If someone polled your church with the question, “Which preacher do you listen to most frequently?” how would you respond? Some would point to the pastor. Others might suggest a minister they hear on the radio or by podcast. But if we are honest, none of these wins the contest. Believe it or not, the individual who has the greatest access to our hearts, the one who preaches to us most frequently, is not who we think.
It is the Devil.
Satan preaches a sophisticated, seductive, and manipulative message. His goal is to convince you either that the Lie is true or that the Truth is a lie, and we are usually unaware that he is speaking. He is the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). God has given him influence over the media, and through this megaphone he preaches persuasively, speaking to us through newspapers, television, blogs, e-mail, radio, popular music, movies, magazines, NFL commercials, and, yes, even at times through our consciences and friends.
How do we know we have been listening to the Devil’s lies? The fruits are ominous and varied. We become discouraged when life doesn’t go as we had planned. We wallow in guilt after a careless comment hurts someone we love. We compare ourselves to others and then feel worthless. We give into hopelessness or fear as we observe cultural change. Some even yield to the despair that this life is all there is. The Devil knows how to “preach it,” and we are often the victims.
But God has provided us with a mighty spiritual weapon: the gospel. As I explain in my book Hidden in the Gospel, “the gospel” is everything that God has done, and will do, to save us. The gospel stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It starts with election and ends with the new heavens and new earth. It includes the doctrines of election; Christ’s incarnation, active obedience, penal substitutionary death, resurrection, ascension, and return for final judgment; and the creation of new heavens and earth. Hidden in these wonderful doctrines are crucial truths. When applied, they shatter the Devil’s vicious deceits.
God does not want us to listen to ourselves or the Devil. Instead, he wants us to preach to ourselves. Listening is passive; preaching is active. For example, when I don’t feel loved by God, I preach the truth to myself. It transcends feelings. Before the foundation of the world God chose me and set his love upon me. He didn’t choose me because I performed, but despite the fact that I didn’t. He sent his Son to live a perfect life in my place and to bear the wrath that I deserve at Calvary. It is rare when this preaching exercise does not kindle feelings in my heart that reflect the truth that I am loved. This is what Paul has in mind when he tells us to “seek the things that are above” and “set your minds on things that are above” (Col. 3:1–2). As I write in my book:
“Maturing believers cultivate the discipline of preaching to themselves. In fact, they turn this into an art form. They read Scripture, internalize it, and then continually preach its truths back to themselves. When fears of death and dying arise, they speak to themselves about the world to come. When guilt grips their heart, they remind themselves that they have been united with Christ and that Christ’s righteousness is theirs. They don’t listen to self. They preach to self!”
So, which preacher do you listen to most? Hopefully, you’re not listening to the Devil. I wrote Hidden in the Gospel to help you to cultivate the discipline of preaching to yourself instead.