I have heard it said that talking to oneself is the first sign of madness. Well, if that is the case, then I am mad! And, I sincerely hope that there are many more mad people who are reading this article!
I have often talked to myself. Is that such a bad thing? I know that there are people who suffer from schizophrenia, which is defined as a ‘mental disorder involving deterioration of or confusion about the personality’. Now, I am clearly not meaning this, nor am I seeking in any shape or form to be flippant about it.
But there is biblical warrant to talk to yourself as a Christian. The psalmist questions his own soul (Psalm 42). He finds himself in a state of despair and anguish. He is clearly spiritually depressed, and so seeks to address the issue.
I recently came across this quote from Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones: ‘Have you ever noticed that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?’
Lloyd-Jones in his characteristic way deals with an important issue. As Christians, we often find ourselves in a spiritual slump, because we entertain rather than reject certain unhelpful thoughts that have entered our minds. We allow the circumstances of life to dictate to us. The worries and concerns of life push Scripture to one side and we find ourselves in a seemingly never-ending battle.
If we allow ourselves to be continuously defeated, then we will have to end up in the psalmist shoes, asking the question, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?’ (Psalm 42:5). The ‘doctor’s’ advice is often the best advice. If we can master the art of talking to ourselves, then we will be well on the way to ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable’.
Our Saviour came to give us life to the full. We are to be knowing the peace that he has given to us. We are to be glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Yet, how often is that peace and joy marred due to our own failure to address our own issues? In many ways, this is such a simple remedy, but we are often too slow or blind to see the obvious.
Time on our hands
I don’t believe it is right to make excuses for ourselves, but we certainly live in a different age compared to our forefathers. They were not distracted by the technologies of our 21st century. They never spent endless hours watching the television or surfing the web. They never wasted time on their smartphones or Facebooking people.
These are all legitimate things, in themselves, but even legitimate things can be misused and abused. We can all be guilty of this (I am no different). I think we need to grasp the reality of time. Time is such a precious commodity, and yet we can so easily while it away, doing so many things that will not count in eternity.
The Bible exhorts us to ‘redeem the time’. How important and relevant that exhortation is in our generation! I am on my computer as I write this and other articles. My computer is presently being used in a profitable and beneficial way. But, I am also acutely aware that so much precious time can be wasted on the computer.
Young people today have probably never had it so good, and yet that same fact can be their downfall. Christians are, of course, caught up in all of this. They can all too easily be dragged into a downward spiral, if they are not careful.
If you read the Puritans, then you will discover how much they meditated and prayed. Do you think this came easy to them? The Puritan Thomas Shepherd once said, ‘I would rather die than pray’!
It is not that he did not pray. I expect, like all the puritans and great men and women of faith, he prayed most earnestly and fervently. It is the fact that prayer is not easy.
I suspect the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane would rather have died than watch and pray. Our Saviour did not request a great deal from them, but what he did request was not fulfilled. How true were the words he spoke to them, ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’.
Spiritual exercise is a lifelong discipline. You cannot run the London marathon without training hard. I have friends who have entered the marathon, but only because they continuously exercised themselves in such a physical fashion. They had to discipline themselves to go running every week in preparation for the great event.
We Christians need to spiritually exercise daily if we are to function. Daily prayer and Bible reading is a must on our spiritual regime. Why are we so surprised when spiritual fatigue sets in if we are not appropriately exercising?
Do you ever find yourself nicely settled to read your Bible, when suddenly the mind starts to wander? Maybe you are just about to venture into prayer, when like the disciples you are overcome with sleep. If Scripture tells us to aim for perfection, then that certainly entails constant spiritual exercise.
We are told in Scripture that Elijah was ‘a man with a nature like ours’ (James 5:17). But, he exercised spiritually. He prayed earnestly and witnessed amazing results to his prayers. The results are to be had if the exercise is done.
That is not to say that every time we pray for something we get instant results. It is not a case of pray and demand. After all, we are to never demand of God. But, if we are praying according to his will and claiming his promises, then we can surely expect to see great answers to our prayers.
W. Tozer once said, ‘If one-tenth of one per cent of the prayers made in any American city on any Sabbath day were answered, the world would see its greatest revival come with the speed of light. We seem to have gotten used to prayers that produce nothing. God still hears prayer and all the promises are still good, yet we go on at a pretty dying rate. Can someone tell us the answer’?
That of course applies to us Christians here in the UK as well — Tozer certainly knew how to ‘pack a punch’!
Chewing the cud
I have already hinted at meditation. Talking to yourself is all about biblical meditation. It is not about going into some ‘spiritual trance’, but copying the example of the psalmist and so many worthies throughout church history. It is taking great truths of Scripture and thinking much upon them. It is chewing over these doctrines just like a camel chewing the cud. It is amazing when one just spends ten minutes doing this.
A good exercise is to take a single verse of the Bible and speak your thoughts out loud. In a real sense, many of the articles in Evangelical Times are the fruits of meditation, along with studying. If only we meditated more! One of the saddest aspects in the church today is the lost art of meditation.
As I have already written, there are too many technological distractions. Until we learn to limit these, then we will never properly talk to ourselves and will forfeit much precious fellowship with our God and Saviour.
As the hymn writer put it, ‘There is a way for man to rise, to that sublime abode’. Do we want to rise to that sublime abode? Or are we content to only eat the crumbs along life’s journey? Ultimately, less fellowship with the world means more fellowship with God.
Barry Loeber is a member of the world mission committee at Gateway Baptist Church, Burgess Hill