3 Steps to Breaking the Cycle of Self-Pity
The late Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been counseling me the past few days through the re-publication of his sermons on Psalm 73 by Christian Focus entitled Faith On Trial. If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know how many times I have referenced this psalm in the past year and how the Lord has been using it in my own heart. The Holy Spirit has magnetically pulled me back into it time and time again. One of the powerful lessons of this psalm is the diagnosis and cure of self-pity, which is never productive. What Lloyd-Jones says is so helpful that I will quote large portions.
“The trouble with this man was that his thoughts had been turned in on himself and so had got into a vicious circle. We start thinking about things in this way, we become miserable and unhappy, and we do not want to see anybody. We do not want to mix with God’s people. We become preoccupied with our troubles—the hard times we are having, the feeling that God is not fair to us and that we are being treated very harshly. We are miserable and feeling very sorry for ourselves, and there we are, going round and round in circles of self-pity. Self is always the centre of this problem. The first thing to do, therefore, is to stop this preoccupation with self and stop turning round and round in circles on the natural level! But how does one break out of the vicious circle? I suggest that there are three main things here.”
1. Put first what the psalmist put first – literally going to the house of God. “What a wonderful place God’s house is. Often you will find deliverance by merely coming into it. Many a time have I thanked God for His house….The house of God has delivered me from ‘the mumps and measles of the soul’ a thousand times and more—merely to enter its doors…we go to the house of God, and to our amazement we find other people there before us…the healing process is going on, the cure is being continued….We look around the congregation and suddenly find ourselves looking at someone whom we know has had an infinitely worse time than we have been having…it puts our problem into a new perspective immediately [see 1 Cor 10:13]. Where the devil gets us is just here. He persuades us that nobody has ever had this trial before: no-one has ever had a problem like mine, no-one else has been dealt with like this. But Paul says, ‘There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man,’ and the moment you remember even that much, you feel better. All God’s people know something about this, we are such strange creatures, and sin has had a strange effect upon us. We are always helped in our suffering by hearing that somebody else is suffering too!”
2. Turn to the Bible. “Turn to it in the home or in the church, it does not matter where, and it will immediately make you think spiritually. It does so in countless ways. One of the reasons why God has given us this Word is in order to help us to deal with this problem that we are considering. The mere history of the Bible is invaluable, even if there were nothing else. Take a Psalm like this one and its story. Merely to read what this man went through puts me right, and all the histories do that same. But that is not God’s only way of giving this great teaching. Begin to read your Bible and its great teaching and doctrines and you are again reminded of God’s gracious purposes for man. And at once you begin to feel ashamed of your foul thoughts. So in varied ways the same result is produced by the Scriptures.
3. Pray and meditate. “I wonder whether there is someone who is surprised that I have not put prayer first, or at least before this. I am sure there are some, because I know a number of Christian people who have a universal answer to all questions. It does not matter what the question is, they always say, ‘Pray about it.’ If a man in the Psalmist’s condition had come to any one of them they would have said, ‘Go and pray about it.’ What a glib, superficial and false bit of advice that can often be, and I am saying that from a Christian pulpit. You may ask, Is it ever wrong to tell me the make their problems a matter of prayer? it is never wrong, but it is sometimes futile. What I mean is this. The whole trouble with this poor man, in a sense, was that he was so muddled in his thinking about God that he could not pray to Him. If we have muddled thoughts in our mind and heart concerning God’s way with respect to us, how can we pray? We cannot. Before we can pray truly we must think spiritually.”
How do we think spiritually? By returning to the Word of God again, again, again, and again. When your thinking turns inward so habitually that you find yourself in the vicious circle of self-pity, begin to break free by following MLJ’s counsel. Only Scripture is consistently perfect, filled with reviving power, sure, wise, pure, clean, true, and altogether righteous (Ps 19:7-11). Turn away from your self-focus to the mind-clarifying power of the Word.