Here is what went through my mind in the hours before I spoke at a retreat in Spokane, Wash., two weeks ago:
"What have I done? This is all a big mistake. Somewhere along the line I was presumptuous. I'm a fraud. I have nothing to say. Plus I'm a bad speaker."
Normally one has the luxury of pandering to such self-loathing, but I had to be ready to talk by 9:30 a.m. Something must be done quickly. I decided to talk to myself rather than listening to myself. I reminded myself that (a) God had brought me here, and (b) He had put certain things on my heart to share. I thought through what I was planning to say to the women and I felt it rose to the level of "helpful"-which is the comfortingly modest bar the Apostle Paul set for his own speech (Acts 20:20).
Self-talk when under temptation is a little-taught skill that is invaluable to the Christian life. It is what David did for himself when the Bible says he "strengthened himself in the LORD" (1 Samuel 30:6). I am sure that as he prayed, he also reminded himself of a few true things about God's promises, plans, and power.
When godly friends are available, they can yank you out of stinkin' thinkin'-as Jonathan did when he made a trip to visit David on the lamb when David was under a death threat from Saul. Jonathan reminded his friend of a few true things-that he should not fear death because as a matter of fact, he was the most unkillable man in Israel at the moment, since he had a prophecy over his head: He will be king (1 Samuel 23:16-17).
May you all have such a friend. I do, but he is not always around. So it is well to develop the skill of self-talk for myself. Some call it "spiritual warfare"; John calls it "walking in the truth" (3 John 3-4); Paul calls it "be[ing] transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2), or "put[ting] on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). It is important that these verses be taken in the present continuous tense. They all advise that we not let the voices of fear, regret, defeat, and self-hatred have their way with us. There is no situation so scary that God is not bigger-even a retreat gig in Spokane.