One of the great soul ailments from which we all need to be cured is self-pity. How about I offer you a doctor’s prescription for it?
In his homilies on Psalm 73 published in Faith on Trial by Christian Focus, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, medical doctor turned premier pastor in London in the last century, applies this psalm to help us with this problem. Lloyd-Jones shows how the psalmist, focused on not being pleased with outer circumstances, made his own heart “embittered” (verse 21) by working it up into a state of what he deems spiritual “hypersensitivity.” Listen to him describe it:
“Everybody today is talking about being ‘allergic’ to things; it is one of the current phrases. Now what does this mean? It means that you are hypersensitive. There are some people, for instance, who cannot be in the same room as a cat without having an attack of asthma. Others cannot be near a field of hay without having an attack of hay fever. You are familiar with all that. What is the matter? The authorities say it is the dust or pollen in the air. But it is not simply the pollen, of course, because other people can walk in the same field and nothing happens to them. The pollen is there. But the point is that these people suffer from hay fever not because of the pollen but because they are hypersensitive, they are allergic. Now that illustrates the thing the Psalmist discovered. But he goes beyond that, and rightly so. He says that he worked up the sensitivity, indeed hypersensitivity. It can be done quite easily. You can make your heart hypersensitive. You can tend it and fondle it, and the more you do so the more your heart will like it, and the more sensitive and sorry it will be for itself. You can so work it up in this condition that the slightest thing will cause trouble at once. If you strike a match – just one match – in a barrel of gunpowder there will be a terrible explosion. It is not the match that counts primarily; it is the barrel of gunpowder.”
Being an allergy sufferer who is already finding that the unusually dry weather has brought the fall season early, I clearly see this. Irritants are present that affect me but not others. Removing the irritants is not possible in this world; thus, a medicine is needed. The same is true spiritually. Irritants are present in our lives and can make our hearts unsettled. It is not the removal of the irritants you need but the proper heart treatment. What does Dr. Lloyd-Jones prescribe? Like Jeremiah Burroughs before him in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Lloyd-Jones refers to Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” He then describes the one who has learned the apostle’s secret and been cured of spiritual allergies.
“In other words, he has arrived at a condition in which he is no longer hypersensitive. He is in a condition in which it does not matter very much what happens to him; it is not going to disturb him. ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ That is the position in which all of us who are Christians should be. The man who is not a Christian is not there, and cannot possibly be there. He is like a barrel of gunpowder; you never know when there is going to be an explosion. The slightest pinprick causes trouble; he is hypersensitive because of self. But the apostle Paul had remembered what our Lord put first to His disciples, namely, “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself.’ Self must be put out first. Then let him ‘take up his cross and follow Me’ (Matt. 16:24). Because self is dethroned and put into the background, the disciple is not hypersensitive, and these things do not cause troubles and alarms and explosions. He is balanced because self is out and he is living for Christ.”
The doctor then gives his practical prescriptions of how to put “self out,” some of which are:
- Withdrawing into the presence of God to get proper perspective
- Realizing that focusing on the problems others bring to you is masochistic and not helpful to your soul
- Learning to preach to yourself rather than listening unthinkingly to your heart
- Seeing how heart bitterness makes you behave like an unreasoning animal
- Putting an interval between negative stimulus and our response to it
- Not taking “normal” seasons of joy and blessing for granted
- Acknowledging Christians have a calling that involves seasons of affliction (Allergy seasons!)
This is an immensely practical book which can be ordered by going to Christian Focus.
“This chapter is taken from “Faith on Trial” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published by Christian Focus Publications, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, www.christianfocus.com and is used with their permission.”