Joe Thorn talks to himself, and he thinks you should do the same. In his book Note to Self, Thorn, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois, models what he believes is an overlooked practice: "the discipline of preaching to yourself." We talked to Thorn about preaching to yourself, preaching to others, and how the two practices are related.
What do you mean by "preaching to yourself"?
Preaching to ourselves is personally pressing the Word of God upon our hearts and lives with the aim of glorifying and enjoying God. The consequences of this should be conviction of sin, encouragement in the gospel, and ongoing transformation.
There's been a lot of talk recently about "preaching the gospel to ourselves," but it isn't anything new. I first ran across the idea years ago in Puritan literature. Thomas Manton argued that we preach to ourselves in the act of prayer, saying prayer "is a preaching to ourselves in God's hearing. We speak to God to warm ourselves, not for his information, but for our edification." Matthew Henry writes, "We must first preach to ourselves before we undertake to admonish or instruct others." More recently Martyn Lloyd-Jones taught that much of our unhappiness in life comes from listening to ourselves when we should be talking to ourselves—leading ourselves back to the biblical truths we tend to forget, or even doubt.
A lot of gurus advocate positive self-talk to boost self-esteem. But that's not what you're calling for. You write about the need to preach law (God's standards of righteousness) to ourselves. Why is that necessary?
Good preaching is always a preaching of both law and gospel. We preach the law of God, not only to uncover the way of God, but most critically, to expose our own guilt and need for redemption. Until we experience the ministry of the law, we will not truly benefit from the hope of the gospel.
So we preach the law to ourselves, not with any hope that we will be changed by it, but to lead ourselves to the gospel where by faith in Christ we find forgiveness for sinners, righteousness for the unrighteous, and victory for the defeated. The gospel alone can change us. Once we find our hope and identity in the gospel, we can look again to the law and confess with the psalmists and Paul that it is good, and a godly rule for our lives. In Christ we are no longer condemned or under the curse of the law, so we can in freedom and gratitude walk in God's ways. We do this imperfectly but with great joy, because Christ has walked in God's ways perfectly on our behalf.
One of your reviewers called the book "a manual on preaching the gospel to yourself in the midst of spiritual warfare." What forms of spiritual warfare does your book address?
Spiritual warfare is most commonly a battle with sin and temptation, and in the book I address issues like selfishness, cowardice, ungodly fear, spiritual navel-gazing, using guilt as a kind of penance, etc. But since the law is not the end, the book should be an encouragement as we continue to bring ourselves back to the gospel.
A lot of pastors regularly watch their favorite preachers online or listen to podcasts. Is that the same?
Preaching to ourselves is not the same as listening to others preach, but it should be happening in tandem with the preaching we sit under. Being a good listener is work, and when it comes to listening to the Scripture proclaimed, it demands more than passive absorption. And, since preaching to ourselves is essentially meditating on Scripture, we should be receiving the Word from others and then take it even further.
How is rehearsing your sermon aloud different from preaching to yourself?
Sermon rehearsal is likely focused on how we will effectively communicate truth to others. I think that's a good thing, but it should follow the act of preaching to ourselves throughout our sermon preparation. It's a mistake to do the hard work of exegesis, develop a homiletical outline, and build pointed application for our audience without first preaching the same Scripture to ourselves. We need preachers who have felt the pride-shattering force and Gospel-renewing power of God's Word. You can't rehearse that.
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