Special Thanks to Denis Hayes, from Exeter, England, for sending us this great object lesson.
I hope the following is helpful... it's appropriate for most ages, depending on the form of explanation used, but is probably most suitable for age range 5-11 years... It might sound unexceptional but it works a treat every time and has numerous spiritual applications... The basic idea can be modified...
Blow up a fairly large balloon of any shape beforehand (out of sight of the children... it helps with inflating it later)...
Ask for a volunteer (choose a cheerful, good-humoured child) to assist you... Ask if the child likes balloons... then ask the rest of the children to put their hands up if they like balloons (Note: I once worked with an eleven-year old girl who had balloon-phobia)
Gradually blow up the balloon, chatting to the volunteer about anything appropriate as you do so, such as what's been going on at school recently... Build up a sense of expectation during the inflation... Don't rush this part of the 'performance'
Fill the balloon with air but not to bursting point (some children will put their fingers in their ears; others will pull faces)...
Ask the child to hold the balloon while you get something out of your pocket... Just as you pass the balloon over to the child, deliberately let it go and turn away to get out (say) a handkerchief... The balloon will, of course, behave like an out-of-control rocket and spin around the room...
PRETEND THAT YOU HAVEN'T NOTICED... (Ignore the excited comments from the children)... Turn back to the volunteer and ask for the balloon... (It has, of course, flown away)... Pretend to be a bit dismayed (keeping it light-hearted)...
You may want to repeat the exercise and let the children enjoy the experience again... Give the volunteer a pat on the back and ask for a big round of applause... Laugh and smile a lot with the children'
HEALTH & SAFETY: Although it is highly unlikely that the balloon will cause injury, point it up in the air when released rather than at the children.
USING THE ILLUSTRATION
1. Explain that the limp balloon won't fly by itself... (throw it up in the air and let it fall to the floor)... the deflated balloon is still a balloon but has no power of its own.
2. Blow up the balloon a little and release it... the balloon travels a short distance
3. Blow it up more and it flies further...
4. God promises to "fill" us with power
5. Jesus said that without Him, we can do nothing that pleases God.
6. But God also promises to give us the courage and strength to live for Him and do what is right.
7. It is by the power that God the Holy Spirit gives us that we can be "filled"... without it, we are a bit like the limp balloon
8. Add, however, that the filled balloon has no sense of direction... it spirals all over the place... So we not only have to be 'filled' with God the Holy Spirit but also be GUIDED by Him to go in the right direction... this is where prayer, reading the Bible and having Christian friends is SO essential.
* ||Be aware that children might find the concept of "being filled" with God rather strange, even worrying. The word 'spirit' has many connotations in everyday life|
** ||Try to follow up with a story about someone who did his or her best but never got very far... until s/he learned about being filled with the Spirit and then God was able to work through him/her in a wonderful way. (Perhaps one of the teachers or helpers can do this.)|
*** ||Explore briefly how the children might be used by God once "filled". Be specific and use everyday examples.|
**** ||You might also want to add that the balloon did not have any choice about being filled with air... but we have a choice about being filled with God... and by how much... He does not force us to accept Him.|