Preaching to Yourself

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Psalm 43 strikes us exactly where we live. The writer feels deep, abiding conflict. On the one hand, he seems confident that God will vindicate, defend, and deliver him (v. 1) because he has taken refuge in God (v. 2a). On the other hand, he feels as if God has rejected him, causing him to go around mourning over the oppression of his enemies (v. 2b). He simultaneously expresses abiding confidence and agonising confusion. Can you relate?

Do you know what it is to have your theology and your theory straight, knowing that God is for you and that nobody can really be against you, but at the same time find yourself wondering why God has seemed to forsake you? It is a tension that is difficult to come to grips with, but one in which we live far too often.

If you know that tension, Psalm 43 is written to help you. Having expressed his confused confidence (vv. 1–2), the writer knows what he must do in order to return to a sense of stable faith. He does two things to help himself in vv. 3–5: He speaks to God (vv. 3–4) and he speaks to himself (v. 5).

The writer’s prayer to God is theologically rich: “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God” (vv. 3–4). No longer does the psalmist plead for vindication from his enemies. He has seemingly asked for that (vv. 1–2) and then moved on. In these verses, he seems to understand that there is something far more important than personal vindication. He prays, instead, that he would know God, experience joy in God, and express the joy of God to others. He takes no delight in the oppression of his enemies but realises that it is far more important for him to change than it is for his enemies to change.

Does this attitude guide your prayers when you are perplexed? When you feel as if God has turned away from you, is your only prayer for relief and vindication, or do you ask God to change you in the midst of your feelings of alienation? Do you pray that God will use the time of seeming isolation to teach you more about himself so that you can experience more of him and express that joy and confidence to others?

But the writer speaks not only to God; he speaks also to himself: “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” (v. 5). He knows that he will not return to a sense of hope if he does not preach truth to himself. He knows, as we often say, that he must preach the gospel to himself.

In his book Spiritual Depression, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones captures the importance of preaching to yourself:

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 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 repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.”

It is the privilege of the elders to ensure that the gospel is preached in the church, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you preach the gospel to yourself. As you reflect on this short psalm, pray that God will give you the ability to preach truth to yourself so that your soul will be returned to a place of stability.

Stuart