On occasion, I talk to myself. The subject matter is seldom deep or complex. I remind myself of a task. I ask myself why I did some stupid deed. I rehearse the plans for the day. On occasion, I answer myself – and hope no one is watching or listening.
It seems I first read about this thing called “self-talk” in some self-improvement management book. The author put a lot of stock in it and encouraged the readers to engage in this exercise regularly for focus and motivation. Because of the source, I was a bit suspicious of the whole approach and did not put a lot of stock in it. It seemed the focus was self-centered and the results were humanistic, so I dismissed it. Nevertheless, I have kept talking to myself.
Motivated to Talk
Not long ago, I discovered that my first introduction to self-talk did not come from a management book, but from the Bible. It has been there the whole time; I just did not recognize it. In a recent early morning prayer meeting I discovered the Psalmist saying, “O my soul” and realized that right in the pages of inspired Scripture, the biblical author was talking to himself. Looking further, I discovered numerous occasions where the writers were penning words to their own soul.
Perhaps the big difference between the “self-talk” promoted by management gurus and the biblical examples is the issue of motivation. Clearly, the motives for self-talk in the Scriptures are the glory of God and the spiritual health of the soul. This is worth examining and implementing.
David Talks to Himself
In Psalms 42 and 43 (usually seen as a unit), David talks to himself three times with the same basic words. These words were likely written when he was in exile after being banished by the betrayal of his son Absalom. He is far from home and close to despair. He says to himself:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).
David is asking himself the reason for the discouragement and trouble he feels within his soul. He tells himself to put his hope in God with the result that his soul will give praise to God because He can always be counted on to help. The rest of Psalms 42 and 43 include David’s longings for deliverance, his cries for help, and his reassurance in the promise and character of God.
In Psalm 103 David again speaks to his own soul with these words:
“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” (Psalm 103:1-2).
Here, David commands his soul to focus on God’s holy name with every fiber of his being. He tells himself to remember the benefits of God. In keeping with this self-talk he then rehearses some of the reasons for this needful focus when he writes about God’s deeds:
“Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:3-5).
The rest of the Psalm is a rehearsal of the greatness and personal care of the Lord, in contrast with the frailty of men. David ends that Psalm with another reminder to himself, “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:22)
In a similar fashion, David begins and concludes Psalm 104 with these words to himself: “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 104:1 & 35) The heart of this Psalm is a detailed description of the Lord’s care over all of His works. David resolves to worship the Lord and be glad in Him as a result.
In Psalm 116, the unidentified author reflects on God’s deliverance of Israel from captivity and the personal blessing of God in rescuing his soul. In the midst of the Psalm, he says to himself, “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7). Because of the Lord’s great and loving deeds, the writer tells himself to stay in a place of confident rest in God because of all He has done.
Another anonymous Psalmist speaks to his own soul in Psalm 146:1 with these words: “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” Again, this self-conversation represents a firm resolve to trust in God, not man, with a focus on God’s mighty and loving deeds.
On a less positive, but very real note, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, speaks to himself in sorting out his deep sorrow over God’s judgment of Judah because of their sin. He writes, “O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (Jeremiah 4:19). This is part of Jeremiah’s way of sorting through the deep emotions of sorrow over a very tragic situation. Yet, through it all, Jeremiah turns to the Lord for comfort in his deep affliction.
So, as we talk to ourselves in the course of daily life, what does all of this mean? I see three brief ideas in summary of these biblical examples.
Honest assessment – Biblical self-talk involves honest, godly assessment of our present situation and our deep feelings in the midst of it. Rather than subjective, self-centered conclusions like, “I am a loser”, “there is no hope” or “why should I try?” the Bible seems to encourage an objective understanding of our real feelings, with a resolve to change our outlook, for God’s glory and our good. Biblical self-talk involves assessment, leading to an attitude adjustment, not deeper anguish.
Hopeful focus – It seems clear that the focus of the downcast or doubting heart turns to the works and character of God. The biblical approach involves a self-controlled conversation within the soul that reflects a determination to praise the Lord in spite of the emotions or circumstances of the moment.
Heartfelt resolve – These examples of biblical self-talk reflect a resolve to stay on task with choices of gratitude, worship, trust, and prayer. David wrote, “Let all that is within me bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1). The commentator Matthew Henry writes, “David is here communing with his own heart, and he is no fool that thus talks to himself and excites his own soul to that which is good. Observe how he stirs up himself to the duty of praise.” Likewise, we need to talk to ourselves, regardless of how we feel or what we perceive, and stir our soul to the regular and ongoing duty of praise.
With this in mind, I realize I need to keep talking to myself after all. So do you. Let us make our self-talk biblical, clear, Christ-honoring, and resolute. It will be good for our souls, beneficial to our spiritual growth, profitable for our service to others, and honoring to our Christ. Today, I hope our resolve will be like that of Deborah in Judges 5:21 where she said to herself, “O my soul, march on in strength!”
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.