Wednesday, March 2, 2016

On the Merits of Talking to Oneself

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psalm 42:5-9 ESV)

Goldfinches taking lunch in the rain

In the previous century, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who worked as a physician prior to entering the pastorate, preached a series of sermons on Psalms 42-43 concerning what he called "spiritual depression," that condition of a "cast down" and "disquieted" soul David expressed in those Psalms. We who were not present in the Westminster Chapel as he spoke can give thanks that his sermons were transcribed and edited into book form and may even be heard via streaming audio at the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust website.

Even if I should forget the rest of the edifying book, I hope always to remember a particular bit of counsel as a help in "preaching the gospel to myself" when I begin to give way to discontent, anxiety, and generally being cast down in soul. Lord willing, a future post will refer to and describe an application of this concept. In the mean time, here is the doctor-pastor's advice for such seasons:

"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? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self [similar to the "flesh" or "the old man" of the New Testament epistles] is talking to you. Now this man's treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?' he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: 'Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you'.
"...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'--what business have you to be disquieted? ...then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note:  defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: 'I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God'. 
"...The essence of this matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; ...exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control. The devil takes hold of self and uses it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say: 'Why art thou cast down? Why art thou disquieted within me?' Stop being so! Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance,' He, 'who is the health of my countenance and my God.'"
~Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cures, 20-21 [affiliate link]

How do we do this in actual fact? Here are three suggestions, but feel free to add more in the comments:

  • Saturate your soul with Scripture. Fill your mind so full of truth that there's little room for panic. Read, listen, memorize, meditate, pray, study, sing, speak, . . . Take advantage of every means available to steep in God's Words.
  • Sing. Sing to God and sing to your soul. If you look in a hymnal, the songs there are a mix of pure Godward praise and truth sung to each other. Sometimes those body-directed songs shore up my soul. "How Firm a Foundation" and "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" are two of my favorites of that type.
  • Savor and share the souvenirs. When imagination paints catastrophic scenes, eject that disc and instead replay God's great deliverances and kept promises of the past. Search your memory for times you trusted Him and He came through for you, or even times you gave worry its head and He came through for you anyway. If you're a new Christian, tell yourself (and someone else, if possible) the story of how God saved you. Savoring the great deliverances recorded in Scripture helps immensely, too, and the words on the page can anchor thoughts so they don't stray into worried imaginings again.

May the Lord bless these thoughts to your encouragement in fighting the good fight of faith. Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus!

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