These days a lot of folks are talking about the need to preach the gospel to yourself. This is a good and important thing indeed. We do need to be preaching the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis. But something that I’ve noticed is there aren’t a lot of folks talking about what that actually looks like. Joe Thorn’s noticed this, too. So he decided to do something about it by writing Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. Over the course of 48 chapters (don’t worry, they’re all 2-3 pages long), Thorn offers readers practical insights that challenge them to grow in grace, confront sin and serve others.
Why do we need to preach to ourselves—why is it beneficial? Because, Thorn writes:
Preaching to yourself demands asking a lot of questions, both of God’s Word and especially of yourself. You will have to ask and be honest about your motives, struggles, and needs. You will need to clarify to yourself what God’s law means in principle, but also what it requires specifically of you. You will need to ask how the gospel meets your needs and heals your brokenness. To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget. (p. 32)
There is a great deal of wisdom here. Too often it’s easy to see the wonders of the gospel and of what God has done in history and it become kind of… ordinary. We can begin to take things for granted that we might otherwise not. But I found that as I read through each chapter, I was being called out on a few of the things I’ve been overlooking of late.
A notable example is found in chapter 13, “Wait for Jesus.” Thorn opens with the question, “What is your greatest hope? Your deepest longing? Is it for Christ to return? Be honest” (p. 60).
I didn’t like the answer to this question. While there are many days where I can confidently answer, “Yes!” there are others where I don’t really give it much thought.
My greatest hope for the day is more along the lines of getting out of a meeting early or finding a solution to a nagging problem (or even going for a walk with my family). These are not bad things, but they’re not the ultimate thing, nor are they the point of why we’re here. Then I read:
In this life, as you work for the glory of Jesus and the good of others, you should do so with an eye to his return. It will lead to earnestness and create an urgency in your life to make the most of all your days. (p. 61)
Reading this, I was reminded of Phil. 3:20 where Paul writes that, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” as well as Col. 3:1-2, “Since then you have been raised with Christ, seekthe things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” This eye to the return of Christ saturated Paul’s ministry and his epistles evidence that he truly made the most of the days he was given.
I’m not sure I can always say the same, but I’d like it to be the case.
Perhaps what is most unique (and effective) about Note to Self is its format. Because each chapter is written quite literally as a “note to self,” it allows the reader to engage with the text on a more meaningful level than one might otherwise. I found that there were more than a few times when it was reading my proverbial mail simply because it felt like I was reading my own journal. Along with the example above, chapter 34, “You are Proud,” really hit home in an uncomfortable way, particularly as the comparison game is called out. When it comes to pride, it doesn’t matter if I’m not as bad as anyone else, it’s still a dreadfully serious sin.
Although small, Note to Self is a slow burn. Read it slowly and thoughtfully. If you enjoy using devotional readings to accompany your regular Bible study, take 48 days to go through the book. Although my initial read through for this review was over the course of a few days, I’m now going through it day-by-day to really let it all sink in. I’d highly encourage any reader to get a copy of Note to Self today and do likewise.
Title: Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself
Author: Joe Thorn
Publisher: Crossway/Re:Lit (2011)