Memo from MLJ: Christian, Talk To Yourself!

Ever get caught talking to yourself? It can be embarrassing! But what if someone tells you that you not only should talk to yourself, but you should do it for the kingdom of God and the glory of God?

What’s this? you ask, snapping out of your spiritual depression in a panic, assuming you were in a spiritual depression, of course. I certainly struggle with it and when it overtakes me, I am a weak & maladroit witness to the good news that is the gospel. The condition is all too common among Christians which is why Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) addressed it in a famous series of twenty-four sermons preached in 1954.

It’s in his introductory general consideration of the topic that he tells Christians to, yes, talk to themselves, preach even, using Psalm 42 as a case in point.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.


Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

Psalm 42: 5, 11 (NASB) 

The psalmist’s self-diagnosed problem is one of spiritual depression. He’s “cast down,” “disquieted” (KJV); “in turmoil” (ESV); “downcast,” “disturbed” (NIV); “down in the dumps” and “crying the blues” (MSG). That this condition is universally recognizable is clearly one of the reasons it’s included in Scripture. The church has a large number of God’s people who are generally unhappy and troubled by a lack of ease. The problem is the depressed Christian is a very poor recommendation for the gospel. 

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Since we live in a pragmatic age, people are not very interested in truth but they are interested in results. Many have the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy or morbid, to scorn delights and live laborious days, in other words, to live a life of perpetual doldrums with a clear lack of joy. Larger numbers of people have ceased to be interested in Christianity for this very reason.

We must be delivered from this condition because common though it may be, this lack of joy is actually abnormal for the Christian. Whatever our circumstances or conditions, people ought to look at us and say, “Would to God we could be like that!” So we have to face this condition of spiritual depression for the kingdom of God and the glory of God. 

The psalmist is not only aware he’s not functioning on all spiritual cylinders, as it were, but he’s also aware that anyone can see that he’s down. People mock him, asking, “Where is this God of yours?” (MSG). He also knows what the cure for his condition is: looking at God who is his help, who is “the health of his countenance.” Here MLJ is quick to point out that he’s not suggesting that people put on that inane grin that some think is indispensable, he’s not suggesting wearing a mask, but rather reflecting an inner joy that that can’t help but express itself.

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The first step to a cure is to see ourselves as others see us, in other words, to view ourselves objectively. When we begin doing so it will be easier to determine the causes of our spiritual melancholy, namely, our respective temperaments, our physical state, a proximate spiritually profound experience, our ongoing battle with the devil, and our unbelief. Do you know your own particular strengths or weaknesses?

Although temperament doesn’t make the slightest difference to our ultimate salvation since we are all saved the same way, it makes a very great difference in actual experience. No two of us are alike. Like Jack Sprat and his wife, or like unwisely insisting that all children should go in for sports, the spiritual realm is not the same for everyone. As the old saw goes, know yourself. Are you an introvert, someone who looks inward, or an extrovert, someone who looks outward?

Introverts are more prone to spiritual depression. Many of the greatest names in Christian history were introverts – always analyzing himself or herself, dissecting herself, her past, her behavior to point of being “guilty of morbid self-concern.”

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If you read the journals of David Brainerd and Henry Martin, for example, you can see these men whom God used mightily for His kingdom had a tendency to morbidity and introspection. There’s nothing wrong with self-examination, of course, but we cross the line when we do nothing but examine ourselves. The essence of wisdom is to warn ourselves of this.

Our physical condition play a part in our spiritual state. When we are not in good health, we must make make allowances for this. Charles Haddon Spurgeon suffered from depression but he also struggled with the chronic gout which finally killed him.

We can experience a period of spiritual depression after a great blessing or unusual experience, like Elijah after Mt. Carmel. So we must be watchful afterwards.

Moreover, the devil will use weaknesses in our temperament against us. His one object is to depress God’s people, to make us look pathetic to the world.

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Finally, the root cause is lack of faith in God’s power and God’s help. We end up listening to the devil instead of God.

So what is the cure? We must learn to take ourselves in hand, in a sense, to do this by talking to ourselves instead of allowing our selves to talk. The psalmist talks to himself. He preaches to himself.

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As you become spiritually mature you realize that the main trouble is allowing your self to talk to you. The devil takes hold of our self and uses our self to depress us. The psalmist says, “Self, I’m going to talk to you.” So preach to yourself. Upbraid yourself. Exhort yourself. Remind yourself of God. Fix your eyes on Him. The whole essence of the treatment is, “I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

Psalm 42

1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks
    from the creek;
I want to drink God,
    deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—
    arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—
    tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
    people knock at my door,
Pestering,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

4 These are the things I go over and over,
    emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
    right out in front,
Leading them all,
    eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
    celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!

5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
    Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
    soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
    He’s my God.

6-8 When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
    everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
    including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
    to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
    crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
    sing songs all through the night!
    My life is God’s prayer.

9-10 Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
    “Why did you let me down?
Why am I walking around in tears,
    harassed by enemies?”
They’re out for the kill, these
    tormentors with their obscenities,
Taunting day after day,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

11 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
    Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
    soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
    He’s my God.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


MLJ was a Welsh minister from the last century whose influence cannot be overestimated while it remains far-reaching through the continued availability of many of his sermons as well as his books, including the sermon-based Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and its Cure. For the full-length sermon by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on which these notes are based, go to this link at MLJTrust.org. It is the first of the series entitled Spiritual Depression.
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