In his enriching and practical book, When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper points out an important lesson about the need to preach the gospel to yourself. In a section entitled, “Become a Preacher and Preach the Gospel to Yourself” (pages 80-81), Piper speaks to all Christians, but especially to those who do not get a regular diet of biblical preaching (read: expositional, Christ-exalting, gospel-driven preaching) at their local church. He says, “We must not rely only on being preached to, but must become good preachers to our own soul. The gospel is the power of God to lead us joyfully to final salvation, if we preach it to ourselves” (When I Don’t Desire God, 80)
Piper’s insight is not new. It is an idea that runs through the Scriptures. Redeemed saints have always taken God at his word. Their deliberations which lead to faith have resulted in justification (Gen 15:6) and the ability to endure incredible tests (Gen 22:1ff). Wrestling with God in order to receive a blessing is not reserved for the patriarchs(Gen 32:29), it is for all those who claim the name of Christ.
Accordingly, it is imperative that we learn how to think according to the lines of the gospel revealed in Scripture. You might call this Gospel Logic, the active mental process of taking God’s word, believing it, and letting it beat our sinful and sorrowful feelings into submission. Too often we listen to the gossip of our heart, instead of the gospel of God. And the results are disasterous.
In Piper’s chapter on preaching to yourself, he quotes extensively from a book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Psalm 42. Lloyd-Jones, who was a British preacher and spokesman for evangelicalism during the twentieth century, made these now-famous comments in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.
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 are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] 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” (Spiritual Depression, 11-12).
This word, if heard and applied has the power to free many souls who are in bondage to their own interpretations of life. However, it is not only good advice for those who struggle with occasional malaise or cyclical bouts of depression, it is a word that all Christians need to hear. Indwelling sin suffocates the spiritual life of a believer; but taking God’s word and preaching it to oneself, is like an oxygen mask that restores needed vitality.
Lloyd-Jones adds further force to the power of his argument,
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 turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God”—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way, and then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who 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.” (Spiritual Depression, 21).
Lloyd-Jones words are not optional for the Christian. They are essential. Failure to preach the gospel to yourself, will result in spiritual apathy and distance from God. But regular gospel preaching to your soul will breathe fresh air into your lungs and protect you from captivating effects of your sin and self-centeredness.
Over the next few days, we will consider how Abraham, Moses, David, and the Sons of the Korah took hold of the promises of God to wrestle their hearts from the pit of despair. Moreover, we will see how their reasoning depended on God’s word and pushed them to greater heights in their relationship with the Lord.
May God give us grace to defy ourselves and to hear the life-giving words of the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
[If these quotations resonate with your experience, or if their suggestions challenge your thinking, I would encourage you to read them in full. You can find Piper’s entire book When I Don’t Desire God online. Moreover, you can pick up Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression cheaply at WTS Bookstore or used for even less: Spiritual Depression]