the prayer of examen, an essential, neglected part of true prayer

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

Ed Cyzewski, an evangelical contemplative, talks about the prayer of examen, and centering prayer being essential for contemplative prayer, a practice that can help us pray, and deepen our faith. For those who tap into, and seek to sink deep into the riches of this tradition of the Church, this can be quite helpful, indeed revolutionary. But for those who stick to scripture only, and their own tradition, simply to acknowledge the importance of asking God to search our hearts based on Psalm 139 is sufficient. I think we should receive from tradition, while holding to scripture as our primary authority. Really, that’s a complicated issue by itself, since scripture gives the church much authority in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. But that’s another topic.

A major purpose of prayer is to change us, not just change circumstances. Real prayer is transforming, itself a humble admission of who we are, our need, and God’s goodness and greatness and promise in Jesus. But our prayers can often be less than prayer. We shoot out cheap prayers, while intending to go on our merry way. Hoping God will change our circumstance, or some situation out there, but with no intention of change in ourselves, or corresponding heart. As Jesus said in quoting from Isaiah, people can indeed come to God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him. Dangerous, ritualistic prayer, empty religion.

We are welcomed to throw up prayers of desperation to God (see the psalms). Sometimes dire circumstances can end up being a help in awakening us to faith, and out of that can come genuine change. But in the normal everyday grit and grime of life, even when things might seem to be going well, we do well to begin with what tradition calls “the prayer of examen.” Here is a brief description of it.

This kind of prayer takes some time along with attentiveness on our part. We simply don’t send it God’s way, then go on to our normal daily routine. On the other hand, it’s a good prayer to pray in the midst of our busy lives. But to have times of quietness before God with such a prayer is what is called for. Along with that, simple consistency in doing this, perhaps at the end of each day, that might be optimum. But indeed, regularly. As we see in the prayer, we can imply that God would reveal what we need to see about ourselves, certainly God knowing all in the first place. The petition is simply that in this, God would lead us in the way everlasting.

This isn’t merely for our good. The prayer of examen will change us so that we can better be a blessing to others: blessed to be a blessing. All of this in and through Jesus. And so we close where we begun. May it be our prayer today, and a regular part of our praying.

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

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