthand just how Jehovah blesses those who trust in him.” Immediately, your listeners wonder what blessings the full-time Kingdom preacher enjoyed. Be sure to tell them.
Try to relate an experience in your own words. Provide details, for doing so adds impact to a story. By painting a clear picture of the circumstances involved, you can more easily motivate your listeners. But make sure that you do not get so involved in storytelling that they fail to understand why you are relating the experience. Also, avoid exaggerating, for although this may make a story more interesting, it can undermine your credibility. For the same reason, refrain from passing on hearsay or relating experiences you cannot verify.
Bringing the Bible to Life
The most instructive experiences are found in the Bible itself. For example, suppose you wish to show a Bible student or an audience that children can take a stand for Jehovah God. You may decide to use the account of the unnamed girl who spoke to Naaman’s wife about Jehovah’s prophet Elisha. First, read the account at 2 Kings 5:1-5. You might then ask: “How difficult do you think it was for this girl to maintain integrity to God in a land of false worship? Did it not take courage for her to talk convincingly about Jehovah and his prophet?”
Prior research may have helped you to make the account live. You may have found helpful information under the headings NAAMAN, SYRIA, and ELISHA in the Watch Tower Publications Index. Cross-references in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures may have led you from the account in 2 Kings to Psalm 148:12, 13, where we read: “You young men and also you virgins, you old men together with boys. Let them praise the name of Jehovah, for his name alone is unreachably high. His dignity is above earth and heaven.” What encouragement for young people to speak God’s word with boldness!—Acts 4:29-31.
If you are a Christian minister, ‘pay constant attention to your teaching’ in this regard. (1 Timothy 4:16) Do not simply tell the truth—illustrate it. Make Bible accounts vivid and meaningful. Use fitting experiences and illustrations. These are ways to reach the heart.
a Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Like Jesus, present-day Christian ministers can use vivid illustrations to convey their message and reach hearts