I recently finished reading a little book called Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. I’ve enjoyed Joe’s blog for awhile now and had been looking forward to the book. It didn’t disappoint.
So what exactly is preaching to yourself? It seems to be a popular phrase these days, but how exactly do we go about it? That’s exactly what Note to Self addresses. Joe defines preaching to ourselves this way:
“Preaching to ourselves is the personal act of applying the law and the gospel to our own lives with the aim of experiencing the transforming grace of God leading to ongoing faith, repentance, and greater godliness.” (p. 24)
He points out that while it’s essential to sit under the preaching of the Word in your local church, it’s also critically important to take what we hear and apply it to our own hearts and lives-our unique circumstances and situations.
It’s also crucial to preach not just the gospel, but also the law (defined here as God’s revealed will and standard of righteousness), to ourselves. Otherwise, the gospel is in danger of being less than clear, even seeming irrelevant. The law shows us what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s needed, while the gospel shows us God’s grace and provision:
“Neither the law nor the gospel can stand on it’s own in our preaching. The law is given to show us God’s way and our brokenness, so that we will see our need for redemption. In the gospel, we find our redemption, but we are then eager to look afresh at the law. Now we see it as a delight to carry out, because even though we cannot keep the law perfectly, Jesus has kept it perfectly for us. Our imperfect obedience brings pleasure to God because of Christ’s substitution. Therefore preaching to ourselves puts us into a cycle of law and gospel where we move from our guilt and need to God’s grace and provision and then back to the law as joyful and free obedience.” (p. 32)
Note to Self is divided into three sections:
- The Gospel and God
- The Gospel and Others
- The Gospel and You
Each section contains a dozen or more short chapters, each focused on a particular Scripture and addressed “Dear Self…”
I read straight through so I could review the book, but the format is perfectly suited for daily devotionals. I plan to go back through it using it this way. The chapters are short and succinct, but pack a powerful punch.
For example, from Chapter 8: Jesus Is Enough (Philippians 4: 11-13):
“When you find your deepest satisfaction in Jesus, you are protected from bitterness in times of want and pride in times of abundance. The world and all good gifts within it are temporal blessings. For you, Christian, their presence should remind you of the Giver, and their absence should remind you of that which never fades away nor can be taken away.” (p. 49)
And from Chapter 35: Stop Complaining (Philippians 2: 14):
“Perhaps when sickness, death, and affliction come into your life, you run to God and his promises and find comfort that gives peace and patience. Maybe it is just the small stuff that you sweat. So what is the big deal? Everything! In fact, your complaining about the small stuff is more dangerous than complaining about the big, because life is made up of the small stuff. Tragedies punctuate periods of your life, but it is the smaller inconveniences that make up the bulk of your existence, and this is what most people will see you handle. Those situations are the most obvious testing ground of your faith. If God’s grace is big enough for you to handle the big problems, why isn’t it enough for you to walk meekly through the smaller issues?” (p. 110)
Justin Taylor at Crossway recently interviewed Joe about the book. The clip is worth watching:
Note to Self is theologically rich, yet very practical and down-to-earth. The short chapters were encouraging and at times very convicting, and the format makes it a perfect devotional for those of us with busy families who want something with depth, but don’t have time to tackle something long or involved. One chapter can be read in minutes, yet the concepts can be pondered and chewed on throughout the day. This is definitely a worthy addition to your home library!