Preaching to Yourself

PREACHING TO YOURSELF ABOUT HOPE

by Terry Powell

Have you ever “preached to yourself?” I’m referring to the act of fighting negative and unbiblical thought patterns with the Word of God. It’s also called “biblical self-talk,” reminding yourself of truth that counteracts Satan’s lies. In Future Grace, John Piper illustrates how the Psalmist battled despondency by preaching to himself:

In Psalm 73:26 the psalmist says, “My flesh andmy heart may fail.” Literally the verb is simply“My flesh and my heart fail!” I am despondent! I am discouraged! But then immediately he firesa broadside against his despondency: “’But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The psalmist does not yield.blunbelief with counterattack.

The poem that follws is a type of sermon delivered to myself. The stanzas are painfully realistic about the hopelessness that accompanies my depression. Yet the poem ends on a more positive note, citing another verse from the Psalms in which the author t back to despair and exalts God as the object of hope. What makes preaching to myself effective is reminding myself of God: Who He is, what He has done and what He had pledged Himself to do.

Hopeless?

Fleeting, it’s like a bird in flight,

Or like a shooting star at night,

Or lightning that spans the sky—

Gone in the blink of an eye.

Elusive, like the fog that lifts

When morning sun sends its gifts;

Or the zigzagging butterfly

That you can’t catch. No use to try.

That’s my relationship to hope:

It’s like a wet bar of soap

That keeps giving me the slip.

Can’t keep it within my grip.

Hope that a blinding beam of light

Will penetrate my soul’s dark night.

Hope that it won’t seem so strange

That habits of the heart can change.

Can God plant hope within a heart

For peace of mind and a fresh start?

Though right now I am without it,

God shouts “Yes!” Should I doubt it?

 

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 (Ps. 42:11).

When inward or outward trials come, what are some Bible truths or text that you “preach to yourself”?

ybic,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

Preaching (and Listening) to Yourself

By Terry Powell,

Have you ever “preached to yourself?” I’m referring to the act of fighting negative and unbiblical thought patterns with the Word of God. It’s also called “biblical self-talk,” reminding yourself of truth that counteracts Satan’s lies. In Future Grace, John Piper illustrates how the Psalmist battled despondency by preaching to himself:

In Psalm 73:26 the psalmist says, “My flesh and my heart may fail.” Literally the verb is simply “My flesh and my heart fail!” I am despondent! I am discouraged! But then immediately he fires a broadside against his despondency: “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The psalmist does not yield. He battles unbelief with counterattack.

The poem that follows is a type of sermon delivered to myself. The stanzas are painfully realistic about the hopelessness that accompanies my depression. Yet the poem ends on a more positive note, citing another verse from the Psalms in which the author talks back to despair and exalts God as the object of hope. What makes preaching to myself effective is reminding myself of God: Who He is, what He has done and what He had pledged Himself to do.

Hopeless?

Fleeting, it’s like a bird in flight,

Or like a shooting star at night,

Or lightning that spans the sky—

Gone in the blink of an eye.

Elusive, like the fog that lifts

When morning sun sends its gifts;

Or the zigzagging butterfly

That you can’t catch. No use to try.

That’s my relationship to hope:

It’s like a wet bar of soap

That keeps giving me the slip.

Can’t keep it within my grip.

Hope that a blinding beam of light

Will penetrate my soul’s dark night.

Hope that it won’t seem so strange

That habits of the heart can change.

Can God plant hope within a heart

For peace of mind and a fresh start?

Though right now I am without it,

God shouts “Yes!” Should I doubt it?

“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 42:11

When inward or outward trials come, what are some Bible truths or text that you “preach to yourself”?

ybic,

Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

A Dangerous Prayer That Was Answered

A Special Christmas Memory

Scene 1 October, 1978. A shopping center parking lot in Indianapolis, before stores opened. The place I chose for an extended quiet time with the Lord.

Having recently resigned an associate church staff position, God’s Spirit convicted me of pride, and the need for a more others-centered ministry in my next vocational role. With grave sincerity and through tears, I pleaded, “Lord, give me a servant heart.”

Scene 2 Late November 1978. My dad, 59, was rapidly declining due to kidney failure. I spoke with his physician from the V. A. hospital in Durham, North Carolina. “Your dad doesn’t have long,” he insisted. “Perhaps just a few weeks. Besides, your mom desperately needs some rest and could use your help.”

Totally bedridden, dad didn’t want nurses or orderlies taking care of his most intimate needs, such as emptying his bedpan and cleaning him.

Scene 3 December 2-4, 1978. Friday, I flew to Durham and rented a motel room, where mom could rest. She’d been trying to sleep for weeks in his hospital room. For three nights, I took her place in dad’s room. During the day, we took turns caring for him. A bad plague of diarrhea exacerbated his need for mundane assistance. Throughout those three days and nights, he repeatedly called for the bedpan.

Though physically helpless, dad’s mind was clear. We enjoyed numerous chats about life and my future ministry plans.

Scene 4 Near sunrise, Monday December 4, 1978. A few hours before my return flight to Indiana. In all my 29 years, I couldn’t remember feeling so weary. At least hourly throughout that last night, dad called for the bedpan. I felt numb, listless from lack of sleep. My head pounded. When I finally fell asleep just before daylight, again I heard, “Son, I need the bedpan.”

That was the last straw. Though I loved my dad fiercely, I silently thought, “No! Not again!” Selfishness marked my attitude. I wasn’t moved by compassion for dad’s discomfort. I was annoyed by my own discomfort. But as I lumbered the few steps to his bed, I heard a clear, out-of-the-blue whisper from God’s Spirit: “Terry, I’m answering your prayer. Remember that servant heart you prayed for?”

When I finished the cleanup, that’s the time dad chose to look at me and say, with heartfelt gratitude, “Son, I’m sorry you have to do this. But you are even gentler with me than your mom. I really appreciate your coming.”

I leaned over toward dad’s face, smiled, and said with all honesty, “It’s a privilege to serve you, dad. I love you!”

Be careful what you pray for.

Dad entered the presence of Jesus on Christmas Day, in the same room—ironically, with me asleep in the chair beside his bed.

At first I thought, “No, Lord—not on Christmas Day. Why did You take him today of all days? Now this holiday will forever be tainted by the memory of his passing.”

Then God’s Spirit reversed my thinking. “What better gift could I give your dad than an end to his pain, and welcome him with open arms into My forever presence?!”

Before I told the nurse on duty that dad had died, I whispered, “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

What is your favorite Christmas memory?

 

your brother,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

Frailty Doesn’t Disqualify Us

by Terry Powell,

“God keeps a person usable by keeping him weak.”

– Ron Dunn

An incident in Jack Murray’s life showed that weakness is not a hindrance to usefulness in God’s kingdom. His son, George, told this story in chapel while he served as President of Columbia International University.

Jack, a traveling evangelist decades ago, was coming off back-to-back weeks of meetings in local churches. He boarded a plane, headed to yet another week-long engagement. The intensive delivery of messages and constant interactions with people had depleted his mental, physical, and emotional reserves. Craving a nap so he could recoup, he was delighted to hear that seating was “open” rather than assigned. Since the plane was only half-full, to signal his desire for privacy, he sat by a window, placing his coat and hat on the two adjacent seats.

Surprisingly, a sharply-dressed business woman asked to sit in the aisle seat next to him. She tried to engage Jack in conversation, but he cited the exhausting week behind him and said he needed to rest during the flight. He pushed the seat-recliner button, closed his eyes, and leaned his head against the bulkhead. That’s when someone else started talking to him.

“Jack, there’s a woman sitting next to you,” whispered God’s Spirit.

“Yea, I know. And of all the places she could have selected, she sat next to me!”

“Don’t you think that’s significant?” asked the Lord.

“But Lord, You know how tired I am!” Jack countered. He contended with the Lord for several minutes, then yielded to His wooing. After asking forgiveness for his attitude, he pushed the seat button, sat upright, and opened his eyes. Immediately the lady blurted, “Oh, are you feeling better?”

A casual conversation ensued. When she said she lived and worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jack mentioned a friend of his: Henderson Belk, then president of the Belk department store chain, headquartered in her city. Excitedly, she announced that she worked for Mr. Belk in the corporate office. “Have you noticed anything different about your boss lately?” Jack inquired.

“Oh, yes. Everybody is talking about him. He ‘got religion’ or something,” she said. That’s when Jack explained how Mr. Belk had recently put his faith in Christ. He shared the gospel with her, and her heart began to melt. She wept, revealing a broken heart over dysfunction in her family. She didn’t pray to receive Christ on the plane, but Jack made her promise to ask her boss about what happened to him. Within a week, Henderson Belk cultivated the soil where Jack had planted a seed, and led his employee to faith in Christ.

When Jack was at the end of himself due to physical frailty, he and the woman were at the beginning God’s grace. Instead of stemming the flow of God’s power, his weariness merely created a dependency on it.

We have the gospel message in fragile earthen vessels. But we’re still candidates for usefulness, for God puts His word in weak vessels, “so that the surprising greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7).

When has God surprised you by using you in ministry when you felt weak, needy, or burdened? That’s when we’re more likely to praise Him and give Him the credit, rather than assume our experience or gifts explain the fruitfulness.

your brother,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

When Faith Doesn’t Seem to Work

by Terry Powell

I am not a Christian because my faith “works” for me. Talk to a devout Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist and he’ll extol the here-and-now benefits of his faith. He’ll cite a serenity of spirit, or a sense of order that believing brings to his life. Yet his belief system contradicts mine, so logically these various faiths cannot all be true!

If I were a Christian just because faith has utility for me, because my days are more likely to unfold in a smooth, trouble-free manner, I’d be a pragmatist, pure and simple. And I’d be prone to shuck my commitment to Christ the moment a different philosophy or religion appeared to offer me more.

Don’t get me wrong. Following Christ is not without rewards in the present. My faith often sustains me, provides perspective for decision-making, and injects happiness rooted in a biblical worldview.

But not all the time.

There’s the inevitable warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with. And in my case, either chronic depression or other weaknesses of temperament sometime get the best of me. I’ll keep praying for relief and I’ll strive for sound mental health, yet I don’t want to be among the growing number of Christians who expect God to give them on earth what He only promised for heaven.

From a theological perspective, I’m a Christian because God chose me and initiated a relationship with me (Eph. 2:1-10). From a human perspective, my faith is in Christ not because it works, but because I believe Christianity is true. And truth is objective reality, not a subjective experience. No matter how I feel, or how my day goes, truth doesn’t change. Truth just is. I wrote this poem to convey this point.

Nature of Truth

When all hope yields to despair

and I doubt that God is there;

when my heart is cold, unfeeling,

and my prayers bounce off the ceiling;

when depression takes its toll

and winter winds assault my soul;

when the race seems all uphill

and dying grows in its appeal;

when things don’t go as expected—

still, God’s Truth is unaffected.

In the long run, faith works in the sense that I’ll enjoy eternity with my Savior (thanks to His works, not mine). But being a Christian doesn’t shield me from affliction in the here and now. It does assure me of God’s compassion and healing presence: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Love, Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

Recurring Depression and Fruitful Ministry

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Expositors” 1834-1892

DOES RECURRING DEPRESSION PREVENT A FRUITFUL MINISTRY?

The ‘Depression-Prone’ Preacher

by Terry Powell

Long before the proliferation of mass media, he was known and revered throughout the Christian world. Scholars of his era labeled him, “the prince of expositors.” His commentaries, devotionals, and sermons are still being published, generations after his death.

So many folks in London wanted to hear him preach that he occasionally pleaded with church members to stay home so unsaved visitors could get a seat and hear the gospel. The pages of his book, Lectures to My Students, should be dog-eared by every vocational or volunteer teacher of Bible.

Yet, depression dogged Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) most of his adult life. A major bout with despondency occurred in 1858 when he was 24, serving as a pastor in London. That’s when he wrote, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I know not what I wept for.” Repeated episodes spawned these words: “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with…as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.”

What can we learn from this depression-prone, yet outrageously fruitful leader?

  1. Depression doesn’t necessarily hinder ministry effectiveness. He often didn’t feel like serving, yet enabled by God’s grace, he kept giving himself to others. No matter how physically and emotionally drained he was, most Mondays he wrote out by longhand the previous day’s sermon so it could later be published.
  2. The pain of despondency may expand one’s usefulness by cultivating dependency and humility. Spurgeon said that despondency was “my trial, my thorn in the flesh that Satan wanted to use to take me down, and God wanted to use to deepen my dependency on Him.” A favorite verse of his was 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In reference to this verse, Spurgeon said, “My job is not to supply the power, but the weakness. That’s one job I’m good at! It’s God’s job to supply the power.”

  3. Openness about one’s depression may encourage others, and point them to God’s sustaining grace. Spurgeon’s transparency concerning his depression was rare for his day. Knowing how many people suffered in silence with this malady, he preached a message to show others how he coped with it (titled “When a Preacher Is Downcast”). From experience he learned and taught an ironic truth captured in my favorite Spurgeon quote: “God gets from us most glory when we get from Him much grace.”

  4. His life and ministry demonstrate that depression and spiritual maturity aren’t mutually-exclusive. Depression didn’t negate Spurgeon’s godliness, nor did his steadfast use of spiritual disciplines cure it.

Biographies of and articles about Spurgeon don’t always mention his predilection for depression. Yet reading about his accomplishments and ministry output will show you what God can do through a yielded person not in spite of depression, but possibly because of it. Spurgeon also suffered from severe gout in his later years, long before medical intervention could eliminate or minimize the pain.

I benefited enormously from Arnold Dalimore’s Spurgeon (Banner of Truth, 1984). Also, in a chapter of John Piper’s Future Grace, titled “Faith in Future Grace Versus Despondency,” you can read about Spurgeon’s battle with depression. In 2014, Zack Eswine wrote a more thorough coverage of Spurgeon’s despondency: Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression (Christian Focus Publishers)

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

 

Redeeming Pain

When history speaks, do we listen?

by Terry Powell

It’s one thing to say that God’s sovereignty redeems our pain or weakness for a greater purpose. It’s another thing altogether to see a vivid illustration of the truth.

David Brainerd (1718-1747) took the gospel of Christ to Indians in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, often living alone with sparse food rations and exposure to cold. Extremely melancholy in temperament, Brainerd endured long episodes of joylessness, often slinking into despair over awareness of his sin, or over an incapacity to feel more love for the people he was trying to reach. Physical frailty accompanied his psychological anguish. He died of tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday.

A couple years after launching missionary work among the Indians, in 1845, God’s Spirit brought a spiritual awakening in New Jersey. Within a year, the church Brainerd started numbered 130.

Brainerd kept diaries in which he described bouts of despondency, disclosed his consciousness of sin in light of God’s holiness, and recounted efforts to evangelize the Indians. Their pages teem with honest self-disclosure as well as desperate dependence on God for physical and emotional sustenance.

Twenty-two places in his diaries he yearned for death as an escape from his misery. Yet he persisted in proclaiming Christ, even when his own temperamental makeup eclipsed his ability to experience the joy inherent in the gospel. One entry revealed his acceptance of weakness and deeply-entrenched desire to finish well: “Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God… Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey.”

After his death, the fruit of Brainerd’s life multiplied exponentially. In 1749, Jonathan Edwards, in whose home Brainerd died, took the diaries and published them as a Life of Brainerd, a book that’s never been out of print. Renown missionaries and leaders galvanized by Brainerd’s story include John Wesley, Henry Martyn, William Carey, Robert McCheyne, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray, and Jim Elliot.

The borders of Brainerd’s impact weren’t expanded in spite of his emotional and physical afflictions, but because of them.

His story resonates with so many servants over the years because when push comes to shove, they, too, wrestle with sinful propensities, episodes of despondency, and physical frailties. They believe they are candidates for the same divine grace they observe in Brainerd’s life. John Piper, himself buoyed by Brainerd’s story, offers this apt summary statement: “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”

How can God use you despite physical or emotional frailty?

For biblical indicators that God uses weak, needy people, read these texts: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9-10. Resources quoted are The Life of David Brainerd, by Jonathan Edwards, and The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction on the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, by John Piper.


Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Terry has a new blog at http://www.penetratingthedarkness.com. It deals with the believer’s depression and other mental issues. Please visit him and tell him “Hi” from me.