Visualizing The Flow . . . .

Helping An Audience Grasp The Flow

Jeffrey Arthurs*, professor of homiletics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is preaching from Psalm 88.  As he describes the structure of one-third of the one-hundred and fifty Psalms, he provides the audience a visual of the structure using a simple symbol.

(audio clip — Jeffrey Arthurs, “Hidden Hope In Lament” — @ the 4:35 minute mark of the original message)

This is one of the Psalms of Lament

In the book of Psalms, one hundred fifty of them and this category called lament is the largest category.

You know there’s different kinds of Psalms.

There are wisdom Psalms.

And there are messianic Psalms.

And lot of praise

But this is the largest category – about fifty – about a third  – of the hundred fifty are lament

Over and over again the poets ask – “Why God?”

The shape of a “Lament Psalm” – the emotional shape of it  — is like a check mark

So I’ll draw it from your perspective – 

So the Psalmist begins here with a complaint

and then takes us down and intensifies and the depths and it’s dark

and then halfway through — two-thirds of the way through

there’s a hinge — “But Lord — I remember!”

and then comes the path upward

where he says,

I will praise you

I do hope in you


and we end up often in a higher place than even we began.

There’s no “check mark” in this Psalm

What’s the shape — the emotional shape of this Psalm?

“Oh lord life is bad

my companions are against me




Do you see the last verse?

Do you see where this thing ends?

A number of translations translate the last phrase this way

“Darkness is my closest friend.”



In doing this, he gives the audience some point of reference by which they can visualize the structure and flow of such psalms.  Interestingly, even though he then points out that this Psalm falls outside of that all so typical structure, the original visualized “” still provides a memorable visual — even if it is only the downward stroke of the — “√” .

Now that we see the technique, can we duplicate it?  Will it get the mental juices flowing so that we can think of other simple ways to visualize what is happening in the passage we are handling?


Other Structural Visualizations

How about . . . .

Billard Ball Action

i.e. Matthew 19 & 20 — What we are going to see is one billiard ball (19:16) which hits a second billiard ball (19:23), which then hits a third ball (19:27), which then hits the final billiard ball (called a parable – 20:1), which then it drops into the corner pocket.


The Exclamation Mark

i.e., In the book of Esther, Haman’s journey is going to be like just like an exclamation mark, we are going to see a series of events activities moving from the top and going downhill, which is going to be finally marked off by that period at the bottom of it all – “.” — The End!


As you preach on various narratives, you might find that you can characterize the action and events using a simple, yet well-known analogy which characterizes it.

  • The Slinky – drops over and it all catches up
  • Dominoes – one action sets off another
  • Checkers – move – avoid – king me 
  • A Hot Potato – no one wants to touch it
  • Bingo – anxious waiting 
  • Chess – strategic
  • A 20 Car Pileup – their actions caused others
  • A Car On Ice – (Waiting For It To Finally Stop)
  • Bowling – strike or one ball knocks down X# of pins
  • Missing The Final Piece Of The Puzzle – the whole picture isn’t finished yet
  • A Five Piece Puzzle – Can’t tell what it is without the final piece
  • Stock Market – Not sure if there will be a gain or a loss at the end
  • A Chemical Reaction – two elements combine and set off a reaction
  • A Relay Race – passing off the baton
  • Hurdles – every so often there are a series of hurdles
  • Three Stage Rocket – one section drops away, and it continues
  • A Rollercoaster
  • A Rabbit Out Of A Hat
  • A Billboard
  • Curling
  • etc.



*Jeffrey Arthurs on YouTube

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