[The following article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching, Self-Talk by John Schoenheit.]
What I am going to talk about today is something that I began to be aware of in 1993. We taught it on video 27 of our Free Indeed video series. It is called self-talk in the psychological world. Or more simply the Bible would call it thinking. What you say to yourself when you think.
This is a problem I, as a minister, faced for years. Many of you might have faced the same problem, not only with others, but with yourself. How many of you have heard from the Bible that you are righteous before God? How many have heard it more than once? How many have heard it more than ten times? How many of you feel righteous all the time? What is the problem? How many people have self-esteem problems? How many know the Bible says they are righteous and justified before God? What is going on?
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
So, based on this Scripture if I hear the Word of God I should have faith. But is that exactly what it says? It says faith comes by hearing. Hearing can come by the Word of God, yes. But when the Bible says, “we are righteous,” we do not hear that. What we hear instead is what our inner voice says. It says, “not me.” That is very important; unless we actually hear what the Word is saying, we do not get faith.
We experience this all the time. Have you ever witnessed to someone and shared with them that they can be saved through Christ Jesus (Romans 10:9 and 10)? They hear vibrations in the air, but nothing happens. You are speaking it; they should be hearing it, but they are not. Instead what they might be hearing is something like, “Well, it may not be for me, it may not be real” or whatever. Their internal conversation is negating what the Bible is saying.
This is why we want to examine self-talk, both from some secular books and from the Word of God. We want to bring our self-talk from the instinctive to the cognitive. That is, we want to make it something we decide to do because we all have self-talk. This way we can realize what is going on and work with it. So that faith can come by deciding to hear the Word of God. Then we can hear ourselves say, “I am righteous before God.”
Now one of the things that interested me is the idea that we weren’t really hearing the Bible; we were really hearing ourselves. I was introduced to a book called What to Say When You Talk to Your Self by Shad Helmstetter. This a very powerful little book because it relates to how the brain works [you can purchase a good used copy on Amazon.com or Half.com for around $5.00]. One of the interesting things is that I could really relate to it more in some ways than reading the Bible. How many of you have read a book about the Bible that seems more powerful than the Bible itself? A lot of the reason for that is that God expects us to bring ourselves to the Word, just obey it, and see the fruit. When we read one of these books they paint vivid pictures that pull us in and give us living examples to relate to. For example, if it was the Bible it would just say, “don’t touch the hot stove.” A self-help book will say something like, “let me relate my experience to you; there I was in the kitchen cooking. I wasn’t paying attention to my left hand and burned myself. I went to the doctor and he explained what happens in my body when a person gets burned and why I was in so much pain. So, this is what you should do to avoid getting burned; if you do get burned follow these instructions.” Now this is great but how come the Bible doesn’t do this? Because it doesn’t need to. It just says, “Do not touch the hot stove.” And if you hadn’t done it there would be no need for the self-help book. As students of the Bible, we should have the understanding of why these self-help books seem very powerful. Because God just tells us what to do through His Word and expects us to believe and do it. We will see that precisely in Scripture.
I want to start out with Mr. Helmstetter’s What to Say When You Talk to Your Self. He says:
“As much as I have been a student of success, I have also been a skeptic. If there are so many keys to success, why aren’t they working?”
How many of you have been to a bookstore and counted the self-help books or observed how many there are? Why aren’t they working? Why have so many people failed at making these great ideas work? Or if they work for a while, what makes them stop working? The problem is not the books. The problem is not with seminars or motivational talks. There are a lot of self-help ideas and techniques that are good. They could work but they don’t. Why? Because of something that we have all overlooked. Mr. Helmstetter begins to talk about negative programming.
“I’ll give you an example of the negative programming most of us have received. During the first eighteen years of our lives, if we grew up in an average, reasonably positive home, we are told no or what we could not do more than a hundred and forty eight thousand times. That is for a nice home. Meanwhile during this same period of our lives, how often do you suppose we were told what we could do? Any body got an idea? Not that many. This negative programming we have received and still receive has come to us quite unintentionally.”
I would like to add that the world makes negative programming come to us intentionally, and we have a sin nature. This is a secular book. But we know that we not only get this negative programming but we also have a sin nature that we have to fight.
“Year after year, word after word our life scripts are etched. Layer by layer, nearly imperceptibly our self images are created and in time we join in. We help out. I can’t do that. I have never been good at that. I always mess that up. So, we add our two cents to the already big problem. We believe what we are being told by others and what we are telling ourselves. Repetition is a convincing argument. In time we became what we most believed about ourselves.”
And he goes on to develop his thesis.
“You will become what you think about most of the time. Your success or failure in anything, large or small will depend on your programming. What you accept from others, and what you say when you talk to yourself. What if we could begin to understand the workings of the mind so thoroughly that we can actually learn how to change or override our old programming and replace it with specific word-for-word new programming. And what if we could do this in such a way that we could affect and improve our attitudes and our behavior. Not through years of difficult study or training but easily anytime we choose.”
What if we could do that? What if that voice inside says, “Everyone else but me can get healed from a sore throat.” You can minister to someone else and they get healed but it doesn’t work for you. Has anybody been there? Why does that happen? Can we change that? Can we change that thing that says everyone has the righteousness of Christ but somehow God doesn’t look that way at me? Where is that coming from? Well, we know where it comes from. It comes from our sin nature and negative programming. Can we change it? The Bible says we can. So does this book. So do many books. We can reprogram ourselves. That is exactly what the brain will do. He says:
“It makes absolutely no difference who, where, what, why and how you have been in the past. It makes no difference what you believed about yourself. It makes no difference what circumstances were tossed in your lap. You can put yourself in control. Now it is your turn. You can reprogram. You can erase the negative counter productive work that is against you. Replace it with a healthy new positive and productive programming. And it is easy. Erase and replace. All you have to do is learn to talk to yourself.”
What I am going to show you is that this is actually in the Bible. He says all you have to do is learn to talk to yourself. The human brain will do anything you tell it to if you tell it often enough and strongly enough. If you tell it the wrong thing about yourself, that is what it will accept and act upon. The conscious mind does not see the difference between the statement that “we are clumsy” and “we are graceful.” Whatever you say to yourself is what it will believe. It doesn’t know the difference between the statement “we are poor” or “we are wealthy.” It accepts our programming just as we give it. Our internal programming mechanism accepts any information with equal indifference. The key is telling it something positive. The brain simply believes what you tell it. What you tell it about yourself it will create. It has no choice. When I was quite young I first heard the biblical passage that reads “As a man thinks so is he.” I recall shaking my head, thinking, how can that be? How could we possibly be what we think? After all, isn’t our physical self one thing and our private thought life another? Little did I understand how that biblical insight hit the nail of truth squarely on the head. It would be years later however, after much research and following the discoveries through which modern day neuroscientists had begun to unlock the secrets of the human mind, that I would come to know how scientifically correct it had been.
Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
I do not like the liberties that the NIV translators took with this verse contexturally.
For he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost.
This does not directly relate at all with the Hebrew text. But thankfully they put the little “r” after the word cost. Note “r” reads, “Or for as he thinks within himself.” Himself is nephesh or your soul. Your soul is yourself. As you think within yourself that is how you will be. All we have to do now is to bring this from the instinctive to the cognitive. Here is the biblical truth. The way you think inside yourself is the way you will be. So if you think you are not righteous, I do not care if a hundred million preachers read you Bible verses, you will believe what you think about most of the time. You are in control, not them. That is actually a good thing. Because it means nobody can brainwash you without your mental permission. But it also means that to believe Scripture, you have to give your mental permission. That is why you may have a Christian home with six kids and some of them might believe and be saved and some might not. How can that happen? They are all taught the same thing. Because ultimately who is in control of our thinking? We are. And we have to make the choice of what we are going to believe and how we are going to think.
We want to take our thinking and bring it from the instinctive into the cognitive. We need to start monitoring how we think. You know something else? The good news is that we can change the way we think. I do not care if you are 45 years old and for all those years you have believed you are unrighteous. Starting now you can start confessing that you are righteous and the brain will follow your lead. You may start out feeling like a hypocrite because when you first start confessing what the Bible says, you might not feel like it. Someone once said, “fake it until you make it.” That is pretty close. You confess it until you acquire it. No matter how you feel, if the Bible says it, you can say it about yourself.
Another book by Dale Carnegie (a pretty important guy in the self-help field) is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. In part four he says:
“A few years ago I was asked to answer this question on a radio program. What is the biggest lesson you have ever learned?”
How many lessons did Dale Carnegie learn in his life? Here is what he writes:
“By far the most important lesson I have ever learned is the importance of what we think. If I knew what you think, I would know what you are. Our thoughts make us what we are. Our mental attitude is the x-factor that determines our faith. Emerson said a man is what he thinks about all day long. How could he possibly be anything else? I know now with a conviction beyond all doubt that the biggest problem that you and I have to deal with is choosing the right thought. If we can do that we will be on the high road to solving all of our problems. The great philosopher who ruled the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius, summed it up in eight words, ‘Our life is what our thoughts make it.’”
Now that was two thousand years ago. But of course Proverbs is a thousand years before that. Yes, if we think happy thoughts, we will be happy. If we think miserable thoughts, we will be miserable. If we think failure, we will certainly fail. If we wallow in self-pity everyone will shun us. “You are not,” said Norman Vincent Peale, “what you think you are, but what you think, you are.”
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
This is a command of God. If you do this, what do you think will happen in your thought life and eventually in your personal life? You will actually become what you think. Your life will change and become much better. The interesting slight of mind that my brain has pulled on me for years when I read this verse was that I would say “whatever is truth, honest, pure, lovely…out there.” Like sunsets, like so and so is a great scholar, like so and so is a great pastor. I didn’t turn it into me. What is true about me? I’m righteous. But I have this internal conversation going on saying, “not really.” I’m worthy of God’s grace for healing when I am sick. I’m a good witnesser. We have to take what the Bible says and speak it about ourselves. “But I don’t feel that way.” That’s okay. The Bible says think about things like that. It does not say think about them only if you feel they are true. If you think about them long enough, guess what? They will be true.
What happens when we have these thoughts coming in all the time saying, “you are unrighteous, you are unworthy of healing, you are lousy. God does not really love you. He loves everyone but you.” The Bible simply says:
2 Corinthians10:4 and 5
(4) For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;
(5) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
The thoughts that we should be taking into captivity are the self defeating thoughts that are not true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Take them captive. We have to realize what this book calls self-talk we call thinking.
In Scripture there are examples of internal conversations. For example in 1 Samuel 30, things were going pretty rough for David because he was living in a town called Ziklag. He went to participate in a war with the Philistines. When he returned, he found the city burned to the ground. His wives and all of his men’s wives had been taken captive. All their possessions had been stolen. His army was very upset; this was a defeat they had not experienced before. They were not mentally prepared for this defeat and they thought about killing David because he was their commander and chief.
1 Samuel 30:6
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.
David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. You know how he did that? He gave himself a talk. He probably put his head in the Word a bit. He poured his life out to God. Through talking about what was going on he strengthened himself in the Lord his God. This is self-talk – positively affecting yourself by talking to yourself. Some examples are good and some are bad.
1 Samuel 27:1
But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”
He let himself get over tired and in a weakened position and his wonderful, sharp, godly mind did what all of our minds do when we are tired, stressed, and hungry. We begin to engage in negative thoughts. For David this particular self-talk was pretty disastrous. He took his army, left Judah and went into the Philistine country, where he was embarrassed. It took a long time to recover the confidence of the men of Judah. Because from their standpoint he had quit. It started with negative self-talk. We need to bring our self-talk into the light and become fully aware of what we are saying to ourselves. What David might have done was call Joab and Abishai, these were loyal warriors and men of God, and said, “I am having a really weak moment. I’m having a tough time; help me out here.” We need to carefully monitor where our thinking is going so we can interrupt our negative self-talk. There are more examples of negative self-talk in the Bible if you want to study this further.
I want to take this a step further. What do you do when your self-talk gets negative? Sometimes we can wake up in the morning and just feel bad. Other times we can wake up and feel great. And you haven’t done anything in particular to cause this either way. What if we do not feel like doing much?
Dale Carnegie says:
“Have I the colossal effrontery to tell you to your face when you are mowed down by troubles and your nerves are sticking out like wires, curling up at the ends. Have I the colossal effrontery to tell you that under these conditions you can change your mental attitude by an effort of will? Yes, I meant precisely that. And that is not all. I am going to show you how to do it. It may take a little effort, but the secret is so simple. William James, who has never been topped in his knowledge of practical psychology, once made this observation. ‘Actions seem to follow feeling, but really action and feeling really go together.’ By regulating the action which is under more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling which is not. Your feelings will follow your action. We cannot just regulate our emotions just making up our minds to but we can change our actions. When we change our actions we automatically change our feelings.”
Thus James explains the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness. ‘If your cheerfulness is lost, sit up cheerfully and act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.’ Act cheerfully and you will become cheerful. Put an honest to God smile on your face, take a deep breath and sing a song. If you can’t sing, whistle. If you can’t whistle, hum. You will quickly discover what William James was talking about. It is physically impossible to remain blue or depressed while you are acting out the symptoms of being radiantly happy.”
Does the Bible tell us that we can regulate our feelings by what we do? Absolutely.
Rejoice in the Lord always.
Except when you got up not really feeling good? Or wait until you have two or three cups of coffee and see if you might be feeling like smiling yet. The Bible does not go into all these explanations. It tells you how to get there. It just says, “rejoice.” Start rejoicing and you will get there. Sometimes when I get up I argue with myself if I want to be obedient. Has anyone else done this besides me? We are feeling like following our feeling of not rejoicing. This is a conversation that may or may not contain words but feelings and struggles. Then you take these feelings and put words to them, take them captive and say:
“I know how you are feeling (your name) and I know you would like to follow your feelings but God would like you to follow His Word. So put a smile on your face and let your feelings catch up to your behavior because the Bible says they will.”
Philippians 4:4 and 5
(4) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
(5) Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Be gentle even if you are feeling like being gruff and unattractive!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
The feeling is anxiety. What is the action you take to break through? Prayer and petition with thanksgiving you let your requests be known. You see what is going on? There is a feeling. Anxiety, the feeling, wants to control your life. “I want to be anxious. I like feeling anxious. I think I deserve to feel anxious in these circumstances. If anyone else was here they would feel anxious, too. I’m not giving this up.” And there is the internal conversation. I know the Bible says, “be anxious for nothing, but I don’t want to give thanks. I’m not thankful.” As we bring this from the instinctive to the cognitive we recognize the conversation. We replace the negative programming with positive programming over and over again. The good news is that as we replace the negative programming it will become obsolete. If I get up every morning and repeat to myself, “I am righteous before God,” in six months I will start to believe it. The brain will believe what you tell it – period. So Paul by revelation says, in everything by prayer and with thanksgiving present your requests to God.
…if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Thinking is an action. How many of you have been on the verge of being depressed / unsettled and put on praise music and started to praise the Lord and have had your attitude change? Is it magic? No, it is principle. The interesting thing is that the little lawyer within us comes up and says, “that isn’t fair. That’s cheating. You are making yourself feel happy.” Where is there a verse that says, “I can’t make myself feel happy”? I want to make myself feel happy. I want to obey the Lord and rejoice. So I do what it takes to get there.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
We need to practice this. Practice rejoicing in the Lord always. Practice putting your requests into thanksgiving. Praso is the Greek word practice. Not poieo not ergon; not any of the other words translated do, but practice. “Well, I did it once and it did not work.” Where is the verse that says, “it is going to work after one try”? Scripture says — practice. The things you have heard of me — practice that. When it says don’t be anxious but put together requests with thanksgiving — practice that. When he says watch what you are thinking then don’t allow yourself to have negative conversations — practice that. It is all here in Scripture.
So, in summary, what have we seen? All of us are going to have inner conversations. We can call it self-talk or thinking. Our brain does not discriminate. Whatever you tell it consistently it will believe. How do we change the conversations? We change by repeating the truth whether we feel like it or not. Have you ever heard about meditating on the Word? We repeat to ourselves the truth, we are righteous, justified, loved, and worthy. Think on these things. And what happens is the negative programming begins to be replaced. We take those negative thoughts captive. When we are struggling, we make sure that our action is positive action leading to positive thinking and not negative action that leads to negative thinking. If we start to praise God, we start to feel like praising. If we just sit in bed and roll back and forth we might never feel like praising. We do what the Bible says and we put these positive things into practice. That will lead us to victory and freedom!