Soul Music: Talking to Myself

“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?”[i]

That quote came back to me the other day, seemingly out of the blue. But this time I could even remember where I had seen it. It was from a sermon on spiritual depression by an English preacher named Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Pleased with my recall ability, I looked up the sermon on line to retrieve the larger context. The fact is, lots of people quote Lloyd-Jones—and for good reason. He was a wise and celebrated pastor in the last century.

The above quote is a response to David’s song of lament in Psalm 42. It’s a wonderful psalm with deep emotional and spiritual roots. You might even call it “soul music.” If you will indulge me, it may be more closely related to contemporary rap music than to traditional hymns. Reflect on David talking to himself in Psalm 42:

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.

We’ve all witnessed a driver in the car next to us at a stoplight who seems to be carrying on a dramatic conversation with an invisible passenger. He’s talking to himself, we assume. However, in today’s digital age with Blue Tooth and smart phones, it might be a woman reminding her husband to pick up milk after work.

I chuckle when I witness somebody actually conversing with himself or herself. In the interest of full disclosure, however…I do it, too. Consistently. I could try to blame it on my advancing years, but I also talked to myself when I was much younger. Some of my best conversations have been with myself. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve also done that.

I used to verbally talk through my sermons. There I was, alone in my office on a Saturday night, preaching to a large imaginary and appreciative congregation.

But let’s get back to our opening quote: “…Most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.”

Life is tough. We are like batters standing at home plate with two outs and facing a two-strike count in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line. Victory is in our hands to win or lose. The ace pitcher throws crazy curves, blazing fastballs and sneaky sliders past us. Our confidence wavers. We over-analyze, tiptoeing toward defeat. Our greatest problem is listening to the wrong coach—our old fallen nature or worse, the enemy’s accusing voice.

Let me share how the conversation goes when I listen to myself versus when I talk to myself. When I listen to myself I listen to my emotions and feelings. Talking to myself, however, is more like rehearsing what I already believe to be true.

Sometimes I wallow in my past sins and guilt rather than laying hold of God’s marvelous grace and the promise that His grace is always greater than my sin (Romans 5:20-21). Too often, I listen to the lie that I will always be a homeless loser wrapped in filth rather than God’s redeemed son, cleansed and forgiven, and seated with Christ in heavenly places

(Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 2:6). When I listen to myself, I hear the voice saying “You blew it again, Syd, just like I said you would. You’ll never be good enough.” When I talk to myself I am reminded that even though I will never be “good enough,” it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s not about how good I am but how perfect Jesus Christ is. He’s the One who took my place, experiencing the just wrath of our holy God that I deserved. My feelings say I am a jerk; God says I am justified. I must remind myself that not only am I forgiven, God has charged the righteousness of Christ to my account. That’s justification, a big word for a truth that is beyond words.

Lloyd-Jones challenges us to always come back to the gospel of grace. It’s a matter of belief or unbelief, faith or feeling. The problem is unbelief; the solution is belief. When I am dwelling on my sin, have I forgotten that “the blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from all sin”? (1 John 1:7, emphasis mine)

It’s a matter of focus, isn’t it? Remember when Peter clambered out of the fishing boat to walk on the storm-tossed Sea of Galilee? When his eyes were fixed upon the Master and his ears listening to Jesus’ inviting voice, Peter did the unthinkable. But when he looked at the waves and listened to the wind, he began to sink, only this time it was more than spiritual depression. It was the bottom of Davey Jones’ locker!

Faith, according to Hebrews12:2, “persists in looking at Christ—the Author and Perfecter of our faith.”

So I ask myself, “Who am I listening to? Who is shaping my thinking about my spiritual identity?” Is it the lying voice within or the promises of God? Am I listening to myself or talking to myself? Listen again to the musician:

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.

Deep down, do you believe that? Do you actually believe and take your stand on the fact that He is your salvation and your God?

If you do, then take a minute to tell yourself the truth.

For those who prefer music to conversation, I share a couple of sites to enjoy and be reminded of our standing before God even though our inner voices challenge our faith and try to condemn us. The first song, “Greater” by MercyMe is more contemporary and contrasts what we were before and after submitting to Jesus. The second song is a southern gospel rendition of Fanny Crosby’s classic “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it.”

So take your pick, but as you listen to the lyrics, let them talk to your soul.

Next week I invite you join me as we reflect on how “Soul Music” can encourage us when life is the pits and our emotions scream, “God, why have you deserted me?” [1] Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 15