Posts Tagged ‘examen’

Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to
think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. [Romans 12:2-3, CEB]

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Stockphoto by Jessica at Deviant Art

Stockphoto by Jessica at Deviant Art

The essence of the Christian faith is very simple: love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. “On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets” (so written in Matthew 22:38). And yet, most of us are not very good at this kind of loving. Whether we have been faithful followers of Christ for many years or newly minted converts, these two commands trip us up every time. And for this reason, I look forward to intentional times of reflection and self-examination to refresh my focus, whether it’s a retreat or a study or season. Yes, for this reason, I observe Lent each year.

For 2015, I have compiled a devotional for Lent (see Links), with a series of readings and scriptures for meditation. And by meditation, I mean, to read through the selections slowly, to consider, not only their meaning, but their application to present circumstances and faith.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” [II Chronicles 7:14, NIV]

Within this scripture lives a promise for me (and any believer) which I have read often but I haven’t actively pursued. Why? Because a chase for humility has always been a fear-laden prospect for me. I have blanched at the thought of some inevitable loss or pain that might manifest as part of the humbling “package.” Humility comes with a cost, I think.

And now, here I am, in grief and recovery from the death of my husband. Intellectually, I know his passing had nothing in particular to do with my lack of humility but, at the same time, I see everything in the light of him gone. For, you see, I am humbled by the unexpected turn in our family’s resources and relationships (we lost a breadwinner, a husband, a father, a brother, and an uncle). Only his parents escaped this sorrow, for they preceded him into that place we call heaven.

praying22I am humbled by the outpouring of love from my friends, my church, my colleagues, my neighbors, and even, quite honestly, strangers too. I am humbled by the unexpected journey I face. I am humbled by the years that have passed and how I took them for granted. I am humbled by the steadfastness and nearness of God, the whispers of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as well as the memories and message of Christ Jesus. But more importantly, I am humbled by the call to pray. Really.
And for this reason, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” [Psalm 27:13, NIV]

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I don’t like taking tests. Does anyone? I tend to freeze up, get anxious over details, or answer too quickly. But I’m a good student and usually I’m smart enough to “pass the test” as a whole but what about all those wrong answers? Is the spiritual test pass/fail?

II Corinthians 13:5
Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.
[The Message]

I’m confident I’ve got all the big stuff down. After all, I’ve been a believer for a long time! Jesus is indeed the Christ, died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead. I am comfortable with both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed.

But there are those daily transgressions, those small judgments, those secret lies, those exaggerations, and worse of all, those unnecessary comments (that’s a nice way of saying “gossip”).

I really believe the problem is lack of mindfulness and awareness to Presence. I have been practicing the Divine Hours for the last year, but lately, I find I’m leapfrogging through the day and only doing morning and evening. I’m letting my day and my energy get sucked up by busy-ness. It’s not good for any self-test or self-examination. It means I am not consciously looking for Christ in others. I’m not recognizing Christ in my circumstances. I’m walking blind and deaf.

Oh, it’s like winning the war on a technicality even though I’m losing all the battles.

Here’s where I could use some help, some sisters or brothers, to just poke me a little and say, “Remember” or “Look” or “Listen.”

Quicken my spirit Lord.

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Look inside and out before eating the holy meal. Communion is a combination of a corporate act [with other believers] and a personal examination. The encounter doesn’t work very well if we don’t really believe or accept that the bread & wine [or juice] have power.

I Corinthians 11:28-29
Let a {woman or} man [thoroughly] examine himself, and [only when he has done] so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ’s] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself.

I encountered the word “examen” for the first time while reading Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home some years ago. It’s no “navel gazing,” far from it. Foster says, “In the examen of consciousness we prayerfully reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of our days to see how God has been at work among us and how we responded. . . . God goes with us in the examen of conscience. It is a joint search. . . . if left to our own devices . . . our tendency is for self-flagellation.”

Examen is not about tying ourselves to the whipping post, it’s about seeing ourselves in truth, with love. It’s the time when we can begin to lay down our burdens and failures at the feet of the Christ.

In recent times, I have taken to the practice of examen at the start of my devotions each day. I ask forgiveness for my mistakes [sins] and give thanks for the successes, those times I responded to situations and people in loving way. Only then, can I really begin to pray forward.

Communion should be the same, but perhaps a little deeper, a broader swipe over the time since the last opportunity to eat and drink of Christ.

What has gone before is the foundation of who I am today. And my future is built on both, the past and present. If I ignore the past, then I may be setting myself up for repeating it, doing the same things again and again? It was Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I cannot change unless I know what part needs changing. I cannot go on a diet and lose weight if I don’t know my starting weight, otherwise, how will I know the difference? I must be willing to face and accept my authentic self. Like the recovering alcoholic, we too must “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” [step 4 of the 12 steps]

The prayer of examen, particularly at the time of communion, is a photograph. I must let God see the true picture, not one that’s been airbrushed or “photoshopped.” And like a flipbook, only God gets to see the flapping of pages and photos that represent my progress over the years. God knows my whole story.

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As I contemplated what I would write today, the story that came to mind was that of the “rich young man” from Matthew 19:16-22.

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17″Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
18″Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20″All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Now, I’m sure many have used this story to illustrate a love of money perhaps or an unwillingness to “bear Jesus’s cross” or an unwillngness to sacrifice, but for me, it’s simply a way to show how the Lord sometimes places a mirror before us in order for us to see more clearly our hearts.

Not everyone is interested in looking inside the heart. I find the state of the heart fascinating and I am often asking the Lord to reveal my heart … to refine my heart with the “refiner’s fire.” But there are times when the true state of my heart remains hidden; my true motivations clouded. These are times, the Lord puts up the mirror and says, “Look! this is the real reason behind your actions.”

The rich young man had “done everything” outwardly to “get” eternal life. But all that doing was without the heart. I believe he expected a real “atta boy” from the Lord, but instead he was challenged further. It was here that his heart was revealed.

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After the sermon on Sunday about godliness and altar call, my overwhelming impulse was to leap to the altar. It was not that I felt all of my motivations have been false or that I was under deep conviction, or worse, condemnation (which I have, historically, battled).

No, this time, I knew, I just wanted to make a covenant with God to allow Him to do daily sweep through my heart so that impure motives would not gain root. If we come to Him often and ask for this “examination of the heart,” it is so much easier to confess, accept His forgiveness, and move on.

This step in the plan from II Peter 1:3-11, is a spot check. We’ve been moving along with all these other steps and now the Lord is saying, “Stop a moment, let’s check your heart.”

When I had my little cardiac scare two weeks ago, the hospital staff take seriously even the smallest warning signs. They have a routine to confirm whether it is indeed a matter of the heart, from EKG’s to nitro-glycerin, to blood work, and stress tests. We should be equally introspective in spiritual terms. Don’t wait.

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