By Kim Young
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…My tears have been my food day and night…Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”excerpts from Psalm 41:1-5
“I’m sorry, but you have cancer.” The words pierced my ears like a sword through the heart. Unexpected words uttered from one mouth directly into my ears. As a believer in Christ, I know all the right things one is supposed to say and feel. Yet none of it was coming in that moment. Overwhelming fear and doubt filled my heart. An onslaught of questions assaulted my mind.
I quickly began to relate to the feelings of the psalmist in Psalm 41. John Calvin described the psalms as “an anatomy of all parts of the soul.” As I read through this particular Psalm, I would see the psalmist pour out his agony, fear, doubt, depression, anxiety — all of it. And yet, I would read further and see the hope, mercy, grace, and victory that soon followed. How did his heart wrestle with these feelings, and still come to a point of peace and abundant life?
Though I am not sure the psalmist “journaled” as we would define it today, I do believe he did something similar. As you read through the psalms, it is a picture of how we can counsel ourselves through these dark situations into the Light of having hope in our Mighty God.
Listening to Myself
From the struggle of not having a desire to get up in the morning to the agony of receiving life-altering news, our hearts wrestle with emotions. In any of the scenarios in between, we have to fight against our desire to live a life of ease and peace. From the moment my alarm goes off, if I allow my mind to “listen” to myself, I begin spiraling down the path of negative thinking.
“I’m so tired. I don’t want to get up. I’ll just hit the snooze one more time.”
“This is going to be a terrible day. I’m already waking up tired, with a headache. Just what I need.”
Some days begin with negativity already brewing in my distracted heart. That negative thinking consists of listening to all of the lies I have allowed myself to believe from this world and the lies from my own deceitful and sinful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The preceding night may have been filled with ways I planned to be intentional the next morning, in growing and discipling those around me. But in one quick moment, I become so quickly agitated and respond out of irritation, frustration, and inconvenience. These lies of self-provision and inability are the lies we hear and believe when we choose to listen to ourselves.
Talking to Yourself
Lamentations 3:22-23 is a beautiful reminder in these very moments, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
What if, instead of listening to myself, I choose to talk to myself by preaching the Truth of the gospel? When we choose to talk to ourselves, we are opting to preach the gospel to ourselves instead of believing those lies. Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
When things are so overwhelming and it seems like everything is falling apart, I tend to feel like I just can’t do it. And to some extent, that is right — in my own power and strength, it is too much to bear. But because of Christ living in me, I have His power to overcome my weakness.
Journaling as Self-Counsel
Journaling helps me in the process of preaching the gospel to myself through what is referred to as “self-counsel.’ In “self-counsel,’ it is important to begin with examination. Look for ways you have seen God’s grace and victory in your life.
I begin by choosing three ways I have seen Him work by helping me produce growth in the past week. I write those down and celebrate the victories of how God is growing me to become more like Him.
A Battle Plan
After I have journaled those three areas, I choose three ways in which I need to change. Of those three, I start making a plan to specifically grow in one of those areas. The spiritual life is a battle, and a good soldier never goes into battle without having a battle plan. We must do the same. Journaling our battle plan will help us set specific guidelines for what we need to do to fight this war against sin.
When I find myself being tempted, I pick up my journal once again and answer these questions:
- What happened when I was tempted?
- How did I respond to that temptation? (Did I choose to sin or did I choose to honor Christ?)
- What led up to the temptation?
- What was my response to the temptation?
- How should I have responded to the temptation?
- What passage(s) of Scripture should I be studying and meditating on? Which ones will help me combat where I failed in my response to honor Christ?
“You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down— what business have you to be disquieted?’ You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’ — instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression
Hope in God
The most influential part of journaling that has transformed my life the most, is when I use it to talk to myself or preach the gospel to myself everyday. I choose to silence the lies of the world and my own deceitful heart. And instead I accept the absolute truth of the Scriptures by allowing It to be what shouts and drowns out those lies. No one will have more influence in my mind than me, because no one talks to me more than I do.
Taking the time to journal through our struggles will focus our minds to help us abide and meditate on Scripture. It helps calm the turmoil within us and protect us from being cast down. And in turn, we will begin to hope in God regardless of the circumstance, as we praise Him for being our salvation and our God.