Life Preservers: Part 3
Typically when I preach, I write my sermon out word for word so I don’t forget anything. But there’s one particular sermon that I have never written down. I’ve preached it so many times that I have it completely memorized by sheer repetition. I’ve probably preached it hundreds, maybe even thousands of times.
But I’ve never preached it to a crowd before. In fact, no one has ever heard this sermon because…well…I preach it in my head.
Now hang with me here. I know this sounds kind of strange. But what I’m about to share with you has been the single greatest weapon in my fight against anxiety and depression. In the ocean of anxiety, this particular life preserver has kept me afloat in the darkest of storms. (You can read about the previous life preservers here and here.)
The third life preserver I want to share with you is the discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself. In my last post, I talked about the discipline of thinking about what you think about; taking thoughts captive and not allowing your mind to wander into What If Land. Controlling your thinking is a vital step in the fight against anxiety.
One thing I have come to realize is that in a weak moment, much of my thinking is untrue, unhelpful, and just plain sinful. I experience thoughts like:
“I’m always going to feel this way.”
“No one understands how I feel because no one else feels this way.”
“I must not be a real Christian because real Christians are never depressed or anxious.”
“God must not care about me because I feel this way.”
“Nothing good can come from feeling this way.”
In obedience to Philippians 4:8, these thoughts must be stopped. But it’s not enough to simply halt thoughts in their tracks. You need to replace those thoughts with truth.
Pastor and author, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is famous for saying in his book on spiritual depression:
“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?... 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… And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
This is where my sermon to myself comes in. In these weak moments where sinful thoughts begin to invade my mind, I fight those thoughts with the message I so desperately need to hear: the gospel. Not self-help motivational gobblety goop. Not positive thoughts or mindless meditation. Just gospel truth for the soul.
The gospel in the simplest terms is the good news that Jesus saves. He saves sinners like me through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. Not because of anything I’ve done or any good in me but simply because of his grace.
This is the message I preach, over and over and over again. I preach it again and again because I forget it again and again. As I’ve heard pastors say before, Christians tend to suffer from gospel amnesia. We get saved, then we get over it. We experience the saving grace of Jesus then live like we don’t need it anymore. There can be no greater tragedy. We should not and cannot get over the gospel. We do not go past it or beyond it, only deeper into it.
J.D. Greear, pastor, author, and president of the SBC, provides a great analogy: “The gospel is not just the diving board off of which we jump into the pool of Christianity; the gospel is the pool itself.” Tim Keller, author and pastor, nailed it as well when he wrote, “The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”
We need the gospel, every moment of every day. We can either sit idly by hoping the gospel is of first importance in our lives, or we can ensure it is by preaching it to ourselves each day.
So what does this look like, practically speaking? What does it sound like to preach the gospel to yourself? Let me give you a few excerpts from my sermon. It varies based on circumstances, the scripture I’m reading, or the sin I’m struggling with, but here’s what it might sound like on a typical day in the life:
“Micah, why are you worried about that trip next month? There’s nothing you can do right now. But you know what you can do right now? Be faithful today. Trust God today. Serve God today. This is why Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow for today has enough trouble of its own. That situation in the future is out of your control. But do you know who does have control over that situation? You do know, you just forget so let me remind you. God is in control over all things. He is working all things together for the good of those who love him. I know you’re struggling to believe this, but all you need to do is remember the cross. If God willingly crushed his own Son for your sin, then surely he will give you the grace you need when you need it. Don’t allow worry to dominate your mind. Trust in the Lord.”
“I know you feel alone. I know you feel like a failure. I know you feel like God has abandoned you in this situation. But your feelings are not facts. What is fact is the Word of God where God promised he would never leave you or forsake you. In fact, you can be certain of God’s presence with you right now because of the gospel. God abandoned his own Son on the cross, so he would never have to abandon you. He poured out his wrath against your sin on Jesus, so you would never have to experience it for yourself. Yes, you will have days and moments where you feel defeated, but scripture says you have the victory through Jesus. Because of Jesus, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Fight your feelings with the facts of God’s Word today.”
“Why are you afraid right now? Are you seriously worried about the opinions of that person? If they like you or not? Why do you need their approval when you have the approval of the Maker of Heaven and Earth? Because of Christ’s death on the cross, your sins have been forgiven, and you stand before God as his justified son. The gospel says you are a co-heir with Jesus himself. If God himself has accepted you, why does it matter if sinful men reject you? And even more, God has not given you a spirit of fear. He’s given you the Spirit of power, love, and self-control. This is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave. If you have that Spirit within you, and you do, then you have nothing to fear today. Rest in your identity in the gospel.”
As you can see, it’s the same message applied a thousand different ways. That’s the beauty of the gospel. The good news about Jesus speaks to everything we face in life. No matter the size of the waves or the power of the wind, the gospel is sufficient for every storm. The more I hold onto it, the more it holds me up.
So let me encourage you, stop listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself. And make your message the one you need to hear the most, the life-preserving message of the gospel of Jesus.