A Conversation With My Self (A sermon on self-talk)

“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”  Psalm 42:5 ESV

“Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.”  Psalm 42:5 AMP

Because of their share vocabulary, themes, and refrain, most biblical scholars think Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 were originally one unit. They open a collection of psalms (42-49), attributed to the Korahites, which opens the Second Book of the Psalms. The exact setting of this unit (42-43) is unknown, but it appears to be the prayer of an individual estranged from his home and the Temple. Some have suggested that Psalm 42-43 was written by David when he was driven from Jerusalem during Absalom’s (David’s son) rebellion. But whoever he is, the psalmist is being taunted by his enemies, he has been exiled or otherwise denied access to the Temple, and he is in despair. The unit can be divided into three sections: (1) 42:1-5, (2) 42:6-11, and (3) 43:1-5. The unit is held together by a recurring refrain in 42:5, 11, and 43:5: “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.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of the 17th century, known as; “The Prince of Preachers,” commented on this text: “As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hopes argues with his sorrows.” Yes! In this psalm, we have a record of a man who had a conversation with himself.

Now, before you think that strange, having a conversation with yourself is actually normal and natural behavior! In fact, research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day! The real strangeness is not in actually talking to yourself; it is when you constantly do it out loud! So, having a conversation with yourself is an occurrence that happens all of the time! The truth of the matter is that no one does anything without talking to themselves first! Before every decision; we have a conversation with our selves. After every compliment or complaint; we have a conversation with ourselves! But what kind of conversation is it? Researchers say that 80% of the conversations we have with ourselves are negative and disempowering, things like: “They don’t like me. . . I’m never going to be able to pull this off. . . I’ll never lose this weight.” And when we constantly have these types of conversations with ourselves, it is no wonder that we must constantly have battles of anxiety and depression because 95% of our emotions are determined by the way we talk to ourselves!

In the text, the psalmist seems to be battling with depression. But the thing I like about it is that, although, he is somewhat depressed, as a child of God, he knows better, and so, he has a conversation with himself! He asked his soul; his inner self: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” In other words: “Self, why are you so depressed?” Now, if and whenever we find ourselves feeling sad or depressed, the best place to start of the road to recovery is to ask the question: ‘Why?’ When we ask; why?, we just might discover our feelings really are not justified! The song writer asked her soul: “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart by lonely and lone for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!” Yes! The psalmist asked himself: “Why are you depressed and why are you filled with anxiety?” He tells himself, first of all, to hope in God. The Hebrew word for ‘hope’ in the text, means ‘to hope, to wait with hope, to have hope with a positive expectation.’ Oh! My brothers and sisters, there it is! When you’re feeling down and out, it might be because you have been saying the wrong things to yourself and not asking yourself the right questions!

No! No matter what going on, on the outside of you; it is never as important as what going on, on the inside of you! Even the conversations we have with others are not as important as the conversations we have with ourselves! You see, most of us never quite get a handle on our lives because we keep looking without, when the problem is actually within! The negative things other folks say to us and about us are not as powerful as the negative things we say about and to ourselves! In 1 John 4:4, we read: “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (ESV) Now, we know that the ‘he who is in you’ in that text is God, and the ‘he that is in the world’ is Satan or his designated agent, but the truth of that verse is also applicable to our subject: The ‘inner-me’ is greater than my enemy! Unless by negative self-talk, I make my ‘inner-me’ my enemy! And that is the problem with most folks! The reason they are constantly depressed and not successful in life is because they have an internal conflict; they are fighting against their own self! Therefore, we must always remember; what we say about and to ourselves is always greater than what any other person might say to or about us!

The psalmist had a conversation himself to encourage himself! Be careful of how you talk to yourself! Be kind to yourself! Never put yourself down, it’s really not needed because there are enough people in the world, standing in line, waiting to do that for you! Don’t make yourself your enemy! Yes! I like the fact that the psalmist said to himself, and I am ‘Millerizing it;’ “Self, why are you depressed and filled with anxiety? It doesn’t matter what the enemy is doing because greater is he that is within you than he that is in the world! Look to the Lord! I don’t believe He brought us this far to leave us now! If the Lord brought us to it; He’s going to bring us through it! Just sit tight, wait on the Lord and remember the good times! This is not the first time we’ve ever been in trouble! Do you remember when? The Lord did it then and He’s going to do it again! Besides, trouble don’t last always! It can’t rain forever, and even while it’s raining, up above the clouds; the sun is still shining!” That was what the psalmist said to himself! No! Things are rarely as bad as we tell ourselves they are! But, if we keep on telling ourselves how bad they are; they will get worst! Most people don’t realize it, but our words influence the way we feel and the way we feel influences the actions we take, and the consistent actions we take, have a cumulative effect of shaping our character and determining our destiny! Wherever we are right now is because of the consistent conversations we have had with ourselves in the past! If you don’t like where you are! If you want to change your destination; the change will begin when you change what you consistently say to yourself!

Now, the Bible says in KJV style: “faith cometh by hearing.” In plain language, faith is developed from what we hear. But the hearing is not just from what other folks say, it also comes from hearing what we say to ourselves! In fact, as we said earlier, what we say to ourselves is much more powerful, for good or bad, than what others say to us and here’s why: We can choose to disagree with and reject what others say to us and about us, but we always accept as truth what we say to and about ourselves, whether it is actually true or not! Now, most of the time, what we say to and about ourselves did not originate with us, but rather with some authority we believed (had faith in), from childhood, such as; our parents, teachers, and other adults. That’s why, we should be ever so careful how we talk to our children! Most messed-up adults were messed up children who accepted the bad and negative judgement and labels from parents and other adult who were messed up themselves because as children, they accepted the bad judgement of parents who were messed up because, as children. . . . you get the picture? The root of some of present-day inter-personal issues can be traced back through generations!

But, the key to changing your situation is not to be angry with your parents or any of your ancestors! When you were born, there was no manual or an instruction book sent home with you from the hospital. So, your parents did the best they could with what they knew! But since you are listening to this word today; you now have access to knowledge that could change, not only your life, but the lives of generations to come! All that is possible because now you know, you need to go home, sit down, and have a heart-to-heart honest, positive and open conversation with yourself!

Now, someone at this point might be asking; ‘Well, what should I say to myself?’ Well first of all, you need to quit telling yourself what you think about yourself and start telling yourself what God says about yourself! Quit telling yourself you are a chump because the word of God says you are a champ! Tell yourself: “Romans 8:37 says, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Quit telling yourself that you are a victim because the word of God says that you are a victor! Tell yourself: “1 John 5:4-5 says: ‘For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ Tell yourself: “Self, since I have been born of God and I believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that means I am an overcomer; I am a victor and not a victim!” Yes! You’ve got to discipline yourself to believe and accept; not what other people say and think, not even what you say and think, but rather what the Word of God (the Bible) says about you!

Now, you need to remember, I said you’ve got to discipline yourself in this area! That means, it’s not going to happen without consistent, intentional, attention and effort on your part! We’ve been talking to ourselves wrong for so long that when we start talking to ourselves right, it will not feel right, at first! We’ve been having bad conversations with ourselves for so long that having a good conversation with ourselves will seem unnatural and fake, at first! But as you stick with the program, surely, gradually, and eventually, your world and your life will be transformed by the renewal of your mind and your positive faith-affirming self-conversations. Because, when you change your conversation; you will change your thinking, and when you change your thinking; you will change your life! The Bible says: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus! That means we should think and speak like Jesus, even when we are having a conversation with ourselves!

Well, I need to quit here, but even when we change our conversation with ourselves; life won’t always be easy! Sometimes, it will seem like more than we can bear! But when the tough days come, remember the words of an old familiar song I heard them singing the other day: “Like a ship that’s tossed and driven; battered by an angry sea! When the storms of life are raging and their fury falls on me! I wonder what I have done, to make this race so hard to run, then I say to my soul; (I have a conversation with myself!) Yes, then I say to my soul: ‘Take courage! The Lord will make a way somehow!”

 

Seeking the Kingdom of God First!

JKingdom of Godesus said in Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV)  

But, it’s kind of hard to look for something when you not exactly sure what you’re looking for! It’s like when I was a boy, my father would often tell me to go and bring him a certain tool. Now, he had already previously told me the names of the tools and what they looked like, but being an unfocused little boy, of course I had forgotten his lessons. So, when he told me to go and bring him a tool, more often than not, I would end up bringing him the wrong tool because I didn’t know what I was looking for! Most of the time I would bring two or three, hoping that one of them was the right one!

That is the way it is with many people today in regard to the instructions of Jesus to seek first the Kingdom of God! They don’t exactly know what Jesus was talking about so they just assume Jesus was saying: “Try to live right and make going to Heaven your top priority!” But is that really what Jesus said? Is that really what Jesus meant when he said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God?” I really don’t think so!

When we look at the preaching and teaching of Jesus, one of the things that is immediately obvious is the fact that he was obsessed with the subject of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven! The Kingdom was the main focus of his preaching and teaching. The mighty works and miracles he performed were all about demonstrating the power of the Kingdom! Most of the parables and stories he told were about illustrating what the Kingdom is like! In Matthew 4:17, at the start of his public ministry, we read: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV)  It interesting that in most evangelical preaching, the theme is: “Repent, so that you might go to Heaven when you die!” But that is NOT what Jesus preached! When Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, most of the time he was not referring to a place called “Heaven!” When Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God, most of the time he was referring to the present rule or reign of God in the heart and lives of people! He was talking about submitting to God’s rule and authority!

So, when he said: “But, seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” He was saying; “Seek to make the rule, authority, and word of God your first priority!” He was also telling his disciples (and those who would follow him now) to seek the Kingdom of God with the same intensity and urgency that those who don’t know God (the Gentiles) seek food, drink, and clothing! In the context of the passage, Jesus wasn’t telling his disciples to make going to Heaven their main pursuit, he was telling them to make the authority, the rule, the reign, and the authoritative word of God the main pursuit of their lives! As they did that, all the necessities needed for life would be added to them as a matter of course, and of course, they would go to Heaven when they died!

There are many “would-be-followers” of Christ today who are seeking blessings, prosperity, health and wealth! But we are never instructed to seek those things in the Bible. In fact, the Bible teaches that those things would seek us as we make seeking the Kingdom of God our top priority! (See Deuteronomy 28, Psalm 23:6, Matthew 6:31-33) However, we can’t make seeking the Kingdom of God our top priority if we don’t know what the Kingdom of God is! We will be just like I was as a little boy, trying to help my father. I can’t count the number of times he told me to bring him a pair of pliers, but I ended up bringing him a pair of wire-cutters instead!

Why People Perish (Even) With A Vision

vison statementThe first part of the KJV’s (King James Version) rendition of Proverbs 29:18 is often cited as a proof-text for the vision statements of individuals, corporations, and even some churches and other religious organizations. In case you are not familiar with it by the passage notation, let me cite it for you: “Where there is no vision, the people perish. . . .” But experience has proven over and over again that in many cases, even where there is a “vision” present; the people still perish! Why? They perish because of an erroneous interpretation and thus wrong application to this well-known passage.

But before we even get into the Hebrew text to find out what the statement is really saying, if one would just take an even honest look at the KJV rendition of the whole verse, it is apparent that something is awry with the way this passage is usually interpreted and applied. First of all, the well-known part that most people are familiar with is only the first part of the verse. The way the verse is composed and structured, the first part was not written to be separate or thought of as being unrelated to the second part of the verse. The first part is the first half of a couplet! It’s just one side of the coin! It’s just the “in” of the “in-and-outs!” So let’s look at the verse in its entirety: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Now, although this is part of what is called “wisdom literature,” it is structured in the Hebrew poetic form called parallelism. In Hebrew parallelism, the author makes a statement on one line, and then he; restates, adds to, or makes a contrast on the next line. Usually the words in the first line have corresponding or parallel words or ideas in the second line. In the verse in question, “vision” in the first line is parallel to “law” in the second line. Remember now, we just said that the parallel words or ideas usually restates, adds to, or contrast one another. In this case, “law” is restating the idea of “vision.” So, even without looking at the Hebrew, we already know that the terms; “vision” and “law” are related to one another. They are either opposites or they are relating the same idea.

Now, as we look at the two phrases in parallel, we need to ask: How does the idea of people not having a vision fit with the idea of someone being happy or blessed by keeping the law? Well, if we accept the way the first line has been traditionally interpreted and applied, we would have to admit that one has nothing to do with the other! Because, according to the traditional interpretation and application, the first line has to do with goals and goal-setting and the second line has to do with being obedient to the law! One idea has nothing to do with the other! That is, if we accept the traditional interpretation and application! So, we have to decide if the writer had a brain-lapse or just maybe our traditional interpretation and application is wrong. I think the latter is the case.

So let’s go to the Hebrew text for the answer! Now, before we start, I am in no way professing to be a Hebrew scholar! I received a decent grade in Hebrew when I studied it in seminary, but for the most part “He-brewed” me: I barely got out alive! At any rate, let’s take a look! The Hebrew word that is translated as “vision” by the KJV is a word that more properly refers to prophetic vision, prophecy, or divine guidance. Therefore, it is not a reference to goals or plans, but rather to divine communication from the Lord. So, the problem in the text is not a lack of plans or goals, but rather the lack of a word from the Lord! So, if that is the correct idea, then it parallels perfectly with the second part of the verse! The idea of “divine guidance” is a parallel to the concept of “law.” When we look up the word for “law” in the Hebrew, we discover that the word in Hebrew is actually “torah” and it means; law, direction, or instruction! Therefore, the first part of the couplet should be rendered similar to this; “Where there is no prophetic word, or prophecy, or divine instruction, the people. . .”

Now, I didn’t complete the first couplet because we still have to deal with the idea of “perish.” So, when we look up the Hebrew word behind the English word “perish,” we discover the word means, to let loose, or to be let loose, or to be let loose of restraint.” So the idea is not that of perishing as in being destroyed or ruined, but rather is that of being unrestrained or wild! So let’s see what the verse says in light of our discoveries: “Where or when there is no prophetic word, or divine instruction (from the Lord), the people are unrestrained or the people run wild!” Wow! That’s a far cry from a “vision” statement!  The whole verse can thus be rendered: “Where or when there is no prophetic word or divine instruction (from the Lord), the people run wild! But blessed is he (or) the one that keeps or obeys the law (more specifically the written law) or the (written) word of the Lord!”

So, we can conclude that people perish, even with a vision, because a vision (in the sense that we use the word today) cannot save, nor is it really designed to save people from destruction! People, corporations, and even some churches and religious organizations have great visions and great visionaries, but yet they are still perishing! Only obedience to the word of God can save people from destruction! And all one has to do is but look at the news and take a look around to see people running wild! People are running wild, not because of a lack of vision, but rather because of a rejection of the authority of the word of God (in and over their lives) as it is revealed in the written Scriptures!