Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Listen Up! | preaching to yourself

"The heart never lies". So say the boys from McFly in one of their songs. I discovered this from a free toy in a cereal packet that plays a clip of the song on a constant loop, which two young daughters of a friend take great joy in dancing around the room to! (I've been told that the batteries seem to have a never ending life-span!). The problem with McFly is that they've got the heart wrong.The heart does lie. Jeremiah tells us that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick".

One of the great problems that we have in our Christian lives is that we listen to ourselves more than we speak to ourselves. We listen to our heart rather than preaching Bible truth to it. The problem with this is that we have been corrupted by sin. Our hearts our decietful, they are not a reliable guide. They will decieve us and lead us astray. If we continue to listen to our deceitful heart we will be led into all sorts of trouble. So, we need to preach to our hearts rather than listen to them.

This is something that David recognises in Psalm 103. Listen to what he says in verses 1-2:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
David is preaching to himself. He speaks to himself and calls himself to "bless the LORD", to praise God. There are two big lessons to be learnt here from what David does in this Psalm.

"O My Soul": The Need to Exhort Ourselves
David calls his soul and all that is within him to praise God (verse 1). He is calling all of who he is to delight in God, to make much of Him. He preaches to his own heart and exhorts it to rejoice in God.  What David is calling for is a joyful delight in God that erupts from the heart.

He does this because he knows that this does not come automatically. We do not naturally gravitate towards joyful heartfelt praise of God. Our sinful nature drags us in the opposite direction. It drags us towards the kind of praise that both Isaiah and Jesus condemned ("This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" Mark 7:6; Isaiah 29:13). This is the kind of praise we end up with if we listen to ourselves rather than preaching to ourselves: moving lips with a dead heart. Spending all our time listening to ourselves does not produce the kind of praise that David calls himself to. It will not lead to a deep delight in God bubbling from the heart and out of our lips.
This is why we need to preach to ourselves. Genuine praise does not come automatically for us, we need to speak to oursleves and say "Bless the LORD, O my soul". We too easily become comfortable with merely moving lips and an unmoved heart (after all it doesn't really require much effort). But the Christian life is not about being comfortable. It's about glorifying God, and He is not glorified by flapping lips and a dead heart. He is glorified in a heart that delights in Him above all things, with the streams of this delight pouring out into lips and lives. Therefore, we need to daily speak to our hearts and call them to this kind of God-glorifying, Christ-exalting praise.
"Forget Not": The Need to Remind Ourselves
What will fuel the fire of the kind of praise that we have just been talking about? Look at what David says to himself in verse 2. He says to his soul, "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits". He exhorts himself to remember all God's benefits. David will spend the rest of the Psalm spelling out exactly what these benefits are. God forgives sin and heals (verse 3; compare with Isaiah 53:4-5 where healing is an image of sin being dealt with), He redeems and crowns him with steadfast love and mercy (verse 4), he satisfies him with good (verse 5). All of this is talking about God's saving work. Essentially, David is preaching the gospel to himself.

He does this because he knows that he is prone to forget. We naturally gravitate towards forgetfulness. This is what happened to Israel in the wilderness (Psalm 106:6-7, 13). They forgot His works. This led them to grumble against Him and put Him to the test (Psalm 106:14-15), and God punished them for this. It led them to exchanging His glory for the image of an ox, when they worshipped a lump of meatal instead of Him (Psalm 106:19-20). Forgetfulness is dangerous.

This is why we need to remind ourselves of the gospel. We need to constantly remind ourselves as Christians of all the benefits we have in Christ. Indeed, if we are a Christian, then there is not a benefit that God has witheld from us. Just look at what Paul tells the Ephesians. He says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing if we're in Christ. The more we recognise this, the more we recognise the magnificent character of our God. The more we grasp the fact that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, the more we see "the immesurable riches of his grace" (Ephesians 2:7).

We have an inexhaustible treasury of benefits to remind ourselves of, all of them are ours through the Lord Jesus. However, we are prone (just like the Israelites in the desert) to forget these things. Therefore, we need to be daily reminding ourselves of the gospel. If we do not do this we will struggle to ignite the flame of the kind of praise that David calls for in verse 1. We will find it increasingly hard to praise God with all that is within ourselves if we are not increasingly reminding ourselves of all His benefits. Daily preaching the glorious truths of the gospel to own hearts will nourish a heart that bubbles out in joyful delight in Christ.

Why not start a routine of preaching to yourself by taking Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1:3-14, working though it, thinking over what they show us of our great God, reminding yourself of all His benefits and then taking these truths and preach them to yourself. Take what you've seen in those passages (and in the rest of Scripture) and bring them with you throughout your day, constantly bringing them to mind, and in light of them saying to yourslef: "Bless the LORD,O my soul."

In a later post, God willing, I will spend more time thinking practically how we might go about cultivating the habit of preaching to ourselves. Stay tuned!