The words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones have had a significant impact on my life. Years ago, I heard John Piper quote him in one of his sermons where he speaks about the concept of preaching to yourself, and that has revolutionized my inner life. I encourage you to watch an excerpt here. Jerry Bridges took the same concept and wrote about preaching the gospel to yourself in his many books, including Respectable Sins, and that equipped me even more.
What is the inner life? It’s the territory that exists between our ears but also in the crevices of our own hearts. It’s where we listen to our own silent accusations and become paralyzed by the inner dialogue. When my eyes were opened to this and I realized I didn’t have to blindly accept these accusations, my own inner life started to radically change. See, I thought that voice that talked to me when I first woke up in the morning was the boss. I didn’t know I had the permission, the ability, and the responsibility to critically evaluate those thoughts and talk back to them, and more powerfully, use Scripture to combat the lies and doubts that came at me throughout the day.
The concept of the inner life and learning how to preach to yourself is woven throughout Lloyd-Jones’ book, Spiritual Depression, which is a collection of 21 sermons. I’ve been slowly making my way through the whole book and have been greatly strengthened as I read Lloyd-Jones urging his listeners to take themselves in hand and correctly diagnosis their spiritual maladies. In his sermon, Where is Your Faith, he takes a familiar scene from Luke 8 in which the disciples panic during a storm at sea while Jesus remains asleep, seemingly unconcerned. After calming the storm with a word, Jesus asks one question: “Where is your faith?”
Lloyd-Jones uses this question to make several points about what faith is, and what faith is not. But underneath his exposition, he also adds several exhortations to preach to yourself. Like the skilled doctor that he was, he puts his finger on not just the sickness but the cure.
Faith isn’t a matter of feeling.
“A Christian is not meant to be dejected when everything goes wrong. He is told to ‘rejoice’. Feelings belong to happiness alone, rejoicing takes in something much bigger than feelings; and if faith were a matter of feelings only, then when things go wrong and feelings change, faith will go.”
If faith were only a matter of how we feel, we’d be in a sad state. Anyone who’s lived more than a minute knows how quickly our feelings can change. Dejection is the sickness L-J has diagnosed. He then goes on to write the prescription, focusing on the nature of faith and how it operates.
Faith does not act automatically.
“Many people, it seems to me, conceive of faith as if it were something similar to those thermostats which you have in connection with a heating apparatus, you set your thermostat at a given level, you want to maintain the temperature at a certain point and it acts automatically.”
The prescription is faith, but faith doesn’t mean do nothing. Faith does not work automatically. The disciples in the boat with Jesus may have believed that because Jesus was in the boat, he would take care of things without them having to ask. And many of us think that once we’ve placed our faith in Christ for salvation, there’s nothing more to be done. Faith is something we relegate to our past, not something we must put into action every day. And act we must! But how?
Faith is something we must bring into operation.
“How then does one put faith into operation? What do I mean by saying that faith is something we have to apply? I can divide my answer in this way. The first thing I must do when I find myself in a difficult position is to refuse to allow myself to be controlled by the situation.”
The disciples allowed their circumstances to control them. They became overwhelmed by the storm and the waves crashing into the boat. And so do we! When the storms of life come at us, we seem to be hardwired to glue our eyes on how bad the situation is and allow that to control us. But faith doesn’t do that.
Faith is a refusal to panic.
“Faith is a refusal to panic, come what may. Browning, I think had that idea when he defined faith like this: ‘With me, faith means perpetual unbelief kept quiet, like the snake ‘neath Michael’s foot’.”
I love that imagery. L-J is saying here that faith is activated first of all by not allowing ourselves to be panicked. The disciples allowed themselves to panic even though the Lord of Creation was in the boat with them! And we panic also, don’t we? We act just like the disciples and assume, in the midst of trouble, that the Lord isn’t there and the Lord doesn’t care. But L-J is telling us to activate our faith. He says we must take charge of ourselves and not allow our circumstances to drive us. But what’s next?
“Having taken that first step, having pulled yourself up, you then remind yourself of what you believe and what you know. That again is something these foolish disciples did not do. If only they had stopped a moment and said: ‘Now then what about it? Is it possible that we are going to drown with Him in the boat? Is there anything He cannot do? We have seen His miracles, He turned the water into wine, He can heal the blind and the lame, He can even raise the dead, is it likely that He is going to allow us and Himself to be drowned in this way? Impossible! In any case He loves us, He cares for us, He had told us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered!’ That is the way in which faith reasons. It says: ‘All right, I see the waves and the billows but’ – it always puts up this ‘but’. That is faith, it holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact. That is the way to apply faith.”
I really can’t add anything to this. It is pure L-J medicine for the soul, drawn straight from the Scripture. Faith puts up a fight, takes what it already knows about God from what the Scripture has said, and applies those truths to the situation. This is what preaching to yourself looks like! And I love the way he writes this because he describes faith as a muscular thing, a thing that argues, reminds and applies itself.
Faith is not some ephemeral mood that we have to try to conjure up from time to time. It is a spiritual muscle that needs to be continually fed from the Word and flexed in our daily lives.
I thoroughly commend this book to you, Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His insightful way of diagnosing the maladies of our inner lives and prescribing the cure has done wonders for me.