Self-Talk: Soul Sabotaging

At Gateway Church in Austin, we concluded our series “Self-Talk.” In this message John Burke shares about soul sabotaging self-talk.

Proud and judgmental thoughts are destructive. These kinds of thoughts foster discrimination, division, and unfortunately, we all have them. Pride and being judgmental also sabotage our souls. Discover how to take our thoughts captive and refocus them in a way that honors God, others, and ourselves.

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“Self-Talk: Soul Sabotaging” Next Steps

A Thrive Class on The Lies We BelieveFor more info and to sign up here.

Message Video:

Message Notes from John Burke:

Today we’re wrapping up this Self-Talk series. We all have self-talk running through our heads every day.

And this series is really important right now. According to experts, there is a second pandemic going on right now – a mental health crisis. The health and financial costs of COVID-19 along with the racial and political division within our nation have resulted in widespread feelings of helplessness and overwhelming anxiety and despair in response to circumstances over which we have little or no control. (Add on top of that a week of historic cold temperatures across Texas leaving some of us without power or heat or water or access to groceries). One of the most important ways to make it through this difficult season, is to work on your own self-talk and help those with whom you live, work, and do life as well.

Self-Defeating Self Talk

So quick recap. Some of our self-talk is self-defeating like we talked about week 1 when Carlos interviewed the NFL’s most accurate kicker, Justin Tucker, to see how he deals with self-defeating self talk.

For example, thoughts that run through our heads like “you can’t trust anyone”—so we don’t trust anyone, but you also have no close friends and you kill off relationships when they get too close for comfort.  And what’s so difficult about self-talk is it often feels true. You may have data points of all the people who proved they were not trustworthy, so it feel true.  But it’s a self-defeating lie because not everyone is like that—you don’t know everyone. 

Or maybe your self-defeating self talk is “I’ll never get ahead—I’ll never succeed” and so you don’t—your thoughts guide your actions. But these are lies—first, “I’ll never…” means you know the future, which you don’t, you’re not God.  And “I’ll never succeed” usually has nothing to do with what God put you here to succeed at.  But these lies are subtle, and feel true.

That’s why we have to pay attention to what runs through our minds, and ask God to show us the truth from the lie. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:2

Be transformed—it’s something you allow God to do in your mind, but you have to pay attention to self-talk–to the thoughts that run wild in our minds. Don’t just accept it as true. Because some self-talk is not from yourself at all—it’s evil—it’s a stronghold evil has set up in your mind to imprison you.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5   

Some self-talk is not from you—they are lies that Evil is whispering or yelling in your head.  You have to take captive every thought, and then hold it up against what Scripture says is true.

Relationally-Deflating Self Talk

And last week, I interviewed Dr. Chris Thurman, author of The Lies Couples Believe. We said we hear things in our heads that are actually against the knowledge of God—what God says is true—and when we live as if they are true, we end up in destructive relational patterns. I mentioned my friends David and Kay, they gave me permission to tell more:

David and Kay were in the divorce courts when I first met them. 18 years of bad relating patterns, where he felt nagged and controlled, she felt unloved and never secure, led to divorce. But it also led Kay to be willing to consider what drove her. Talking with a friend she realized she didn’t feel the need to control everyone, just David.  She told her friend,  “I just feel so terribly insecure when David does something I don’t agree with. It’s like a panic mixed with rage comes over me, and I just explode. I don’t know why I do it.”

Kay recalls, “Over the course of the next year, I discovered the lie driving my behavior. The message I got over and over growing up was, ‘If you don’t change how you look, how you walk, how you talk…if you don’t get your act together Katie, you’ll never find a husband.’ It was pounded into my head the need to get control of my life or risk never being loved! It was a lie that had become a part of me. I couldn’t see it or change it. But I found God’s Spirit guiding me over the next year to “see” it. She began to catch the lie, through counseling, reading, praying, and began to replace the lie with God’s truth. Kay recalls, “When David and I moved back in to reconcile, I had a defining moment. David was helping me unload groceries, and as he put the mayonnaise into the pantry he said, ‘You know, they ruined this mayonnaise by putting lime juice in it. I really can’t stand it now.’ “Those were fighting words to me. I felt a deep hurt inside that quickly rose up into anger. My gut reaction, as crazy as it sounds, was ‘Love me; love my mayonnaise. Hate my mayonnaise; you hate me!’ But now I knew the lie driving my habitual explosive behavior. I felt God’s Spirit prompting me to hold my tongue. I went upstairs and prayed for truth.  God’s Spirit reminded me that David’s rejection of something I liked did not mean he rejected me. ‘I don’t have to be in control or fix or change anything or anyone to be loved, valued, secure—God is for me, I’m his Masterpiece, I’m secure in Christ eternally, I’m his beloved, adopted child.’ I walked back downstairs and told David, without exploding or making snide remarks, that I would buy the other brand of mayonnaise from now on! As trivial as it sounds, it was a defining moment for reconciling our marriage.”

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples [followers]. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

This is how God changes us as we don’t just let self-talk repeat over and over with no assessment.  We grab those repetitive thoughts, and we humbly let God show us if it’s His truth, or lies that bind us. And as we seek to know His Truth—in the Bible, talking in Community Groups or Lifegroups, we get better at living in God’s truth rather than out of self-talk lies designed to ruin our lives.

That brings us to the self-talk that we need to deal with today—Soul Sabbotaging self talk—it’s the most dangerous of all, because it’s the self-talk that’s hardest to see.

I have a mug at the office (show it) that says “Of course I talk to myself, sometimes I need expert advice.”  Why is that funny?  It’s funny because it’s pride—right?  It’s a joke, but prideful and judgmental self talk are the toughest to catch, but also can be the most damaging to our souls.

A Lesson from Lincoln

When I had a chance to visit Washington D.C.  I went to the Lincoln Memorial—If you’ve never been there, it’s this amazing monument that looks like a mini-Greek Coliseum, built as a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln.  You’ve seen it—it’s the picture on the back of every penny— “Tails”—that’s how we commemorate this very important Monument—it’s Tails.

This Monument is by the War Memorials—WW1 and 2, the Viet Nam and Korean war memorials, and it too is a war memorial—a reminder of the bloodiest, most horrible conflict America has ever engaged in—a war with ourselves, the Civil War.  A war that claimed 620,000 American lives— friends torn apart by opposing sides, sometimes brothers fighting brothers. And as I read the inscription on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, which was Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural address speech, I was reminded of the topic we’re talking about today. 

Let me read part of it to you:  He talks about how slavery was really the underlying issue of the war that nearly tore the union in two.  Then he comments with irony with the following:

“Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. … Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces [by slavery]; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered–that of neither has been answered fully.”

– Abraham Lincoln

I stood there reading this over and over—thinking “How can people be so blind?”.   Here a country was divided—people went to war and lost lives—Looking back, it seems pretty clear that economic gain and racism were was a major motivating factors for enslaving a race of people—it was self-serving and evil.   And yet, as Lincoln pointed out—both read the same Bible, prayed to the same God, and Judged the other side as the Evil Side.  And I sat there thinking about how common this is, really.  We see it everywhere—in the Middle East, in Ireland, Tutsis and Hutu’s in Africa, here in America.  “We can be blinded by our own judgments.”  And some people would say it’s the fault of religion, but it’s just human nature—it’s everywhere.   Religion can be just another lever we use to try to get our way.

Jesus on Judging Others

So Jesus says:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:1-3

So Jesus says “Don’t Judge.”  And in our “Don’t judge me” society, I doubt there’d be much dissension over that command.  Most of us would avow how much we detest judgmental people, and agree it’s wrong to be judgmental, and I’ll bet many of us in this room would rank ourselves with pretty high marks on the “non-judgmental” scorecard.  And yet, the reality is, if you’re anything like me, you fall into this trap way more than you realize—we’re just blinded to it.

Jesus uses a humorous illustration. He says, “Why are you fixated on the speck of dust in your spouses eye (or co-worker’s eye, or fill in the blank), but you can’t see 3-foot 2×4 board sticking out of your own eye?”

Why do we judge one another? 

We judge BECAUSE we have a 2×4 we don’t see. And what’s so bad about it?  For some reason, judging others just seems to come naturally.  It’s very subtle, so we don’t often recognize it in ourselves, but we are amazingly natural at judging others.         One reason we so naturally do it is because we’re so accustomed to Judging others as a way to pump up our ego.  Just think about how often we think judgmental thoughts or mentally criticize others—and isn’t it really for the sake of helping us feel better about ourselves? 

Many years ago, when we were renting the old Synagogue on Mopac and many people were coming and finding faith. I heard about a church here in town publicly deriding churches reaching Spiritual Seekers. He labeled us and judged us as watering down the scriptures.  It angered me that another church leader would judge without knowing all the facts—we teach the scriptures unabashedly, we just do it in ways that everyday people unfamiliar with churchy lingo or traditions can understand (like Jesus did).  And I’ve never seen so many people come to authentic faith and lifechange as I have at our church.  So I was angry, he was wrong to judge without really knowing the facts.

That same week, I was driving out Bee Caves road, noticing all the new expensive homes going up, and every other subdivision seemed to have a nice, new large church building.  And inside, I started to think thoughts about why so many churches seem called to reaching the wealthy parts of major cities, and I even voiced something about it to the person I was driving with. A few minutes later, my own words condemned me.  I felt God showing me, I had just done what I hated that other pastor doing.  In a subtle way, I was making a judgment on other pastor’s motives—and I don’t know their motives.   Why did I do it?  I’m ashamed to say it, but just to make me feel better by elevating myself and putting others down.

We all do it!  With things we hate in others, we judge ourselves. If someone else is late for an appointment, we think, “How inconsiderate! Doesn’t he know that I’m busy?” But if we’re late for an appointment, we think, “He’ll just have to realize that I’m a busy person. I couldn’t help it.” If we’re in a hurry, we ride the tail of the guy in front of us, muttering, “Step on it, buddy! I don’t have all day!” But if some guy is riding our tail, it’s, “Back off, jerk! What’s the big rush, you’re gonna kill both of us?”

I deal with the exact same tendency when I’ve counseled married couples headed for a divorce—Both so clearly see what’s wrong with the other, and both have very good reasons to justify their own actions—but somebody’s blinded by their own judgments (usually both to a degree). The rich judge the poor, “If they’d just work harder like me…then they could be where I am.”  The poor judge the rich, “If they weren’t so greedy and self-consumed, there would be more equity in the world.” The beautiful people judge the not-so-beautiful, “Look at what she’s wearing—it doesn’t help” and others judge the beautiful people, “She’s so full of herself—what a dumb blonde.”  Intellectuals judge others on the basis of IQ, psychologists judge others by EQ, theologians judge others by TQ (I made that up—but it does happen). In academic circles, we judge by degrees or tenure status.  In business circles, we judge by revenue amount.  In social circles we judge by background or material status.  In the hood, we judge by whether you’re a homeboy from the neighborhood or an outsider.  In churches, often we judge by who knows the right words or does the right outward things (nevermind what’s in the heart).  In white collar circles, we judge by whether you have a desk job.  IN blue collar circles, we judge by whether you can do anything useful or fix anything with your hands or just push a pencil.  We all judge—have you ever thought things like “I’m smarter than she is, I deserved the promotion more.”  “He’s a loser, why does she like him?”  “He’s a salesman, what did you expect?”  “How did he get in here?  He’s not our type.”  “Can you believe she lets her kids do that?”  “Did you see how undisciplined her kids were?” 

At a COMDEX computer expo a while ago, Microsoft’s Bill Gates compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon.” Not liking this comparison, General Motors responded to Gates by releasing this statement, “Yes, but would you want your car to crash twice a day?” 

The truth is, we judge one another and make judgments all the time.  Why?  Because we get a little surge of pleasure when we think that we are in a more “Inner Circle” of the ones who are good or right or more valuable or more in the know than somebody else.  We make judgments on others to make ourselves feel better.  We all have uncanny 20/20 vision into the wrongs of others—while maintaining a blindness to our own 2×4.  But it’s soul wrecking—it shrivels our soul. 

So What can we do?

Humble Yourself. 

We all have egotistical thoughts that put others below to make us feel above.  Even if it’s a thought like “that person’s so arrogant, I’m glad I’m not like that.” That’s a blindly arrogant thought.  So any time you have a thought about another person—don’t just let it pass through your mind, capture it, and hold it up to God’s examination “God why am I thinking this? Is there a log in my eye?  Where do I do some of the same things or things that bug others like this does me?” That’s how you stay humble.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. – 1 Peter 5:5-6.

You don’t have to be perfect—you will have judging thoughts, but it’s whether you catch them, and humble yourself that God cares about. 

Let God into Your Thoughts.

That’s how he transforms us. God doesn’t force His will or thoughts on us.  If we want to entertain thoughts of revenge, we will become people full of hatred or bitterness. If we want to mull over thoughts of what bothers us about our spouse, it will lead us to love-less relating, if we keep thinking about what we don’t have, we’ll keep overspending and indebted—have you noticed He will let you? He doesn’t force His thoughts into your mind, you must choose to let Him in and listen for His thoughts in your thoughts. So we all have a choice—moment by moment, thought by thought. 

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. Psalm 10:4 

God didn’t force His thoughts on the Pharisees who crucified Jesus. 

So Why don’t we let God into our thoughts?  Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:

“You do not know me or my Father,” [the Pharisees said,] “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here.” – John 8:19, 41-42 

This is amazingly insightful if you think about it.  These people who hated Jesus enough to murder him, really believed they were following God and doing His will.  But the reason they didn’t let God into their thoughts is they really didn’t know Him—they didn’t really seek him, there was really no room for God to search their thoughts—they just wanted to use God to get their Ideas and Agenda accomplished.

We can all fall into the same trap—whether you’re still skeptical about the whole Jesus thing, or whether you’ve been following Christ for years.  Many of us don’t let God into our thoughts because we don’t know Him—so we don’t trust Him.  Deep inside, we fear that God is going to take control and ruin our lives—take away whatever we think will give us Life and Security and send us some place we don’t want to go, married to someone we didn’t want to marry, living a horrible life.  And if you have that view of God, as my good friend Keith Miller says, “You need to Fire that God and get a new one.” Why? Because your distorted view of God is keeping you deceived and bound to a life of running and hiding from Your Greatest Ally in Life!  When you think of God, if your image of God is not of the Most Beautiful, Radiant, Loving, Creative, Inspiring Being in the Universe—you have a false image of God.  If you don’t think that God is the Source of every good thing you’ve ever experienced in life—you don’t know God.  If you can’t trust God with your life—you don’t know God. If you don’t long to be with Him, knowing you will never want to leave His presence—you don’t know God. If you fear letting God into your thoughts because He will condemn you and beat you up mentally, or you think you can actually hide any thought—you don’t know God. And when we don’t know God, we won’t trust God, and if we won’t trust God, we won’t let him into our thoughts, and if we won’t let Him into our thoughts, He can’t grow us spiritually.

David prayed, Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24 

This is the prayer I want to encourage you to begin praying every day during this whole series, “Search me God, test my thoughts, is this what I should be thinking about—what are your thoughts about this—show me, I’m willing.”

Seek the Truth

So if all of us can be deceived, and even whole families, whole groups, entire cultures can be led astray—how is there hope for any of us?  Because God promises that he will not leave us in the dark if we are humble, willing, and we seek Truth. Jesus goes on in John 8 to say, “You are truly my disciples [followers] if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31  It’s on the University of Texas tower, but the words belong to Jesus] You guard your thoughts by knowing the truth!

Apparently when Federal Agents are being trained to spot counterfeit currency, they don’t train them to know all the variations on forged 100 dollar bills—there are 1000s.  Instead they train them to know the True 100 dollar bill so well, if there’s a deviation from the Real Thing, they can spot it immediately.

Jesus claims that God has not left us in the dark about Reality.  Only God sees Reality clearly—the rest of us see dimly at best (some more dimly than others!). But Through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets and finally through Jesus—God claimed to reveal Reality about what He is like, how He loves and values us, why we don’t need to fear His Judgment if we seek His forgiveness, how He will engage life with us and lead and guide us—and He leads and guides us in our thoughts! These powerful thoughts and ideas that guide our lives are where God works to grow and change us.

Do judge right from wrong—just not people

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:4-5 Notice Jesus doesn’t tell us not to help the brother with the eye speck—but first to remove a 2×4 from our own. Why? Because we are told to discern right from wrong, and love enough to help each other not go against God’s will or ways, but not in a condemning or judgmental way—because you love that person and want their best.

Overcoming negative self-talk is critical. If you missed either of the previous messages, go back and listen to them. As I mentioned earlier, we are experiencing a mental health crisis. According to the psychiatric times: “Chronic exposure to severe stress in the absence of control among countless millions constitutes a perfect storm, with severe mental health consequences on a global scale, including increased rates of depressed mood, suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The Resources for Mental Health

Let’s be honest, how are you doing right now? Have you been more easily triggered? For those of you married, have you been more on edge and less connected? For those of you with kids, are you seeing them acting out in new ways? For those of you living with roommates, is there more tension in the house?

We need to be more proactive personally about connecting with others, opening up with others, pursuing counseling AND we need to be more proactive in helping those with whom we live, work, and do life. There are some great resources in a new Ad Council campaign at There is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. I cannot stress enough, that for most of us what we need now more than ever is community which can be found at where you can find a life group, a community group, a class you can find on the Thrive website, joining a Recovery group, and even serving others with others. Online groups are way, way better than no group at all. And teenagers are especially susceptible. Making sure your teen is getting involved with our student ministry can make a big difference. And be sure to get them signed up for camp in June. This can be a life changing event.

In light of the recent storm in Texas, you can also let us know if you need help or want to help others.

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