Seeking renewal physically, mentally, socially/emotionally and spiritually is an active, not passive discipline.
How to Get Unstuck
By Matt Perman
Renewal: The Power of Preaching to Yourself
One very simple but constantly overlooked reason we get stuck is this: we’re tired.
We get tired physically. But we also get tired emotionally, socially and even spiritually. We have to continually renew ourselves and grow in all four of these dimensions if we are going to stay sharp.
Renewal is about maintaining and developing our productive capacity. Would you run a car for twenty thousand miles without an oil change? Yet we do that sort of thing with ourselves all the time. As our productivity decreases and we become less sharp, we don’t even notice it because we’ve become used to it.
Further, renewal is more than just rest. Far more—as we will see.
Taking time for renewal can be hard. We feel as though we can just keep going and going. But taking time for renewal is an investment in productivity capacity. By increasing your capacity to produce, you end up producing more than if you had not taken that time. Beyond that, however, time for renewal is simply good and right in itself, for it is how we are designed.
The Four Areas of Renewal
We need to renew ourselves in four areas. All four are essential because we are holistic beings. To renew ourselves in only one area but not the others will have negative effects. We need balanced renewal, which comes by addressing all four areas. As we renew ourselves in one area, it will spill over and benefit the others because they are so closely interrelated. The four fundamental needs are (1) physical, (2) mental, (3) social/emotional, and (4) spiritual.
Much has been written about physical renewal. New research is showing the central importance of sleep to our productivity. And the value of exercise has been known for a long time. Learning is a key component for mental renewal. Forming relationships and journaling are helpful tools for social/emotional renewal. But what I want to focus on in this chapter is an often neglected tool in the spiritual dimension of renewal.
The Centrality of Spiritual Disciplines
The spiritual dimension is our relationship with God. It is having him at the center of our lives, getting to know him, and walking with him in life.
We walk with God in many ways—by doing all that we do in conscious reliance on him, praying without ceasing as we go through the day (1 Thess. 5:17), meditating on his Word (Ps. 1; John 15:7) and seeking to live according to justice and grace, trusting in his promises.
Beyond our ongoing life of communion with God, the spiritual disciplines are especially foundational. The two disciplines we tend to think of most are prayer and meditating on Scriptures. These are indeed at the core. But interestingly, there are many more disciplines as well.
Don Whitney has a great discussion of multiple spiritual disciplines in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, including not just Scripture and prayer but also worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning. I highly recommend his book, as well as David Mathis’s Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.
One of the most important things you can do to grow in your faith and keep your spiritual life anchored is to spend thirty to sixty minutes every day praying and reading the Bible and reflecting on it. I have said much on this elsewhere, so I won’t add to it here other than saying: do it. I will, however, add two disciplines to the ones that Whitney lists.
Preaching to Yourself
The first additional discipline you should practice is preaching to yourself. When you are stuck in anxiety, hopelessness or despair, this can be an extraordinary antidote for getting unstuck.
We see it in Psalm 43:5: “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.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones elaborates on this passage and what it means to preach to yourself in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cures:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.
“Somebody is talking. Who is talking? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ”Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.’ …
“The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. 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.
“Then having done that, end on this great note: Defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.’”
Preaching to yourself is massively powerful for getting unstuck. It acknowledges that you don’t have to be the victim of negative, anxious, self-defeating thoughts. You can stop listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself instead.
Educating Your Conscience
The second often overlooked discipline that I want to highlight is educating your conscience. Your conscience functions along with your intuition to enable you to make decisions in the moment. The more your intuition is tuned and your conscience is educated, the better your decisions will be. You educate your conscience chiefly through Scripture. You observe God’s commands and promises, reflect on your decisions and actions and see how they align. Then you identify adjustments to make—things you need to stop doing and things you need to start doing.
This is especially important because Ephesians 5:7–17 teaches us that God does not typically whisper from heaven what decision we should make. He wants us to choose because that requires the growth of wisdom, maturity and conscience. We are to choose on the basis of biblical principles and spiritual expedience. That is, where the Scriptures do not require a particular way of action, we are free to choose our own course on the basis of what seems best and our own desires.
The process of choosing is not merely analytical; there is a discerning to it. This is what Ephesians 5:10 speaks of: “Discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (cf. Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–11). As we meditate on Scripture and get to know God better, our conscience and discernment are educated, and we become more able to make spiritually edifying decisions in the everyday.
Taken from How to Get Unstuck by Matt Perman. Copyright © 2018 by Matt Perman. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com