As many of you know, I grew up in the country – in a house in the woods, six miles outside of a tiny village, to be exact. Add to that the fact that my five siblings were significantly older than me and you get the picture that I spent a lot of time by myself during my childhood. As a result, I had a lot of “imaginary friends” while growing up, of both the invisible human and invisible animal varieties. These imperceptible buddies were crucial to my emotional well-being at the time, but as I grew older I had to part company with them, lest I become like Elwood P. Dowd and his best friend, Harvey the 6-foot Rabbit.
I still talk out loud once in a while when I’m alone, but it’s not because I think there’s really someone listening. They used to say that you’re normal if you talk to yourself, but that you should worry if you start answering yourself. But I have to question that assessment in light of two quotes that I came across this week from a couple of my favorite authors and preachers.
The first quote is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “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?” This quote is from his excellent book called Spiritual Depression, where he shows that the path to emotional health and well-being must be found in dwelling upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lloyd-Jones points out that our thinking, as born again believers in Christ, is still so corrupted by the flesh, the world, and the devil that we have to consciously speak the truth to ourselves and argue against the lies that still have a stranglehold on our thinking.
Lloyd-Jones points to Psalms as our model for talking to our souls. How many times does the Psalmist say to himself, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” In Psalm 116:7, the Psalmist calls upon his own heart, saying, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” But the best example is in Psalm 42, where the Psalmist chides his own soul for giving in to fear and depression: “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.” Lloyd-Jones encourages us to be just as stern with our own souls: “This self of ours… has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid 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.”
It was this passage of Spiritual Depression that gave me one of my oft-repeated phrases: “We must preach the Gospel to ourselves every day.” Spiritual and emotional health will follow when you spend time each day talking with God and ourselves – conversations about your thanksgiving to God; your total dependence upon the Lord; confession of your sin; reflection on the attributes of God and the cost Christ paid for your salvation at the cross; and requests for His wisdom, strength, and direction throughout the day. We must talk to God and talk to ourselves about God and His work continually.
The second, related quote that I came across later in the week was from J.I. Packer, in his great book, Knowing God. He calls this practice of talking truth to ourselves “meditation” - meditation in the Biblical sense of the Word, not the Eastern religion sense. Instead of emptying our minds in meditation, we must fill our minds with the truth of God’s Word. Packer says, “…meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God and to let His truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory, and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us…as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This takes real mental discipline, effort, and reflection, something that our culture discourages and seeks to replace with mindless vegetation in front of the TV or computer. But the immediate and eternal payoff of talking truth to yourself (either audibly or silently) is inestimable, and it is the path to real spiritual and emotional healing, maturity, and health.