We talk to ourselves. We counsel, advise, coach, and even command ourselves. Most of us are familiar with our internal monologue. It’s why we resonate with this quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones,

“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. … Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.”[1]

Perhaps you know your need to preach to yourself and not just listen to yourself, but are you aware of whose voice your inner voice imitates? Who do you sound like when you talk to you? I’m specifically referring to the tone of voice in your head. Does it sound like Jesus? Or does it sound more like a harsh drill sergeant, a hard-to-please father, or a hypercritical, disappointed mother?

Think of what the narrative in your head sounds like, especially when you fail.

  • Are you often condescending, demeaning, mocking, or sarcastic in tone? (“Nice job!” “Way to go, idiot!” “What is wrong with you?!”)
  • Do you often remind yourself that you’re failing at pretty much everything?
  • Do you ever castigate and condemn yourself?
  • Do you ever tell yourself you’re worthless and will never amount to anything?

Having believed Jesus’s gracious words for your justification, are you now seeking to be sanctified by bullying yourself into submission? Does your inner voice sound more like “the accuser of the brothers” (Rev. 12:10) or the gentle and lowly Lover of our souls (Matt. 11:28-30)?

Prosecuting or Defense Attorney

The name Satan literally means “accuser.” The devil is a prosecuting attorney bent on your condemnation. Jesus, however, is your defense attorney (1 Jn. 2:1). He is not your prosecuting attorney. Is your inner voice serving as a loudspeaker for Satan’s accusations or the Son’s gracious intercession (Rom. 8:34)?

We can be brutal with ourselves, can’t we? Even downright abusive. Where did we learn this? If you saw a counselor and he spoke to you like you sometimes speak to yourself, you might file a report. You’d certainly never go back!

Jesus never abuses his people. He is lovingly stubborn, relentless even, but he is never cruel. He is never annoyed or disgusted with us. He never rolls his eyes at us. He never lashes out at us. Of course, he had hard words for hardened, self-righteous hypocrites, but repentant sinners heard loving words of forgiveness, cleansing, and hope. Jesus is the suffering servant of whom it was written, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Isa. 42:3; Matt. 12:20). A thrice-denying apostle was restored without browbeating and I told you so’s.

Sensitivity to the Spirit

If the Son of God is an advocate for us in heaven, the Spirit of God is the helper-advocate in us on earth. So, what does he sound like? How does God speak to us, by the Spirit, in the privacy of our minds and hearts?

Not with the saccharine sentimentality of self-esteem slogans. Not with flattery or the “power” of positive thinking. He tells us the truth. But he does so with the love and tenderness that is the heart of God for his children. We quench and resist and grieve the Spirit when we submit to the devil’s brutality in our self-talk. Part of what it means to be sensitive to the Spirit is to listen to the words of God to us, wedded to the heart of God for us.

God hates our sin because he loves us! He is tough on sin because he is tender with sinners. Satan only hates us. He leads us into temptation and then capitalizes on our sin in order to condemn us. Satan is soft on sin in order to be hard on us.

Oh, how we need to learn to tell the difference!

  • The Spirit wants you to loathe your sin.
  • Satan wants you to loathe yourself.
  • The Spirit’s will is to redeem and renew you, convicting you to set you free.
  • Satan’s will is to enslave and destroy you, condemning you to hold you captive.
  • The Spirit says, “There’s something wrong with you. I’m here to help.”
  • Satan says, “What’s wrong with you?! You’re hopeless.”
  • The Spirit appeals to your identity in Christ to draw you back from wandering (“That’s not who you are. Repent and come home.”).
  • Satan questions your identity because of your wandering (“And you call yourself a Christian?!”).

Taking Pages from Satan’s Playbook

In your experience, when someone (a parent, spouse, boss, coach, or spiritual leader) belittles you and beats you down, is it the most effective way to help you change? Of course not. Then why do we talk to ourselves that way? Why do we try to build ourselves up by destructive means?

Why are we taking pages from Satan’s playbook to accomplish God’s goals? Our ears need to be tuned, by the Spirit, to the voice of Jesus (including his tone), so that our inner voice will echo his. We are to hate our sin, but we are not to speak hatefully to ourselves. We are to deny ourselves, but we are not to despise ourselves.

Resist and Rehearse

Satan doesn’t want you to change (unless he can co-opt your success to make you proud and self-righteous). When you fail, he stands over you wagging his finger to keep you down. He starts up the beat-you-down broken record, increasing the volume.

God does want you to change. He’ll expose and convict you of your sin, because you’re precious and beloved. And when you fail (again), he’ll happily help you rehearse the gospel (again). This is your heavenly Father, teaching you to talk.

Resist the devil and his voice will flee your mind. Rehearse the words of God, tuned in to his tone. Counsel yourself not only with his words, but also with his heart.

[1] Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), 20-21.