Psalm 103: Learning How to Talk (to Yourself)

Do you talk to yourself?

I don’t mean when you’re wrestling through your taxes or walking through your to-do list. But do you talk yourself, really? When you are fearful, do you command your soul to trust in the Lord?  When your affections are low, do you command your heart to bless the Lord? As Paul Tripp is fond of saying, “no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.”

In the particularly difficult moments of the day, how do you talk to yourself? How do you specifically exhort yourself to hope in God?

Psalm 103 has been immensely helpful for me as a pattern for commanding my soul in seasons of low affection. The Psalm begins (Psalm 103:1–2) and ends (Psalm 103:20–22) with David’s exhortation to his own soul to bless the Lord. While there is much to draw out of this rich text, I’d like to highlight two observations:

1. Remind yourself of what the Lord has done

Sin, pain, or sorrow can blind us to God’s present working and, occasionally, even the miraculous ways he's worked in our lives in the past. And while we might argue with our journal or with our memory, God’s work in redemptive history is unassailable. David helps us by reminding himself (and us) of God’s irrevocable work for his people in history:

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

David takes us (and himself) back to the most pivotal event he can think of. And it's not in the valley of Elah with three smooth stones in his hand and a sling by his side. In fact, it's not even an event from his lifetime.

Instead, David brings us back to Sinai (see Exodus 6:6–9). He brings us back to the moment when the Lord worked powerfully and victoriously and decisively to redeem his people out of Egyptian bondage. He brings us back to the moments when God demonstrated his covenant-keeping love.  

In the fight to command our souls to bless the Lord, we not only call to mind the things in general that are true about the Lord (see Psalm 103:3–5), we follow David’s example to get our arms around concrete, unassailable realities of his work in redemptive history. We lift our gaze above our own circumstances and fix it upon the Lord’s acts of provision and deliverance in the past. We tell ourselves what God has done — in history, for us. 

2. Hold fast to a specific truth about the Lord

David does something very instructive next. Having reminded himself of who God is and what God has done in redemptive history, he latches on to a particular text, specifically Psalm 103:8,

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

David is quoting Exodus 34:6. At the heart of David’s self-exhortation (cf. also Psalm 145:8!), he has a particular text in mind — one frequently recalled by Old Testament authors in the midst of sin (Joel 2:12), sorrow (Lamentations 3:21–23), and pain (Psalm 86:15).

David, Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, Joel, Nehemiah, and Hezekiah — they all went here for help (Jonah 4:2; Nehemiah 9:16; 2 Chronicles 30:9). And David, having to mind this text, begins to spin out all its implications — God’s anger does not last forever, sin has been cast as far as the east is from the west, God’s compassion will not fail because David is his (see 103:9–19).

David is moved. A heart that was faltering is now soaring. A deeply wrought gratitude now swells up to expression. He cannot keep it in: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (see Psalm 103:20–22).

When you’re talking to yourself, are you reminding yourself of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus? Do you have specific texts with which you exhort your soul? When the days are darkest, don’t let your soul take command. Summon your soul to bless the Lord.  Find specific texts by which you can fight the fight of faith — perhaps some short ones like these: Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5–6; Isaiah 41:10) and long ones (Romans 8:26–39; John 10:7–18; Psalm 103!.

"May the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . ." (Colossians 3:16).

Ryan Griffith serves as the Assistant Professor of Christian Worldview and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

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Ryan Griffith is Assistant Professor of Christian Worldview and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He teaches biblical studies, church history, missions, and biblical languages.