Saturday, May 10, 2008

Preaching the Gospel to all sorts of voices

Many readers of this blog are familiar with Martyn Lloyd-Jones' instruction to preaching the Gospel to ourselves. In his book, Spiritual Depression (pp. 20-21), Lloyd-Jones said:

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 problem 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.

My colleague, Anthony Bradley, has also written well about this reality: these voices in our head, often the voice of our Enemy, often speaking to us with dark and negative words ("you are a loser; no one cares about you; why should you bother? etc.). I wonder, though, how often we have thought about preaching the Gospel to ourselves with the voices that we hear inside ourselves are praising, flattering, and/or boastful.

This whole line of thought--our/my great need to hear the Gospel cutting through voices of self-pity or boasting--struck me in my morning worship as I read Psalm 34 and John Piper's What Jesus Demands from the World.

From Psalm 34, the Lord confront me with my self-pity. There the singer declares, "O fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing" (34:9-10). I thought immediately of another text that has been kicking me in the pants recently, Psalm 23:1, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want (lack)."

How often I have sat in my study in the early morning complaining to God because I lack! Calling, reputation, finances, family, and a host of other issues have caused me to complain in self-pity--yet here again, the Lord challenged the voices in my heart. He called me the preach the Gospel to myself, "O heart, you think you lack security and significance because you are wrestling with these things; but as long as you seek the Lord, you'll lack no good thing because the Lord gives you himself! Isn't that enough? Be content, rest, find your satisfaction in him--taste and see that he is good!"

The Lord used Piper to confront me from a different direction. Talking about the "righteousness of the Pharisees" which was really "tragic and ugly," Piper noted that the Pharisees really loved money, praise, and sex--that was their "righteousness." It was the middle issue--praise--that arrested me (p. 194):

The reward they sought for what they did was not the enjoyment of God’s fellowship, but the admiration of others. Jesus said, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others” (Matt. 23:5-7). This love affair with the praise of man made genuine faith in the self-sacrificing Christ impossible. So Jesus said to them, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). Their hearts were not drawn to God as their reward, but to the praise of man.

It struck me with great force that at those times when I feel my heart being drawn to the praise of men rather than God as my reward, when I hear the voices telling me, "You are a rock star; you are the greatest ___ (fill in the blank); there is no one greater than you," it is another occasion to preach the Gospel to myself: "O heart, the praise of men is ultimately a drug that cannot satisfy. You know that--you've experienced the emptiness that comes from longing for praise, receiving it, and feeling empty at the end. Run to Christ--make your boast in him! Taste and see that the Lord is good, see and savor him alone! Only then will you find rest, contentment, and joy."

At the end of it all, the Spirit must use his word of gospel grace every day to confront my heart, to kill this sin of pride that manifests itself as self-pity and boasting, and to silence the voices. Only then, only then, will I hear the sweet voice of the Spirit say, "You are not a deserving servant; you are a beloved son. Rest in that and find in me the satisfaction, security, and significance for which your heart longs."

5 comments:

Charles Johnson said...

Thank you for these piercing words...

Frank said...

Dear Sean:

I, too, appreciate your apt reminder. By the way, since you're in Cambridge for a week, let me encourage you to worship at the RPCNA congregation on Antrim Street this Lord's Day. It's a nice congregation, where you will experience God-glorifying worship.

Cordially,
Frank J. Smith

JF Jones said...

Sean, your post has reminded me that the "different voices" are all lurking within me. As a pastor, I can often get lost in thinking about how the Gospel strikes various voices in the congregation. Lo and behold, within me are different voices! At times I long to earn the praise of others, at times I long to have confirmation of how lame I am (see Anthony's post). Each undoes my fellowship with God.

Thanks for the reminder.

Eastview Baptist Church said...

Sean,

Thanks for this article.
It was a great read and great reminder.

Bless you my Brother,

Pastor Jim D.

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