the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

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

judging ourselves

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is a passage about the Lord’s supper or meal which the Corinthian church was failing to practice in a way that was fitting or honorable to Christ. In fact, the meal itself, symbolic of the oneness that was theirs in Christ, was instead turned into a debacle in which the rich ate (some even getting drunk) up before the poor arrived late (probably from their work). Paul makes it clear that there was sickness and even death among them, because of the failure by some to recognize the Lord’s body. Referring not so much to the breaking of the bread, but to what that symbolized in their gathering. That they themselves are the body of Christ. Paul said that if they would judge themselves, God would not have to judge them. But that since they failed to, God would, so that in the end they wouldn’t be condemned with the world.

I think it is easy for us to excuse what amounts to out and out sin. We may not allow for a moment what we once excused or rationalized in years past. But sin is sin. And at the heart of sin most often is the failure to love: certainly to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We need to ask God to search us in this, and to reveal to us what’s not pleasing to him (Psalm 139:23-24NLT). And we need to judge ourselves in what we ought to know better and know already. We can’t excuse wrong attitudes toward others, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, and expect to get away with it. God will judge, if we fail to. Sometimes we need to do it together as  body, but it is good when each of us takes on themselves to judge themselves. To refuse anything, no matter how justified it may be, that is displeasing to the God and not according to his will in Christ Jesus.

asking God to search our heart

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
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 139:19-24

I’m not much impressed with a lot of the critiques that circulate these days from standards which are taken for granted. There usually is some truth in error, but like so many things, the issues end up being more complex than that. Certain standards are set forth by the world and even by us Christians. And yet we need to read our entire Bibles. Every verse. I would say even in ecclesiastical/church settings (or at least in our own reading), even if we have to explain some of it in terms of Ancient Near East writings, the context in which it was written, so that the meaning may not be precisely what we think. And we need to keep reading the entire Bible, cover to cover. That would help solve some of the tendencies prevalent among us.

Having said that, I in no way am exonerating all the words of the psalm quoted above, as if we are to conform to such as followers of Jesus. Jesus taught a new way indeed, that we are to love our enemies and pray for them. And yet there’s something to be said for all of this. The imprecatory psalms asking for God’s intervention, even judgment on the enemies of the faithful seem to me to be echoed in the last book of the New Testament, of the Bible, Revelation (6:9-11). Or perhaps the martyrs were praying for their enemies, for their salvation, while at the same time praying for God’s judgment on them. We know the latter is true.

There is also no doubt that we are caught up at times in an air in a relationship which is both on edge so that it can go over the edge at times. Although this isn’t precisely what the psalmist was saying above, we can harbor wrong attitudes even in our struggle over perceived injustice, which although perhaps having merit, isn’t of the grace of our Lord that we are to carry toward others. If only we could see ourselves in that same light sometimes.

And so the prayer to ask God to search our hearts is appropriate, especially certain times in our struggle. And sometimes we need to keep it going, even after some breakthroughs, over longstanding grievances or difficulties with another. We need God’s help and that need will be ongoing in this life.

I like the New American Standard Bible’s rendition of this prayer in the words: “And see if there be any hurtful way in me…” And of course the end of the prayer: “and lead me in the way everlasting.”

the heartbeat of the faith

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The heart beat of the Christian faith is a fellowship in love. It is no less than the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is true Christian fellowship, nothing more and nothing less.

It is certainly real, down to earth, and very human, since it is incarnational at its core. The ordinary is never despised, Jesus lived quite an ordinary existence, one might even say in some ways extraordinarily so. Such fellowship might not be much back and forth in the way of theological discussion, or great wisdom. But the love of the Father through the Son by the Spirit, the love that is ours in Christ should always be present and be the element in which we share life together.

If it is not, then we need to ask why not. That requires prayer, since we cannot uncover our sin by ourselves. That something is wrong may be obvious to us, since we are people of the Spirit in whom the Spirit dwells. Not that we can’t be deceived, even self-deceived, because we most certainly can. Love trumps all, and so we have to ask God to help us in difficult places with difficult people to find the way of love with them, in and through Jesus.

Of course this love is a special kind of love. We might call it a holy love. One that is in accord with the will of God in Jesus. It is unique, even though it certainly overlaps with the love we find in creation. Of course the love in creation is impacted by sin. This is the love we find in the new creation in Christ. It is a love with a fire in its eyes at times, gentleness most of the time, but nevertheless, it is love.

We know of this love through the revelation of God in Christ. Which was shown with a little baby born in a manger so many years ago.  We do well to dwell on the wonder of our faith in Jesus, in his birth, in the story told us in scripture. That is where we find life: the true love which gives us the true life by God’s grace in and through Jesus. For us and for the world.

 

facing our pain

Pain tells us there’s a problem. Physically that’s a blessing. When people can’t feel pain, they live in danger. No signals to warn them of something either chronic or acute, and possibly threatening. The same is true with us spiritually. We may feel immense pain. As one of our pastors has taught us, that’s always a time to stop and ask the Lord to reveal to us what we need to understand from him. It may end up being something of our own patterns of life which do us or no one else any favor. Or God may want to reveal to us his way for us, in Jesus. Indeed, “the everlasting way.” It must be God who does this.

The prayer of examen is fitting here:

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.