In my last post, I mentioned the importance of preaching to one's self the truth of the gospel when we observe communion and when we sing songs in worship. I wanted to spend a little more time thinking about the importance of this in the life of the believer and to see a few ways scripture exhorts us to make this a priority in our own lives.
Last Sunday night, I had the opportunity to bring the sermon in our evening worship service. I spoke from Psalm 43 which is an amazing prayer to the Lord where the psalmist ends by preaching to himself to "hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God."
The psalmist begins with a prayer of vindication from his enemies in verse one.
1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!
2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me
to your holy hill and to your dwelling!
4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you
with the lyre, O God, my God.
5 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.
Psalm 43 (ESV)
We see that he is locked in a struggle with those around him and he is tormented by the thought that he is forsaken and rejected by God because he is enduring persecution. He is a man with a divided mind because he admits that God is his refuge, but feels that he's forsaken. So he has outer circumstances influencing his inner spiritual life.
But there is a drastic shift in verse 3 that gets to the heart of the matter. The psalmist may be struggling in a battle against those around him, but ultimately it is not the REAL battle. His real battle is against unbelief. It is worship of the true and Living God that is the solution. He asks for guidance (send your light and truth) so that he will be led to God's presence and to the altar where his sins are forgiven and finally to God himself who is his ultimate and final greatest joy. When God, as his exceeding joy (or literally the gladness of his rejoicing reigning) is in His rightful place at the center of this man's worship, the Psalmist confesses that he will be whole.
He walks through these truths: that God gives guidance through light and truth; that God forgives sins; that God is to be the soul and foundation of all joy; that God is rightly to be praised even in the midst of persecution.
The result of recounting these truths is that the Psalmist then turns inward on his divided heart and preaches to himself. He questions his own heart in the light of these great truths when he says, "Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you downcast within me?" His next step is to preach to himself to hope in God. He acknowledges that his circumstances and his feelings are not the source of his hope. As Christians we are not to be tossed about by our circumstances and he confesses this. All of this culminates in the hope that in spite of circumstances he will worship and praise God and worship him.
On Sunday nights, part of our worship practice at our church is to read through a chapter or section of scripture together. We always have a scriptural call to worship in our Sunday morning services but we seek also to have the plain reading of scripture in our other services in accordance with 1 Timothy 4:13. We began this practice with Psalm 119 and we have read about 30 psalms, the books of Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, Jude and we just finished Ephesians. This Sunday night we read Ephesians Chapter 6. In this chapter, Paul exhorts the church to put on the full armor of God as a way to combat the the attack of Satan and reminds us that the battle we fight, ultimately isn't against earthly forces or our earthly enemies (just as the Psalmist understands). My sermon was a little long so I didn't get the opportunity to draw out this point from this passage, but I was pondering as we read that PREACHING to YOURSELF is how we "PUT ON" the belt of truth and the helmet of salvation.
This is not optional for any true Christian. The act of "putting on" truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation is the act of preaching to ourselves these truths. We are to actively affirm what scripture tells us to our hearts. We are to actively speak to our divided hearts. We all experience it and it is combated in our hearts by putting our minds and emotions in the way of the train of God's word: his light and truth. This is why it is so necessary to preach to ourselves.
Next Sunday, as you enter your place of worship, pray with Paul that great prayer he prayed for the Ephesians that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened in order to know what is their hope.
Next Sunday, when you bow your head in prayer at the close of your churches service of worship, preach to yourselves the light and truth that you have sung and heard opened to your mind in the sermon time.
Next Sunday, make God the gladness of all your rejoicing!