January 4, 2008
Talking to Yourself
How Scripture meditation helps to fight off depression
There are numerous spiritual benefits to memorizing Scripture, which we have discussed in a previous article. However, I want to bring your attention to how meditating on God’s Word helps train our emotions to submit to God. Psalm 42 is a wonderful song of testimony to God as the Helper of those in despair:
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. 5 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. 6 O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls; all Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me. 8 The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10 As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 11 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God.
Throughout this song we notice the man’s low emotional state by descriptive words like, “My tears have been my food” (v. 3) and “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (vv. 5, 11). He tells us that he poured out his soul as he remembered a previous time when he was closer to the Lord (v. 4) and, as his critics became more vocal, he cried out to God, “Why hast Thou forgotten me?” (v. 9). It is obvious this man was struggling with spiritual depression. But how did he deal with it?
The answer is that he worked through the depression by talking to himself about what God is like through reciting biblical truth. He reminded himself that God is “the living God” and “the help of His presence” who commands His “lovingkindness in the daytime” (vv. 2, 5, 8). Twice he told himself to “Hope in God,” being confident “I shall again praise Him” (vv. 5, 11). In other words, he fought off his unreliable feelings with what he knew to be true of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained the difference between talking to ourselves, and letting “ourselves” talk to us. In his book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, he wrote:
How do we reconcile the two things? In this way. I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. this is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. 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 problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this [the man in Ps. 42]; 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’….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.
What Lloyd-Jones was essentially saying is that we must renew our minds with God’s truth. We must demand that our feelings fall in line with God’s Word. We must use Scripture to whip our emotions into shape. We must flush out self-focus and self-pity with the fresh water of hope in God. One simple way to feed this habit is by memorizing Scripture.
How are you doing in this spiritual discipline? Perhaps you are like me and you have not only slacked off, but you have completely fallen on your face. Will you resolve with me to get back up and run this race together?
Hoping we will talk to ourselves, together,
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 20-21.