Sanctified Self-Talk | Psalm 103
Brian Hedges | July 30, 2017
Well, good morning! It’s great to see all of you again, and wonderful to be back with you, my church family here at Fulkerson Park. I appreciate very much the time away that you granted me, and it was a productive writing leave as well as some vacation time.
I was privileged last week to be at New City Church and to preach there and enjoyed just worshipping with our brothers and sisters there. The church plant is doing really well; they’re growing with new members in the community. They have a really dynamic ministry to many of the homeless in South Bend. So a lot of the things that we were praying for several years ago are now happening. If you ever want to just worship at a different place on a Sunday morning (don’t all do it at once!) but feel free to go worship at New City sometime. I think you would enjoy seeing what the Lord is doing there.
I also just want to say thank you to those who filled the pulpit while I was away, Wes, and Del, and two times Phil. I’ve either heard or seen the transcript of what these guys have done, and I just tell you it’s a great encouragement to me as the lead pastor and preacher to know that when I’m away you’re going to fed and you’re going to well fed with the word, and I appreciate their commitment to the exposition of Scripture and to just practically feeding you with the word of God.
On August 20th we’re going to begin a new series on the book of Galatians; it’s going to take us through most of the fall. I wanted to wait and start that after the university school year began and students are back with us, so for the next three weeks we’re going to continue in this summer series on the Psalms. There are three particular psalms I want to look at with you.
This morning we’re going to be in Psalm 103, so if you want to turn there in your Bibles, Psalm 103. The message this morning is really going to be about self-talk. Self-talk. Now this is something we all do, and we do it most of the time, whether we are aware of it or not. We talk to ourselves. We have a running monologue going on in our heads.
Now the old word for this is soliloquy. We don’t use that word very often, but when you hear the word soliloquy, if you know that word, you might think of a soliloquy from a Shakespearean play. And in fact, Hamlet is a great example of someone who engaged in self-talk, when he’s looking at the skull and he contemplates existence. “To be or not to be? That is the question.”
If you want something that’s a little bit more up-to-date you might think of Maria in The Sound of Music. Do you remember when she’s on her way to meet the Von Trapp family for the first time and she’s kind of psyching herself up that she can do this, and she sings this song, “I have confidence in me.” Well, the whole song is self-talk. She’s just trying to pep herself up for this task that’s at hand.
Or something a little more recent, you might think of the tortured conversation that Smeagol and Gollum have together, and in some ways this is much more biblical, actually, than Maria, who’s full of self-confidence. When I see Lord of the Rings and think about Smeagol and Gollum I think of Paul in Romans seven, you know, and the conflict, the inner conflict, that he has with himself.
Now, everyday, garden variety of self-talk is not nearly as dramatic as all of these examples, but it’s every bit as powerful. And in fact, psychologists have noted this, and discussed this, talk about this in their books. Here’s a couple of examples.
Eric Johnson, in his magnum opus, Foundations of Soul Care (it’s the best counseling textbook that I have seen), Erik Johnson says this, “Humans are always engaging in self-talk that is typically habitual and serves to maintain current values and reflections. Therapy usually requires examining the ongoing conversations one is having with oneself.”
Now that’s what I want us to do this morning. I want us to examine the ongoing conversations that we have with ourselves, and to recognize that we are involved in self-talk. You say things to yourself all day long, all the time, and so do I, and the question is are we saying the right kinds of things?
Here’s another example, Backus and Chapian in their book, Telling Yourself the Truth. They give a good definition of self-talk. “Self-talk means the words we tell ourselves in our thoughts, it means the words we tell ourselves about people, self, experiences, life in general, God, the future, the past the present. It is specifically all of the words you say to yourself all the time.”
That’s self-talk, and we’re all involved in this. We’re all doing this. We are all telling ourselves either true things or false things.
More specifically, we are always commenting on and responding to our lives. The circumstances in our lives, the other people in our lives, to the world around us. We are interpreting for ourselves what’s going on in our world. We are assigning meaning to events and to circumstances. We are building, through our self-talk, an inner world that corresponds in some ways to our world and the real world, but not all the time accurately. Sometimes we’re building a fantasy world, we’re building a world that doesn’t actually look like the real world, and we’re doing that through our self-talk.
When we are talking to ourselves we are always reinforcing beliefs, perspectives, attitudes, and patterns of response, and we’re doing it for either good or for evil.
Most importantly of all, through our self-talk we are becoming the person that we will be. We are becoming what C.S. Lewis describes as either “everlasting splendors or everlasting horrors.” We are being formed by the things we say to ourselves.
And so it’s really important. I can’t think of anything more practical, actually, than for us to think about our self-talk and seek to conform our self-talk to biblical patterns, and you do have self-talk in Scripture. We’ve already seen it in Psalm 42 this morning, and we’re going to see it now in Psalm 103, which is just a wonderful psalm.
So turn there in your Bibles, Psalm 103. You could almost say that the whole Bible is compressed into Psalm 103; it is so full of the whole story of redemption, all of it compressed there into one place. There’s good reason why this psalm is one of the psalms from which some of our greatest hymns come; “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation,” that’s from this psalm. “Praise my soul, the King of heaven, to his feet your tribute bring,” that’s from this psalm; and then “10,000 Reasons,” also from this psalm.
So let’s read it together, and then we’re going to ask three questions about our self-talk.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
This is God’s word.
Now the structure of this psalm is pretty simple. Verses one and two, he exhorts himself to praise the Lord or to bless the Lord. And then the bulk of the psalm, verses three through 19, are really just reasons for why he should do this, and essentially he recounts the benefits of God and he reminds himself of the character of God. That’s basically what he’s doing in this psalm.
Then the last stanza of the psalm, the last section, verses 20 through 22, he turns this exhortation outward and he calls for all the hosts of the heavens to join him in blessing the Lord; the angels, and the mighty ones, the hosts, the ministers, and all his works, in all places of his dominion. And then in the very last line he exhorts himself once more to bless the Lord. So the psalm is framed by this self-exhortation, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
Now, we’re not going to look at every verse in detail, but what I want to do is just ask three questions about self-talk. So here they are.
I. What is Sanctified Self-Talk?
II. What Should We Actually Say to Ourselves?
III. How Do We Cultivate this Discipline?
I. What is Sanctified Self-Talk?
So let’s start with some definitions. What do I mean by sanctified self-talk? I’ve already kind of defined for you self-talk itself, but what do I have in mind by sanctified self-talk, or holy self-talk? I want you to see it; I think we can establish this from the first couple of verses in the psalm. Let me give several statements to define this.
(1) Sanctified self-talk, or soliloquy, is the discipline of calling one’s soul to attend to God. It is the discipline of calling your soul to attend to God, to pay attention to God. Notice this. You see it in the psalm three times, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
Who’s he addressing? He’s addressing himself. “O my soul.” And what is he calling himself to do? Bless the Lord! Praise the Lord! Worship the Lord! Attend to the Lord! So you see that in verses one, verse two, and verse 22.
(2) Furthermore, it involves regathering one’s faculties, thoughts, inclinations, affections, and desires, rathering them and then refocusing them upon God. Look at the rest of verse one: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” “All that is within me.” What’s that? Well, that’s my thoughts, my inclinations, my affections, my desires, my faculties. It’s everything that’s going on in my head space. All that is within me; all that’s in my soul needs to be focused on blessing the Lord.
So you see here that we’re not talking only about self-talk; we’re talking about a kind of self-talk where there’s consciousness of God. It’s sanctified self-talk. It is speaking to oneself coram Deo, before the face of God, in the presence of God.
There’s a great little book written a couple of years ago on the spiritual practices of Jonathan Edwards, written by Kyle Strobel, who is the son, actually, of Lee Strobel, famous for The Case of Christ. This book’s called Formed for the Glory of God, and Kyle Strobel talks about these spiritual disciplines that Edwards practiced, and he defines this spiritual discipline of soliloquy, or self-talk. Listen to what he says.
“Soliloquy is a method of prayer whereby you speak to both God and your own soul as you hold it before him. This prayer is modeled after the psalmists, who preached to their own souls in the presence of God.”
Now that’s what we’re trying to do here. It’s preaching to your own soul in the presence of God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” Now, Jonathan Edwards is a wonderful example of this. If you ever read Edwards’ personal narrative, you can just see Edwards’ descriptions of his experiences with God. He talks about how his mind was greatly fixed on divine things. He lived in this perpetual contemplation of spiritual things. He talks about how he would spend so much of his time in prayer or in singing or in meditation or in soliloquy.
Now, of course we read that and we think, “Well yes, that’s Jonathan Edwards. He was a giant in the faith; none of us are like a Jonathan Edwards.” And you know, that’s true, none of us are an Edwards, none of us have the mind of an Edwards, but you know what else Edwards tells us about in his diaries? He also tells us of the times in his life where he hated certain aspects of Christian doctrine, where he hated the doctrine of election.
He talks about how he discovered within his soul an “infinite depth of wickedness.” He would look upon his sin and all he could think was, “Infinite upon infinite upon infinite.” In other words, something really changed for Edwards. I mean, at one point he hates certain things about God and he feels infinite depths of sin, but there was such a deep and profound change in his life that then he could spend hours upon end contemplating God, talking to himself, meditating, contemplating, praying.
That should give us hope that, no matter how bad your self-talk may be, God in his grace can change you; he can transform you. He can bring about a different kind of inner experience, a new kind of inner world.
Okay, one more comment in answer to this first question, what is sanctified self-talk?
(3) Number three, it is the most, or at least one of the most, effective daily weapons to use in the battle against what Paul Tripp and others have called “gospel amnesia.”
Now we know what amnesia is; amnesia is when you lose some of your memory, or maybe all of your memory. You forget your identity or who you are, or maybe it’s selective amnesia and there’s certain parts of things that you remember. I think sometimes my children have selective amnesia. “I told you to do that!” “I don’t remember.”
Well, we’re all like that. We have amnesia in certain ways, right, and we sometimes have gospel amnesia. We don’t forget God entirely, but we forget the promises of God, we forget the gospel, we forget the good news. We forget how good God is to us, and our running inner monologue reflects that.
Well, notice what the psalmist does here in verse two. He says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Forget not! Don’t forget! Now how do you not forget? The way you don’t forget is by reminding yourself, through sanctified self-talk, to bless the Lord. You have to pull out this weapon to fight gospel amnesia. You have to pull out the weapon of holy self-talk, preaching to yourself.
Well, the whole psalm then, from this point forward, is really expounding the benefits of God. And these benefits are expounded in terms of God’s covenant love and his gracious blessings, and the key word through the rest of the psalm is the word or the phrase, “steadfast love.” Steadfast love.
It appears four times. In verse four, “He crowns you with steadfast love,” in verse eight, “The Lord is abounding in steadfast love,” in verse eleven, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him.” And then verse 17, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.”
I mean, do you see all of the dimensional language that’s used there? The Lord abounds in steadfast love. His steadfast love is high. His steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting. How high and how wide and how deep and how long is the love of God manifested to us supremely in Christ. The steadfast love of God. And the psalmist here is saying, “Oh my soul, don’t forget how much God loves you!”
Now do you talk to yourself like that? Do you remind yourself of that? I think oftentimes even Christians with very orthodox theology, our self-talk doesn’t always reflect that. We’re not always reminding ourselves of how much God loves us. We’re saying other things altogether.
Now this is really helpful for us in a couple of ways as we move to point number two. One way I think this is helpful is for those of us who were raised in the church, we were raised in Christian homes or families, but we were raised in something like a legalistic kind of atmosphere of mindset, where spiritual disciplines felt more like a drudgery, something that we must do, maybe even implicitly we thought, “Spiritual disciplines are something that I must do in order to be right with God. I only feel like I’m really right with God if I’m praying a lot, I’m reading my Bible a lot, I’m doing all the spiritual things,” and it just feels like a drudgery. It’s a duty. So we go through the motions, but we don’t really find ourselves benefitting from that.
Well the problem, of course, is a completely wrong approach to spiritual disciplines in the first place. They’re not a means for making us right with God. You know what spiritual disciplines are there for? They’re a means for reminding you of how God loves you and has made you right with himself through Jesus Christ, through his steadfast love and through the gospel.
A guy named Jimmy Davis put it like this: he said, “You don’t have a quiet time in order for God to love you, but you need to have a quiet time so that he can tell you.” So he can tell you. So you can be reminded of it again.
I think this thinking of the psalms in this way can be really helpful for us, because it can show us a way of doing spiritual disciplines that’s not legalistic, it’s not formulaic, but it’s immensely practical, and it’s drenched in gospel grace, and that’s what this psalm is.
So that’s what we’re talking about; sanctified self-talk.
II. What Should We Actually Say to Ourselves?
Now, second question, what kinds of things should we say to ourselves? Broadly speaking, I think that we could break all of our self-talk into three broad categories. When we are talking to ourselves we are talking to ourselves about ourselves, about our circumstances, and about what I’m calling “the big picture.”
So we’re saying things to ourselves about our identity or our desires or our feelings. We’re doing that. We’re also saying things to ourselves about our circumstances; about life, about the things that happen to us, about other people who we encounter, our environment, things that are going on around us. And then we’re also speaking to ourselves about the bigger patterns, the bigger picture. This would be all of our theological, philosophical, ethical musings.
Now we may not use those big terms, but we’re always interpreting. We’re always thinking, “This is right, this is wrong; this is good, this is bad; this is righteous, this is evil.” We’re interpreting; we’re thinking about the world, and we’re thinking about God, sometimes. Sometimes we’re thinking about God and we’re thinking about how God is. Sometimes we’re just not thinking about God much at all, but even when we’re doing that it’s a worldview, isn’t it? You see, some of us have orthodox theology on paper, but we’re functional atheists in the way we live everyday life.
Now if you ask us, we’ll say, “Yes, I believe in God,” but our self-talk doesn’t always reflect that.
So, just ask yourself right now, before I show you - I want to show you in the psalm how to talk to yourself, but just ask yourself right now, what do you say to yourself about these categories? What do you say to yourself about you? What do you say to yourself about yourself? In a given day, what kinds of things do you say? Do you say things like, “That was stupid. I’m an idiot. That was just really dumb.”
We say things to ourselves like that. Or we might just say things like - we think of ourselves in terms of success and failure. “Well, I did pretty good.” “I utterly blew it on that one. I really failed. I really messed up. I’m such a failure. I’m a failure as a Christian, I’m a failure as a dad, I’m a failure as a husband, I’m a failure at my job, I’m a failure as a mom…” We think in those kinds of terms, success or failure.
Or we might think things about our appearance; too skinny, too overweight, “I don’t like my face,” “I don’t like my hair,” “I don’t like my clothes.” I mean, we’re doing those kinds of things.
Okay, what about your circumstances. What are you saying about your circumstances to yourself? You might be saying things like this: “This is really hard. This isn’t fair. I should not have to be going through this. I should not have to put up with this. How come my life can’t be like his life or her life? How come I can’t have what they have? How come I get all the tough breaks?”
More likely than not we compare ourselves with other people, assessing ourselves against other people.
And then, when it comes to God and the world, what’s your self-talk like there? You might be thinking, “Well, things are a mess, the world’s really a mess.” When you think about God, do you think things like this: do you think, “God is angry,” or you think, “God just seems indifferent. It just doesn’t seem like God cares very much about what’s going on in the world.”
Or you might be on the other end of the spectrum and you might just think, “Well, God is love, period, full stop, nothing else about God,” and so basically your view about God is that God is this overindulgent grandfather who just gives everybody a pass.
So take some inventory here, and then let’s measure our self-talk against what the psalmist actually does. Okay? Let’s look at these different categories.
(1) We start with God, what to say about God. What should you say to yourself about God in light of this psalm? Well, I’ve already pointed out how the psalmist points out God’s blessings, his benefits, and also his character, or his attributes. We can really summarize all of this in just three statements we could make to ourselves about God.
Number one, God is my Savior. God is my Savior. Look at verses three through five: “...forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”
One commentator says, “The verbs tell the tale: forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies.” That’s what God does. This is the language of salvation. It’s the language of salvation. It’s actually language that comes straight out of the book of Exodus.
You remember that even, you remember that time when the people of Israel built the golden calf? They broke really the first three commandments, at least, in that episode. Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law of God, the people are down below the mountain breaking the Law of God, and then Moses comes off the mountain, he sees what’s happened, and God is ready to judge the people and just wipe them out. He’s not going to go with them into the Promised Land.
You remember, in Exodus 33 Moses goes up on the mountain and he says, “Lord, I’m not going unless you go with us,” and then Moses says, “Lord, let me see your glory. Let me behold your glory.” And the Lord comes to Moses in chapter 34. He hides Moses in the cleft of the rock and he comes and he proclaims the name of the Lord, and part of what he proclaims is that the Lord is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, verse eight. That’s the verse that’s just straight out of Exodus 34.
It’s just showing God’s saving grace to his people. He doesn’t utterly wipe them out. He keeps his promises. He’s faithful to them. Well, that’s what the psalmist is doing here. He’s just rehearsing that for himself. That’s what we have to do.
Henry Lyte is a hymn-writer who wrote a couple of the hymns that we sing, including “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” which we sang this morning, and then also this one:
“Praise my soul, the King of heaven,
To his feet your tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,”
(it’s right out of Psalm 103!)
“Ransomed healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore his praises sing.
Praise the everlasting King.”
You see, the reasons for blessing God or praising God are because, in part, of what God has done for us as our Savior. He’s ransomed us, he’s healed us, he’s restored us, he’s forgiven us. That’s what we see here. God is our savior.
Secondly, verse 13, God is my Father. God is my Father. Look at verse 13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
Now those of you who are parents, if you’ve ever been through a situation where one of your children was deeply hurt or injured or in pain, then you know by experience the depth of compassion that is possible to have for another human being. I don’t know if there’s a way to know that before you have children.
I remember when our oldest son Stephen was about three years old, and his, if I remember the details correctly, his temperature was dropping inexplicably. We just could not understand why his temperature was dropping. It was really weird. So we had to take him to the hospital, he was in there for about three days, and in the course of his time there they had to do a spinal tap.
Now, a spinal tap is really painful, especially for a three-year-old. He was absolutely terrified. They didn’t get it right the first time so they had to do it twice. I don’t know that I’ve ever been upset watching something as I was at that moment. I had to leave the room because of the depth of what I felt. I mean, it was compassion, it was empathy for this little three-year-old boy. I would have taken it for him if I could have.
Well, God’s compassion for us as a Father is like that. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” Now, do you tell yourself things like this? “God has compassion for me. God has mercy towards me. God loves me the way the best possible father in the best of all possible worlds loves me. That’s how God loves me.” God is my Father.
And then, number three, God is my King, verse 19. God is my King. You see that in verse 19, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” So the images get balanced here. God is not only a Father, imminent and near and close and merciful; he’s also a King who is powerful and on his throne and who is absolutely sovereign.
So that’s what we are to say to ourselves about God.
(2) Now what do you say to yourself about yourself? Look at verses 14 through 16. You say, essentially, “I am mortal; I am not God. I am mortal. I’m a human being. I am not God.”
Look at verse 14: “For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field, for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”
You know what you are? You’re dust and grass! That’s what you are. You’re dust and grass. There’s a whole theology here. You remember how Adam was formed from the dust of the ground. “From dust you have come and to dust you will return.” It’s a reminder of our mortality, and we need to do that. We need to do that.
You know what this does? It humbles us, it reminds us of the frailty of life, it reminds us of the brevity of life. We’re just like grass; we’re here today, we’re gone tomorrow. It presupposes here the whole doctrine of the Fall: dust to dust, and the reason we return to dust is because of our sin, because of our sin. So don’t hear me saying this morning that in your self-talk you should never say anything to yourself about your sin. We should; I mean, there’s a lot about sin in this psalm.
But this is what you have to understand: you bring your mortal condition, you bring your fallen condition, you bring your sinful condition, you bring all of that into your consciousness through self-talk, you remind yourself of who you are, the true state and condition of your heart and of your life, and then you say this: “But I am the recipient of God’s love and mercy and grace. I’m dust and I’m grass, I’m a sinner, yes; but,” verse 17, “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.”
If you are someone who fears the Lord, you love the Lord, you’re in covenant with the Lord, then you can be assured that in spite of your sins, in spite of your fallen condition, God loves you and is merciful and is gracious towards you, and you need to say that to yourself.
I love that line from one of the old hymns: “Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done. I know them all, and thousands more; Jehovah knoweth none.” Bless the Lord. Praise God, because God is such a gracious God.
Do you see, these are the categories in which you should speak to yourself? You know what’s really interesting in this psalm and in most of the Psalms? You almost never find the kind of language we use today, you don’t find the psalmists calling themselves stupid or dumb, at least not very often. You don’t find them thinking of themselves in terms of success and failure. They think of themselves in relationship to God, sinful and forgiven. Those are the categories in which we should be dealing with ourselves. Those are the biblical categories.
(3) Okay, finally, what do you say to yourself about your circumstances? Let me just give you a couple of examples.
What if you’re someone who is suffering and or has suffered injustice? What do you say to yourself? You don’t just try to ignore it. You don’t say it didn’t happen, you don’t pretend it didn’t happen, you don’t pretend that it’s not painful. I’ve known people who’ve been deeply hurt, deeply wounded by a family member or by someone in their childhood that was abusive to them, and those kinds of experiences leave scars. Your self-talk has to be the right kind of self-talk in dealing with that.
Here’s one of the things you can say, verse six: “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” You remind yourself of the justice of God.
Sometimes this world feels like a very unjust place. Sometimes this world is a very unjust place. And when you feel threatened personally by the injustice of this world, when you are the victim of injustice in the world, you don’t take justice into your own hands and you don’t believe the atheistic thought that there is no justice in the world. You remind yourself of the truth that the Lord will judge righteously; he will do justice for all who are oppressed. The Lord takes up the cause of the victim, of the oppressed, of those who suffer injustice. That’s one way you can speak to yourself in those moments.
Let’s say that you are uncertain and anxious and worried about the future. How am I going to pay this bill? What’s the outcome of that medical procedure, that test, going to be? What’s going to happen to my family? Am I ever going to get through this hard trial? You start wondering those kinds of things; you just feel the burden and the weight of anxiety, its stress and worry in your life. What do you say to yourself?
Well, there are lots of things you could say, but here’s just one from this psalm in verse 19: you can remind yourself, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” My God is King, my God is sovereign. You know what that means? It means that nothing can come into your life, Christian, that does not come filtered and sifted through the fingers of a sovereign God who loves you, who cares for you, and who has your best interest in mind.
Now we could go on and one, of course. There are so many places you can go with this. I’m just trying to give you the categories so that you can start digging into psalms like this for yourself and cultivate the right kind of self-talk.
III. How Do We Cultivate this Discipline?
So that’s the last question, real briefly, how do we do that? What are some steps that you can take, what are some takeaways for you this morning if you recognize, “Man, I really need to do a 360 on this. I need to turn it around.” I guess it’d be a 180, actually. “What do I need to do? How do I need to change? What are the steps I need to take?”
Let me give you four, really quickly.
(1) Number one, awareness. Take inventory of your habits of self-talk. Just take inventory. You need to slow down and actually listen to what you’re saying to yourself. You need to assess it, you need to recognize it for what it is, and then you have to analyze it. Is this biblical? Is this actually biblical? Am I talking to myself in the right kinds of categories? Am I saying true statements? You need awareness of what’s going on.
One way you might do that is just try journaling for a week or so. Just spend a few minutes every day writing down the kinds of things that you find yourself saying to yourself, and be honest. Write down what you actually do say, not what you should say. Be honest with it. See what’s going on in your heart, so that you know where to change.
(2) Number two, repentance. We need to repent, not only from wrong actions but from wrong thoughts and from wrong self-talk. If you are saying things to yourself that are sinful or unbiblical or ungodly, unhealthy, you need to turn from that and you need to begin telling yourself the truth. You turn from lies and you tell yourself the truth.
The book I mentioned at the beginning of the message, Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian, that’s a great book for this particular issue. Now it’s not a solve-all for every possible kind of problem, but that’s a book that helps us identify the misbeliefs or the lies that we tell ourselves, and then replace those lies with truth. So if you need a resource, that’s a good one.
Another resource you could use that would help you with this is Milton Vincent’s A Gospel Primer for Christians. It’s a really, really good book that will just train you in the exercise of preaching the gospel to yourself.
(3) Third step, intentionality. You have to be deliberate in the kinds of things that you say to yourself.
Now, almost everything I’m saying to you this morning I owe the origin of this to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who’s that great British, 20th-century preacher. In Lloyd-Jones’ book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure, also another really good book on this issue, Lloyd-Jones tells us - well, he asks this question: he says, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” That’s just a profound insight.
He says, “The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand. You have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul, ‘Why art thou cast down,’ Psalm 42. You must turn on yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself, ‘Hope thou in God,’ instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.”
Now that takes some intentionality. You have to actually decide that you’re going to do this, in God’s grace that you’re going to do this, that when you recognize that you’re speaking to yourself in the wrong ways you’re going to turn it around and you’re going to kind of dig into some Scripture and you’re going to tell yourself the truth.
(4) Okay, then number four, input. You have to have the right things in your heart and in your head in order to say the right things. You remember how Jesus says, “Out of the good treasure of a person’s heart he brings forth good, and out of the evil treasure of his heart, the evil store in his heart, comes evil.”
Your self-talk is going to be made up of what’s in your heart and what’s in your head, and if you don’t have the word and the gospel in your heart and in your head, you’re not going to be able to tell it to yourself. So you need good input.
Psalm 119, verse eleven: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Have you done that? Are you doing that? If you’re not doing that, then for the sake of your soul, for the sake of your soul, get in this book, do some meditating, memorize a few verses, get down some basic truths like, “God is my savior, God is my father, God is my king,” with verses that you can then attach to that, like we’ve done this morning.
Start writing those things down, start getting a list of things. Store that in your heart, in your mind, so that you have the truth there at hand to say to yourself on a daily basis.
Let me conclude in this way. There’s a story told about one of the great theologians of the 20th century, Karl Barth. Now Karl Barth wasn’t an evangelical as we are, so we wouldn’t follow him in everything he says, but he was a great theologian in many ways and is often counted by other theologians as one of the ten greatest theologians in history, and just did an amazing amount of work in his lifetime.
In 1962, when Barth was lecturing at the university of Chicago, there was a question and answer time, and a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in just a sentence. Barth thought for a minute. He said, “Yes I can, in the words of the song I learned at my mother’s knee. My whole life’s work, my whole theology, is this: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
That’s a good place to start with self-talk.
And it’s a good place to end the sermon, so let’s pray.
Father, your steadfast love is abounding, it is as high as the heavens are above the earth and it is from everlasting to everlasting, and the glorious words of this psalm are that you have crowned us with steadfast love. You’ve done it through Jesus. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This is the truth. These are the things we need to be saying to ourselves.
So I just want to pray this morning for all of us, that you would help us. That you would help us to repent of the wrong ways that we’re talking to ourselves and to embrace by faith and in the grace and help of your Spirit to embrace again the gospel of Christ, and to embrace it in this most practical of all ways, that this would be our inner monologue, these would be the things we say to ourselves, this would be the substance, this would be the soundtrack in the back of our minds as we’re going through our day.
Father, would you give us the grace and the help to check the wrong kinds of thinking, the wrong categories for assessing ourselves, the murmuring thoughts, the complaining thoughts, the wrong kinds of self-deprecating thoughts? And then help us to just take an honest look at ourselves, acknowledging ourselves as sinners in your sight, and then in the same breath grasping, laying hold of the promise of your unstoppable grace and mercy given to us through Jesus Christ.
Father, as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, this is a wonderful time for us to put in practice what we’ve just been talking about, so that in the moments before we take the bread, before we take the juice, would you help us to preach the gospel to ourselves, to remember our sinful, fallen condition and to remember the steadfast love the Lord? And as we take the elements, the bread and the juice, may we by faith partake of Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us. We pray this in his name, Amen.