I once thought that the psalms were sung by a fine choir in God’s throne room. Then I actually read them, and they sounded more like the words of a street troubadour who encourages the participation of those around him. Now I find that they are simply spoken and sung everywhere: in the darkness of night, in the early morning, in all the details of everyday life. And there are a handful of psalms in which the psalmists speak to themselves. These are the ones I want to consider. There are times when we must learn to speak to ourselves.
Speak to yourself when you feel isolated and alone. This is from Psalm 42 and 43, which are the ones best known for how the psalmist speaks to his own soul. “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God.” One thing we know about being downcast is that, left to itself, the soul can only see the worst and is almost impossible to interrupt. As such, this simple reflection is impossible for us to do alone but it is very possible with God’s power. What a gift this is—to slow down that runaway train of despondency.
Speak to yourself when you need a refuge from hard people. “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Ps. 62:5). Isolation, especially when it comes at the hands of other people, is one of the hardest of human experiences. As a general rule, the harder the experience, the less natural it becomes to talk to the Lord because he too seems distant. So this is a time to put boundaries around that experience and quiet our soul before the Lord.
Imagine this. When your mind is racing with everything from anger to self-loathing, and your isolation intensifies them all, you quiet yourself because “On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (v. 7). Or, you keep aiming in that direction until your soul is, in fact, quieted. Once you interrupt your soul—that is the hardest part—perhaps you could access the entire psalm. It is filled with soul-quieting realities. If you stick with it, you will find yourself encouraging other people to interrupt the stream of doubt and unbelief in their souls (v. 8)
Speak to yourself when rest is elusive, and the past still haunts you. “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you” (Ps. 116:7). Something very hard happened to the psalmist and he was delivered, but he is still shaken—a kind of post-traumatic shock. He speaks to himself about how God acted, how God delivered him. God responded to his prayer—he did something good—and he does something good now. He keeps his mind focused on the acting-God. “Bountifully” is implied, “dealt with you” is what the psalm actually says, so the psalmist is essentially saying, “The Lord has dealt with me, which means that he never sits idly but he does something. And, of course, that something is evidence of his lavish love to me. The psalmist is telling himself about God’s past action to encourage his faith in the present.
Speak to yourself when you don’t understand—and feel compelled to understand or compelled to fix something that you can’t fix. “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Ps. 131:1-2). We tell ourselves that we are not God. Instead, our job is to live out our calling with the matters that are right in front of us, and we trust the Lord for all those things we would like to control but can’t and shouldn’t. In short, “Humble yourself, O my soul, before my God and King. Humble yourself.”
Speak to yourself so you can be in sync with the universal chorus of praise. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:1-2, also Ps. 104, 146). This one is for every occasion.
I am not very good at these things yet. When I was a boy, I remember the first time I spoke a dialogue for some army men that I had set up. Hearing my own voice this way shocked me. Plus, my imagination had betrayed me by not letting me think that I could make these toy men talk. So I haven’t talked aloud to myself since. But this opportunity to talk truth to ourselves is so hopeful, so mature. I am working on it. It is another step to taking possession of the psalms and making them our own.