the shape of leadership

Leader, Talk to Yourself

Let the good news of Jesus fill your heart and mind

David Hertweck on May 1, 2017

The late minister David Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure said, “Most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.”

How does a leader stay calm during a crisis or find hope when the sense of loss seems overwhelming? Is it possible to rest and rejoice when there is neither comfort nor joy on the horizon? Do Christians have access to resources beyond good old-fashioned effort, determination or self-help advice?

I believe so.

Martin Luther taught that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves daily. It sounds good, but what does that mean?

It starts by recognizing that everyone is already self-preaching some version of the “good news.” James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love suggests, “to be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life.”

I think Smith is saying we find direction, purpose and energy for life based on who or what we most love and desire. And whatever we love — and worship — will inevitably shape our vision of the good life.

The life found in Christ awakens our hearts to the truth that God made us according to His image and redeemed us according to His plan.

In other words: The good news I tell myself becomes the good life I want for myself.

What happens when the “gospel” you preach to yourself is all about becoming a respected influencer? Every retweet, like or new follower is perceived as one step closer to the good life.

If the good news your heart most celebrates is outward success, your vision of the life worth living must include a large ministry with all the bells and whistles. If you find your deepest joy in your skill as a preacher, your sense of self and worth is at stake every time you get behind the pulpit.

Some envision the perfect family as the path to lasting joy, but this invites anxiety and fear into the heart at the first sign of marital tension or a child’s rebellion.

When we only listen to ourselves, we lose sight of both the good news and the good life. We deceive ourselves. Timothy Keller in Counterfeit Gods says it this way: “When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redefines reality in terms of itself.”

Every counterfeit version of the good life will enslave you. At its best, it isn’t enough; you will always need more. At its worst, it will destroy you; you will fail to measure up, and it will have no power to save you. But when we talk to ourselves and remind our hearts of the gospel, we find a life that is fuller than anything we ever imagined possible.


Because the life found in Christ awakens our hearts to the truth that God made us according to His image and redeemed us according to His plan — not based on our performance, but based on the unmerited, unchanging performance of Jesus on our behalf.

In the gospel, our hearts gratefully tap into the uniquely Christian motivation for everything we do as leaders: not for approval, but from approval. In the gospel, we finally find something worth saying to ourselves.

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