The other day my two-year-old ate an apple. The whole apple – stem, core, everything. We weren’t watching him carefully enough (apparently) as he ate his lunch, and he didn’t stop when he was through with the part of the apple that most of us eat. He kept going, kept consuming, kept feeding. When a two-year-old is hungry, he isn’t all that discriminating about what he eats.
Our hearts are like that. Or mine is, at least. Its always hungry, and even if I feed it a well-balanced meal, it will continue to eat whatever it can get its hands on. That means that unless I keep strict watch over its diet, I’ll wind up feeding on some unhealthy and unhelpful things.
In recent weeks, the Lord has led me through some cycles of doubt and discouragement. Nothing that would make your News Feed, but I’ve been saddened by some events, some decisions, some changes in certain relationships. I was in that place the other day, and so I called my wife, just to ask her to pray. She asked me, “How are you feeding your heart right now?” Okay, that’s not what she asked me – but that’s what she meant. She actually asked me, “What are you preaching to yourself right now?” She was challenging me – lovingly and graciously, to examine what my heart was consuming. Was it consuming truth or gospel or Scripture? Or was it consuming lies or half-truths or perversions of truth?
The discipline of preaching to yourself has gotten some buzz in recent years. (There’s at least one recent book written about it.) The principle is simple…Our hearts are always going to consume something. Even if we hear a great sermon, or read a great spiritual/theological book, or sit in a great Bible study, our hearts will continue to consume even after those meals. For the gospel to do a transforming work in our lives, we need to learn to feast on it continually – by continuing to preach it to ourselves even outside of those other contexts. If we don’t do this, our hearts will feast on something other than truth. Because, like my two-year-old, we’re more than willing to keep eating – even if we’ve come to the bad part of the apple.
For the gospel to do a transforming work in our lives, we need to learn to feast on it continually. If we don’t do this, our hearts will feast on something other than truth.
In light of all of this, I wrote down five things that I need to preach to myself today. Then a friend helped me add a sixth. These are the truths that I need to preach to my own heart today – to fill my heart with what is true, and to keep it from digesting what isn’t.
1. Regardless of what else I think I need in life, my deepest need is already met fully, finally, and gloriously in Christ. Paul tells the Colossians: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13-14). No matter what, our deepest need was rescue, and we have it – fully, finally, and gloriously – in Christ.
2. Regardless of what happens in my life, God is going to do what God is going to do – he will accomplish the purpose he sets out to accomplish. God said, through Isaiah the prophet: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please‘” (Isa 46:9-10). I may experience (perceived) setbacks or discouragements or failures in life, but God doesn’t. Regardless of what happens, he does what he is going to do. His purpose will stand, and he will do all that he pleases.
3. I can courageously face anything that happens in my life, for the God who cares deeply for me also mysteriously yet meticulously governs all things. As Jesus sent out his disciples in Matthew 10, he told them: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). In other words, don’t worry as you face the flesh and blood stuff in life. Because the real battle isn’t against flesh and blood, its a spiritual battle. But then Jesus goes on: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt 10:29-31). Here’s the point Jesus is making: Even though the greater battle is spiritual, and even though we need not be afraid of things physical, God cares mysteriously yet meticulously for things physical. He knows how many hairs are on our heads. He keeps sparrows from crashing to the ground. Nothing happens in my life or yours outside of his love and care.
4. At this very moment, Jesus Christ desires – and is praying for – my joy, and his prayers never fail. In John 17, just before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus prays for his disciples: “I [Jesus] am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they [Jesus’ disciples] may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13). Jesus desires us to have the fill measure of his joy in us. He desires it so much that he prayed for it before his death, and so he prays it now as he intercedes for us before the throne of God.
5. At this very moment, and every moment (because I am in Christ), God the Father desires me, delights in me, and loves me as fully as he does the Son. The righteousness of Jesus is imputed to us. That means we are more than forgiven in God’s eyes, it means we are righteous, if we are in Christ. We stand clothed in all of the righteous reward of Jesus himself. That’s why Paul can say to the Galatians: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Gal 4:4-7). Also an heir. Just like Christ an heir. An heir to all the favor and reward and love to which Jesus is an heir.
6. Every challenging or difficult moment I face in life, Jesus has already faced for me – perfectly, without sin, and on my behalf. In other words, Jesus has been there and done that, and now he stands before God as my High Priest, asking God for grace and mercy for me to walk the road he himself knows so well. Here’s how the writer of Hebrews describes it: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:15-16).
Is there anything you would add to this list today? How do you need to preach to yourself? Leave a comment below, and I’ll pray for you to that end.
[Note: An earlier version of this article was originally posted at untilthedaydawns.org on 8/13/2015.]