The Difference Between Self-Talk and God-Talk

Self-talk. Soul-talk. Positive affirmation. Your inner coach.  If you read headlines from modern psychology you may be familiar with these phrases. The Huffington Post’s website has just under 50 articles listed under the tag “self-talk,” and an Amazon search turned up 34,793 results in books alone (I made it to #5 before I quit). The idea behind the phrases is that each of us has a constant inner monologue going on, a torrent of words, perspectives, and evaluations that no one hears but ourselves. By changing the tone and content of this self-talk, the experts say, we can change ourselves. Hence we have books titled “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself” and “Self-Talk Your Way to Success.”

I think, as usual, the psychologists are on to something…and have simultaneously totally missed the deeper point. Let me explain.

Do you and I experience something that could be labeled “self-talk?” Absolutely! It’s a very accurate description of part of the human experience. Think back on the last hour. Tune in to the thoughts you’ve had. Did you evaluate yourself? Did you think about a problem? Have you compared yourself? Were any of your thoughts self-congratulatory, or self-condemning? Odds are that they were. You could translate many of those thoughts into statements about yourself to yourself. He was wrong when he did that to you – he doesn’t respect you at all! You just sounded like an idiot – you’re never getting that job. Those kind of statements could be called “self-talk,” and if we pay attention I think everyone would have to say we experience something like that.

But here’s where the psychologists totally miss the real issue. If you change from “negative self-talk” to “positive self-talk,” what doesn’t change? Self. The autonomy of me. My perspective matters most. Whether I’m saying positive or negative things to myself, I’m still at the center – and that’s a problem, especially for Christians. Though we live and move in God’s world, in the arena of our minds most of us are functional atheists. And a me-centered conversation can only go so far before it derails into pride or despair.

Here’s the good news: for a child of God, self-talk can become God-talk. No place models this for us better than Psalm 119. As David Powlison points out in his article “Suffering and Psalm 119,” no two words are more common in this psalm than “you” and “I.” The psalmist makes statements to God about God: You are good and do good;” “You are my hiding place and my shield;” “But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true” (vv. 68, 114, 151). He talks to God about himself: “I am a sojourner on the earth;” “I am yours; save me;” “I am severely afflicted;” “I am your servant;” “I am small and despised” (vv. 19, 94, 107, 125, 141). He asks God for life, for understanding, for deliverance, for protection. He tells God about his trials and his struggles with sin. Self-talk meets God-talk. God-talk redeems self-talk. The result? Sanity. Health. Life. Hope. “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (114).

For those who have trusted in Christ, who now call the creator of the universe “Father,” an inner monologue is an absurdity. Why talk only to yourself when you can talk to the Almighty, your Maker and your friend? So yes, tune in to your self-talk – but don’t let it remain self-talk. Speak to the Lord: about who he is, about who you are, about what you face, and what you need. Turn self-talk into God-talk. “Blessed are those…who seek him with their whole heart!” (v.2).

Photo by Mrsdkrebs.

 

I Hear Voices…Do You?

Sometimes I hear voices. Voices talking to me. Voices in my head. Do you? (Cue the creepy music.)

No, I don’t have a Gollum-like split personality, and no, I don’t need to be locked in a padded room with basket-weaving supplies. But I do hear voices, or at least a voice, and I bet you do too. I’m talking about the incessant internal dialogue going on in our heads, the voice that sounds like your voice but comes up with all kinds of suggestions, ideas, evaluations, critiques, or judgments. I don’t care what kind of chatterboxes you live with, no one talks to you as much as you do.

“You do realize they’re talking about you right now, don’t you?”

“Why did you say that? An intelligent (godly, mature, humble) person wouldn’t have said that.”  

“Don’t listen to him – he really doesn’t understand you.”

“You should do family devotions (prayer and fasting, date night, personal evangelism) like that person does. You’re an inferior Christian if you don’t.”

Those are the kinds of voices I’m talking about. Often the voices are condemning, suggesting subtle or vague ways we don’t live up to an undefined standard. But they can just as easily be self-congratulating (“Nobody could have done that like you!”) and pride-enhancing (“you’re awesome with a capital A!”). The point is that they’re there, whispering to us in the silence of our selves. What are we to do with them?

Here’s the short answer: God’s conversation with us must shape our own internal conversation with ourselves. In his Son and in the Scriptures that testifies to the Son, God talks to us. And that conversation needs to have shaping power over all the self-critiquing or congratulating voices that go on in our heads. In other words, God has authority to restart the conversation.

So for example, when I hear the suggestion, “A good husband (pastor, disciple, etc.) would do this, or feel that way, or wouldn’t have said that,” I shouldn’t give that thought unquestioned authority. I need to bring God’s Word to play. Did I just sin in some way? If so, God tells me that confession and cleansing are immediately available to me (1 John 1:9). If I confess my sins to God and to the appropriate person, then I can move on with no looking back. Or maybe the suggestion has no scriptural basis, like, “A good husband would read and apply a new book on marriage every month.” Really? Says who? Only the voice in my head…but not God. And that’s the problem. Instead of letting that thought exert subtle pressure on my soul, I need to subject it to God’s authority.

Now let me be clear. This internal dialogue is inescapable – we’re not going to shut it off. Nor should we try, because it isn’t all bad. Part of the complexity and wonder of human personality is that we have the ability to think about ourselves reflectively: should I have done that? Could I improve in this area? That’s a good thing – provided that our self-analysis is governed by God’s truth, not our subjective impressions.

So don’t try to shut the conversation down,  but don’t listen unquestioningly either. Consciously place your inner conversation under the authority of God’s truth, the words that God speaks about you through the living Word, Jesus Christ. He, and he alone, is the final authority in this conversation!

Photo by Visual Dichotomy.

Have You Heard from God Lately?

 

When was the last time you heard from God?

You know what I mean: that still small voice in your heart, maybe in prayer, maybe during Bible reading. God speaking to you. God addressing you. God. Talking. To you.

Okay, stop. If you’ve been in Christian circles for a long time, this is the point where you expect me to tell you about listening for God’s voice, the importance of “quiet” time, stillness, turning off the TV, joining a monastery, etc. (I’m joking about the monastery part.) But I’m not going to. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a young, single pastoral intern. His name was….well, me. When I was an even more novice pastor than I am now, I often went on retreats and prayer walks, fasting and praying and seeking God. I sometimes had genuine spiritual experiences and I had a genuine hunger for God. But something happened. My seeking after God became desperate – not a healthy desperate, but a “what’s-wrong-with-me-I’m-not-hearing-from-God” kind of desperate. I remember leaving one retreat feeling depressed and wondering, “What did I do wrong?” Discouragement and frustration bounced around in my soul. Why wasn’t I hearing from God?

Something was wrong, but it wasn’t what I thought it was. In hindsight, here was my problem: I was “listening” to God as though he hadn’t already spoken. I was pursuing God as though I had to run him down and tackle him with my fasting and prayers. But God has spoken. As songwriter Michael Card puts it eloquently, “He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son / His final Word was Jesus, he needed no other one.” Or as the writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Does this mean we stop fasting, stop praying, or stop seeking God and asking to hear from him? No, certainly not. Those are good, biblical things. But we don’t “find” God through them. (Where would you even start looking to “find” God?) We seek God through the spiritual disciplines as those who have already been found by him. We listen to God because we know that, through the Word of God who is also the Son of God, we too have become adopted and beloved children (see John 1:12-14).

These days when I take a retreat I sometimes fast – but just as often I’ll eat a big dinner that tastes good and thank God for it. I take prayer walks – but sometimes I walk with no agenda except enjoying creation and thanking the Lord for what I see. I do these things as reminders that, despite the importance of earnestness in fasting and prayer, God sought and found me before I ever thought to look for him.

So let us pursue God and listen for God, yes – but let us never act as though our pursuit is necessary to force God to do something he doesn’t want to do. The most glorious word he will ever speak to us has already been spoken, Jesus, who is the Word of God. In him we hear God’s voice, filled with delight and rejoicing, saying, “You’re forgiven. Accepted. Adopted. My beloved child.”

Listen. Can you hear him?

+Photo by Marc Falardeau

Covered in Shame

Shame.

Exposed, uncovered, unprotected, found out.

Always on the outside, never with the “in-crowd.” Rejected. An outcast.

Not as good as everyone else: not as pretty, not as slim, not as strong, not as smart…not as valuable. Worthless.

Have you ever applied these labels to yourself? This list is intended to put flesh and bones to a concept you may think doesn’t apply to you: shame. Here’s the dictionary definition: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” That works, but let’s put the definition into stories.

Shame is what you experience when your spouse commits adultery and quits the marriage, leaving you wondering, Is there something wrong with me? Am I the problem? Shame is the emotion you feel when you’re praised for doing something well, but inwardly think, If they only knew the real me, they’d never say that. Shame is gathering for Thanksgiving with your extended family and knowing you have the smallest income, the fewest business accomplishments, or the kids with the smallest number of recitals or sports awards to boast about. Shame is feeling dirty and stained because of something someone did to you in the past.

Shame is not the same as guilt. You can be declared “not guilty” and still feel like a wretch. You can know you’re forgiven, but still feel like damaged goods. Shame makes you want to avoid deep and transparent relationships, to hide from being truly known – even if you’re convinced that you’re not going to Hell for the things of which you’re ashamed. To feel shame is to feel tainted.

Does the Bible speak to shame? Yes, it certainly does. Just as the gospel provides the solution to our guilt and sin (forgiveness and justification), so it also provides the solution to our shame and dishonor. Here it is in a nutshell: honor by association. Or you could say, glory shared. Worth given. Consider this passage in Romans 9, quoting the prophet Hosea: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

Remember, this is Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the maker of all that is. And he says to dishonored, shamed sinners, “You are my beloved.” Not just “your sins are forgiven,” but, “I delight in you. I accept you. You belong to me.” Do you see it? Honor by association. You belong to the King.

One more passage. 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Do you see how this passage goes beyond mere forgiveness (as glorious as that is) to include honor and worth? We are God’s chosen race, a people for his own possession, the apple of his eye (Deut. 32:10, Psa. 17:8, Zech. 2:8). In other words, honor by association. Shared glory. Worth given.

A blog post can only begin to address a topic as big as shame. But if something in this resonates with you, if shame clings to you and constantly whispers in your ear, if it defines your identity more than being a child of God and fellow heir with Jesus Christ – then you need to dig deep into the riches of honor by association, of shared glory, of worth given by God our Redeemer.

Psalm 25:3: “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame.”

Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

Note: the thoughts in this post came from Dr. Ed Welch’s new book Shame Interrupted. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in this topic. Consider this a blog-length introduction to themes Dr. Welch explores at length.

+photo by Wally G

Battling Self-Pity

lonely1

One of our best weapons against self-pity is to compare what we deserve with the free grace God lavishes on us in Christ.  For those who have suffered tragic losses of loved ones and other heavy afflictions, I’d never try to comfort them by saying, “It could be worse.”  But often I find I need to grab my thoughts by the collar, give myself a good shaking and say, “Hey, Mark, quit feeling sorry for yourself.  Now listen up…”

I deserve worse

I should be screaming in agony in hell right now for my rebellion against God; instead, I’ve merely been criticized by someone.  I should be burning in torment, but I only have to replace my car engine.

It could always be worse

I could be going through this same trial, only in a poverty-wracked country.  I could have cancer instead of the flu.  I could be a paraplegic but all I have is a sprained ankle.

Many have it far worse

My grocery budget may be tight, but there are multitudes who go to bed hungry every night. I have to wait for my prescription to be filled, but in parts of Uganda where people have no access to band-aids or antibiotics, a mere scratch can lead to a limb amputation or death. My back hurts, but in North Korea soldiers jam Christians into shipping crates where for months they can never stand or stretch out.

Jesus had it infinitely worse

My Savior bore the furious wrath of God with no relief, no mercy, no help, no friends and no sense of his Father’s love.  Whatever pain I experience completely pales compared to Jesus’ agony.  And he endured it all so I could escape God’s richly deserved wrath and come to the Father.

This life is the worst it will ever get

I may suffer fiery trials in this life, but this is the worst it will ever be for me.  In the next life Jesus will wipe away every tear from my eyes and ache in my joints.  But for those who reject Christ, this life is the best they’ll ever know and the next life will be eternal, unremitting misery and despair.

I could be going through this trial apart from Christ

Millions of unbelievers suffer tragedies, disease, and evil at the hands of others apart from the love of Jesus.  They have no comfort from his Spirit, no hope for eternity, no God to help them.  They suffer here then slide into eternal destruction.  Though I may be hurting, my Good Shepherd will never forsake me.

These truths bring perspective to my peewee trials and help me apply the gospel to them.

So how do you encourage yourself when tempted to self-pity?

photo by Cyberliquid


The Most Influential Voice In Your Life

Who is the most influential voice in your life? Listen to the following bit from a message by C.J. Mahaney, given at New Attitude 2008, and see if you can relate. (If you’re using a reader and can’t see the audio player, click here)

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I’m tracking with C.J. From the moment I wake until the moment I sleep a conversation is taking place in my head. And usually this conversation is not informed by God’s word. I evaluate my current circumstances, trials, and struggles based on my feelings rather than God’s word. The result? I experience, at a minimum, consistent low-grade discouragement.

But the good news is, this doesn’t have to be the case. By God’s grace, I can experience joy throughout the day. How? C.J. suggests two ways, both taken from Psalm 42.

Talk To Yourself

I need to stop listening to myself and start talking to myself. I need to do the hard work of reminding myself of God’s truth. Listening to myself is effortless. It takes no work to let my thoughts run their course. But speaking God’s truth to my soul is crucial. I need to regularly (we’re talking multiple times a day here) remember that God has saved me, is for me, is working all things for my good, delights in me, and is shaping me into his image. I need to remember that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. Joy will come as I speak truth to my soul.

Talk To God

Not only do I need to talk to myself, I need to talk to God as well. I must humbly, yet boldly pray the promises of God. What does it look like to pray God’s promises? It looks something like this:

Lord, right now I’m feeling physically sick, and am being tempted to complain. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this trial. But you said that your grace is sufficient for me and that your power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), so would you please give me grace right now? I thank you that you are going to give me grace because you promised to give me grace.

I desperately want to grow in speaking the truth to myself instead of listening to myself. Why? Because I want to experience the daily joy that God intends for me to experience.

What about you? Do you listen to yourself, or do you talk to yourself?

+you can download the entire sermon on the New Attitude website.

Joy In The Morning


How does your morning routine start? Mine proceeds according to the following steps:

- Alarm sounds at approximately 6:30 am, jerking me out of my peaceful slumber.

- Lay in bed for 3 to 5 minutes, wondering if I was hit by a large vehicle at some point during the night.

- Crawl out of bed and stumble my way into the shower.

- Begin internal monologue as I review the previous day and ponder the upcoming day. Anxiety, fear, or frustration set in as I remember all the troubles of yesterday and all the problems of the upcoming day.

- Make large cup of industrial strength coffee.

Do you notice the problem with this picture? Let me point it out for you: I begin my day by listening to myself instead of talking to myself. From the moment I fall out of bed in the morning my mind is churning. I think about unfinished projects at work, people I need to call, ways I sinned the previous day, ways I failed to care for my wife, upcoming events that I need to organize, strategies for improving my fantasy football team, and 10,000 other anxiety-inducing subjects. By the time I step out of the shower I’m already burdened by worry. I’m starting my day by listening to myself.

I should begin my day by reminding myself of God’s truth, and responding to those truths in praise to God. I want my day to start with gratefulness to God. Here’s what I want my morning to look like:

Lord thank you for sustaining me through the night. Thank you for the precious blood of Jesus, which makes me your child this morning. Thank you that I wake this morning, not under your wrath, but under your mercy. Thank you that you have new mercies for me this morning!

I praise your for your sovereignty. I praise you that today you are working all things for my good. I praise you that nothing can separate me from your deep, intense, abiding love. You have ordained all that happens today, and I will rejoice in whatever you bring my way.

Lord thank you for this hot shower, and for hot coffee, and for my wonderful house, and my job. These are all undeserved blessings. Fill me with gratefulness today. Let all I do today be for your glory.

How does your day start? Do you begin your day by listening to yourself or by reminding yourself of God’s truth? Does your day start with anxiety or thanksgiving? Do you speak truth to your soul, or do you let your thoughts run free? Joy is found in meditating on and rejoicing in God’s truth. Let’s start our day with a good dose of truth. And a good dose of coffee.

Napoleon Dynamite and the Faithfulness of God

There are certain things that I can’t change about myself. I need a solid 7 hours of sleep each night if I’m going to function at a semi-conscious level during the day. I believe the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and New York Yankees are a result of the fall. I like drinking coffee that’s strong enough to double as paint stripper. I thoroughly enjoy the movie “Napoleon Dynamite”. I always fold my pizza in half, length-wise, before I eat it. I’m slightly obsessive compulsive when it comes to brushing my teeth. I will never wear a Josh Groban t-shirt, or purchase a Josh Groban album. I’m sorry, that’s just the way I am, and I don’t plan on changing any time soon.

But there are many things about myself that I want to change. I’m arrogant and proud. I share the gospel infrequently at best. I crave the approval of others. I’m selfish, lazy, and self-centered. I’m a sinner who needs to change.

The problem is, it often feels like I’m never going to change. My sin seems like a vast, unconquerable mountain, or a virus that simply can’t be killed. When I find myself sinning in pride for the 327th time this week, I can be tempted to despair. “I’m never going to change,” says my heart. “I’m doomed to struggle with this sin for the rest of my life. I’ll never make progress.”

It’s at these moments that I need to passionately proclaim the truth to myself. In Philippians 1:6 we read, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What a sweet promise from God. I can be assured that I will be changed into the image of Jesus Christ, not because of anything I’m doing, but because God will finish the work He began in me. God isn’t like us. He doesn’t let His projects go unfinished. He is a master architect who always finishes what He starts. God will finish the good work He began in me. By His grace I will overcome my pride, and selfishness, and laziness.

We must take this promise and use it as a hammer to smash despair. When it seems like change is impossible, we must preach Philippians 1:6 to our souls. We cannot allow despair and discouragement to rule us. We must fight to believe this verse until we really, truly believe it. God is at work, changing us, shaping us, and conforming us to Christ.

What’s one area of your life where it seems like you will never change? Take Philippians 1:6 and apply it to that area. God will change you! He will help you overcome your sin. Why? Because God always finishes His projects.

My Frightening Future

I don’t watch the news. I don’t watch local news because it is mind-numbingly boring. I really don’t care about the local woman who owns a cat named “Mr. Snuffy Wuffy”, or about the elderly gentleman who won 2.3 trillion dollars in the Pennsylvania Lottery and decided to spend it all on beef jerky and Coca-Cola. I don’t watch the national news because it’s depressing, and sometimes quite scary. I don’t enjoy hearing that North Korea has built up enough nuclear firepower to wipe out the Western hemisphere, or that Iran has decided to attack the United States and will be firing missiles at the White House sometime in the next few days. There’s always a prophet of doom on the news, saying that our economic future is bleak, and that within a few short years all of us will be forced to wear nothing but burlap sacks. The news makes the future sound frightening.

I don’t watch the news because I struggle with enough fear about the future. Will I have enough money to pay the bills? Will my little girl be healthy? Will I do well at my job? Each season of our lives is filled with opportunities to worry. We worry about getting into the right college, and getting good grades in college, and marrying the right person, and getting a decent job, and being good parents, and having healthy kids, and paying bills, and retiring, and finally dying. Worry is a temptation each of us face on a regular basis.

It’s when we’re worried that we must forcefully remind ourselves of God’s truth. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

What a sweet promise for the Christian! Our future is bright and full of hope, and we can rest secure in God’s plans for us. We must fight to believe this when we’re tempted to worry about the future. When the finances aren’t there,we must remind ourselves that God promises a future and a hope. When illness is our constant companion, we must thank God for our hope-filled future. When it seems like we’re never going to get married and we’re sinking into despair, we must shout this promise at our soul until it’s power warms our heart. Don’t let worry rule you. Fight the good fight of faith by clinging to these precious truths.

What’s one area of life that you’re currently worried about? As you go about your day, meditate on how Jeremiah 29:11 applies to that one area of your life. Be transformed by the power of God’s word as you speak the truth to your soul.

Dental Condemnation

I hate dental visits. In fact, dentists frighten me (no offense to any dentists), and are ranked number three on my frightening people list, just behind car salesman and mimes (don’t ask). A trip to the dentist’s office is a trip into the land of pain. First they jab your teeth with their little pick axe. Then they go in with their high-powered roto-tiller toothbrush, determined to turn your grimy yellows into pearly whites. Finally they whip out the dental floss, invading every nook and cranny of your mouth with that ghastly piece of string, causing small trickles of blood to flow between your teeth. And of course your mouth is hanging open during this whole process, yet you can’t swallow, resulting in large pools of spit collecting in the back of your throat.

But the worst part is the interrogation that takes place after the cleaning. They always ask if you floss regularly (I believe the ADA recommends flossing between 16 and 18 times a day), which we don’t. I floss approximately three times per year, and it’s always after I eat corn on the cob. At no other point will you see floss enter my mouth. And so we walk away from the dental office feeling like a complete dental failure. We’ve failed to meet the standard set by our dentist.

Unfortunately there are many times when I bring my dentist mentality into my relationship with God. As a Christian, I must live by God’s standards. I seek to read my Bible and pray on a regular basis. I fight to kill the sinful desires that are within my heart. I make every effort to love and serve my wife. I try to be humble and teachable.

But the painful truth is, I fail to keep God’s standards. In fact, I’m not even close. Instead of rising early to read my Bible, I decide to sleep and extra 30 minutes. Instead of serving my wife, I serve myself. Instead of pursuing humility, I give in to pride and arrogance. I don’t just miss the mark, I completely miss the target.

When I fail to meet God’s standard, I feel condemned. I feel like God is just barely tolerating me, like He’s cold towards me, like He doesn’t particularly like me anymore. This condemnation weighs me down, stealing my joy and robbing me of my peace.

It’s in these moments that I need to speak the truth of the gospel to myself. I need to grab my soul by the ears and remind it of 1 Timothy 1:15, which says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I can’t allow myself to wallow in condemnation and discouragement. I must fight for faith in the truth that Christ Jesus died for all my sins, and that God delights in me because of the cross. I must speak this truth to myself, and thank God for this truth, and rejoice in this truth until my heart believes every word of it. The gospel is the antidote to condemnation.

Do you experience condemnation when you fail to meet God’s standards? If so, you need to preach the gospel to yourself. Preach it until you believe it with both your head and your heart. Don’t allow condemnation to rule you. Fight the good fight of faith by believing the gospel.