When I Don't Desire God - chapter 6 - weapon 1: the gospel

Preach the gospel to yourself. Ever since I was first encouraged to do this, it's become one of my most important weapons in the fight for joy.

Preach the gospel to yourself. Women especially need to heed this call. We hear a talk on biblical womanhood, and are burdened by a hundred ways we need to change. We're self-aware, and emotionally and relationally aware, so we're often very sensitive to our faults and weaknesses. We need to be reminded, over and over, that God's love doesn't depend on what we do, that change is motivated and enabled by grace, and that obedience isn't about rules but love. We need to keep returning to the cross.

Preach the gospel to yourself. This is the first and central strategy in the fight for joy. Any helpful spiritual practice is really just a way to make this happen.

Hearing the word of the cross, and preaching it to ourselves, is the central strategy for sinners in the fight for joy. Nothing works without this. Here is where we start. And here is where we stay. We never outgrow the gospel. Here we see the glory of Christ more clearly than anywhere. ... And here in the cross is where every enemy of joy is overcome. ... What could stop our joy if we really believed this truth: Everything we need to be satisfied in God, the cross has made certain. It cannot fail. (pp.91-92)

As Piper says, we need to hear the gospel preached and preach it to ourselves. How do you preach the gospel to yourself? Tell us about it in the comments! Here's my ideas:

Hearing the gospel preached

We easily forget the world-changing wonder of preaching, but in every one of Paul's letters, it's the spoken word of the gospel that brings life and growth. So I'm glad to see that the first of Piper's joy-giving strategies is to sit under cross-centred Bible teaching week by week. Not with an attitude of criticism (although we do need to be discerning!) but so we can respond to God's Word with faith and obedience.

Here's a few ideas for wielding this weapon.

Listen well. Do you go to church eager to hear the sermon? Do you listen as carefully as you can, without using a trip to the creche room (yes, I know you don't always have a choice) or a sotto voce conversation as an excuse to escape? If you'd like to learn how to listen to sermons (even bad ones!) have a look at Listen up! Help for listening to sermons, Jennie Baddeley's Preaching: why it rocks, Pastor Ying's What to do when the sermon is really that bad? (HT Gordon), and Nicole's Sustaining your spiritual fervour.

Download some talks on the gospel.* I'm drawing a blank here, which is a little worrying, given the number of talks I've listened to on my pet topics! Has anyone downloaded a good talk on the cross or grace recently? Please tell us about it!

Read a book about the cross. One of my ongoing resolutions (which was thwarted this year when I lost the book I'd bought!) is to read a book on the cross every year. Try John Stott's The Cross of Christ, CJ Mahaney's Living the Cross-Centred Life, one of Leon Morris's many books on the cross like The Atonement, John Piper's (free downloadable) Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, or the book suggested in a comment on Friday's post, Milton Vincent's A Gospel Primer (thanks, Violet!).

Preaching the gospel to ourselves

Every time I'm anxious, discouraged, angry, tempted, or feeling guilty, it's time to preach the gospel to myself. As Martyn Lloyd Jones says, "we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!" This is a kind of Christian self-talk, as I argue myself out of despairing moods, and challenge myself to believe God's truth rather than the lies of my heart. Piper's example of how to fight for assurance when you're overwhelmed by guilt is spot-on!

Here's some ideas for preaching the gospel to yourself.

Read a Bible passage about the cross and pray through it - perhaps one of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Memorise Bible passages about the cross. Some of my favourites, which I keep turning over in my mind, are Romans 5:1-11, Titus 3:4-7 and Philippians 2:1-11.

Put on a Christian music CD. You'll find music specially designed for preaching the cross to yourself in Sovereign Grace's Songs for the Cross Centered Life, which I wrote about here; and see songs for the discouraged.

Keep a thought diary. Write down the thoughts which are going through your head and write down new ways of thinking from God's word. See how (not) to be miserable and the thought-diary described at the end of what truths do you need to turn to?, or use the exercises 10 irrational beliefs with its answers, and identifying lies and idols.

Learn more about how to preach the gospel to yourself. I've written lots about this and given you some examples in what truths do you need to turn to?, Christian self-talk, gospel self-talk in simple sentences, a bad case of mother-guilt, stop tinkering and look, and psalm for the discouraged (1) and (2). See also John Piper's How I approach God when feeling rotten. Or you could read Martyn Lloyd Jones' Spiritual Depression, Tim Chester's You Can Change or Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart (I've listed more books at the end of how change happens). Or listen to some talks on biblical counselling or these excellent talks on the psalms.

I'd love to hear about how you preach the gospel to yourself! Please encourage us by sharing your ideas in the comments.

Questions for discussion and reflection:
Is "preaching the gospel to yourself" a new idea for you? What do you think it means? How might it help your joy? Which of the above suggestions for remembering the cross would you like to begin practising (pick one or two!)? Plan how to do this.


* Some good sources for talks are Monergism, Matthias Media, The Gospel Coalition, St Andrew's, Desiring God, Don Carson, John Stott, Redeemer Presbyterian, Capitol Hill, Sovereign Grace and Mars Hill. For talks for women, try EQUIP women, EQUIP talks, True Woman, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Carolyn Mahaney, Barbara Hughes, Carolyn McCulley, Susan Hunt, Elisabeth Elliot, Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

images are from superciliousness and sobone at flickr