Welcome to Spiritual Disciplines Challenge Day 4!
Over half way through! Praise God for the things he’s showing us and please, God, continue with us through this process as we seek to know more about you and more about ourselves.
Day 4: Self-Examination
This is a discipline that may not immediately come to mind when we speak of the different Spiritual Disciplines. Before I began my journey with the disciplines, this was not even on my radar. It has proved to be a practice that has taught me so much about myself and helped me grow. But, like all the other disciplines, it requires a willingness to be vulnerable before God. It’s always surprising to me that though God created the universe and knows me inside and out better than I know myself, I still believe that there are things I can keep shadowed from him. Ideas, sins, truths that I’d rather not show anyone, I still believe he misses.
Self-examination is engaging with God where he lovingly helps us see ourselves more clearly. This can be challenging because it hits us in a number of areas that are vulnerable. Being known completely is risky. In the past, I’ve been rejected for my imperfections and I imagine many of you have as well. And so often it’s our achievements that define us. So if we aren’t our achievements and our imperfections are known, what do we have to offer?
All of these fears and worries slam up against the truth of God’s unconditional love for us and the reality that he, above everyone, sees our imperfections, sees us for who we really are, and showers that unconditional love over us.
He KNOWS us and loves us anyway.
Sinking into that realization and allowing him access to those parts of us that potentially or in reality hurt ourselves and hurt other people can be life-changing. That’s part of this discipline of self-examination. As we become more spiritual attune, we become aware of our own negative thought patterns and relating patterns that hurt ourselves and others. We open ourselves up to the love of God in our places of brokenness and sin. Those walls that we put up so God and others can’t see our imperfections begin to come down and we begin to be changed by his great love.
Self-examination is not inviting God to know us, because he already does, but inviting God to help us know ourselves better.
Self-Examination in Practice
(Ruth Haley Barton does an excellent job of discussing this Spiritual Discipline in her book Sacred Rhythms. Much of what I talk about here has been based on her discussion.)
These elements of self-examination align beautifully with Psalm 139. It is a familiar psalm, often quoted, but when seen in the context of this discipline, it takes on new life. I’ve included verse references from that psalm with each of the elements to illustrate this process of self-examination.
1.) Examen of Consciousness
Psalm 139: 7-12
This is an ancient discipline (I always feel such a sense of connectedness to the people who have come before me when I practice disciplines that they practiced.) It is a conscious review at the end of your day where you take a few minutes to invite God to show you where he was present with you and how you responded to his presence.
Was someone especially kind to me today?
Were we kept safe?
Did God help me make a good choice in a given situation?
2.) The Gift of your created Self
Psalm 139: 13-18
When was the last time you celebrated yourself as God created you? David speaks here of how God made him fearfully and wonderfully. God knows him not only spiritually but physically as well.
So often we look at ourselves with judgement and censorship. Was I too talkative in this situation? Too loud? Was I afraid to step out and make that decision?
How about physically? When was the last time you rejoiced in how God made your body? Were thankful for how you were created physically?
Our self-talk about our bodies is not hidden from God. He knows our response and our discontents with this wonderful creation he made, which is our physical forms. Yet, how often do we focus on our physical imperfections? I’m guilty of this. I focus on what I would change and think if this particular thing were different then I would love my body and be glad for it. But God desires for us to rejoice in who he created us to be, physically as well as spiritually and emotionally.
3.) The Darkness Within
Psalm 139: 19-22
King David was an angry person in many ways, had a short temper. He was a man after God’s own heart, but he made bad choices, sinned. Yet, because he knows that he is wonderfully made and loved by God, he can show God the dark parts of himself. He was willing to go to a place of self-examination and the result of much of that examination is shown to us in his psalms.
Bringing these sins and struggles of ours before God and being honest about ourselves is a way of letting God transform those hard things in us.
It’s not always sin, it can be doubt, fear, abandonment, fallout from other relationships – these things make us reluctant to come to God because we’re afraid he’ll be the same way.
That’s why we focus first on how God made us and how he loves us to our innermost being
4.) Examen of Conscience
Psalm 139: 23-24
As we continue to evaluate our day we start to examine how we did in showing Christ to others. We ask God to bring to mind attitudes, actions, and moments where we fell short of exhibiting the character of Christ or the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). This can be difficult because we need to listen without defending and see without rationalizing.
It’s letting the Holy Spirit do the talking and revealing the truth to us as we are able to bear it.
As this happens, we can reflect on what contributed to a situation where we behaved in a less that stellar way and how we may react differently in the future. This can be difficult. We can become trapped in embarrassment and guilt. That’s not God’s desire for us. He desires for us to see where we went wrong, ask his forgiveness, and then allow him to guide us to better decisions and actions. When we let God guide us, it lifts it from self-help to spiritual practice. It’s not us trying to be better on our own, it’s letting God guide us to who he desires us to be.
Confession has its place in this discipline. If we did something wrong in behaviour or action, we need to be willing to name our failure for what it is and name what was going on inside of us, understanding what prompted this behaviour.
Confession is a scary practice for so many of us, me included. We shrink from it because of fear, embarrassment, stubbornness. But it is necessary. We need to say our failure out loud to ourselves, to God, and to the person we have hurt and take steps to renounce it for God’s sake, then make restitution if needed.
And though it can be intimidating, confession opens us to the experience of being forgiven and the freedom that comes on the other side.
Confession leads to cleansing and release. Release from guilt and the burden of our sin. We don’t have to wallow in our sin because we understand what Christ did for us on the Cross (John 8:32)
Practice Self-Examination at the end of your day.
Spend a few minutes in silence, reflecting on how much God loves you.
Use scripture to enhance this, Psalm 139 is a good place to start.
Invite God to show you where he was in your day and to help you see yourself truly.
Review the Day
Identify the major events of the day – Spiritual practices, meals, appointments, interactions
How was God present with me today?
What promptings did I notice?
How did I respond or not respond?
Thank God for each part of your day, his presence in it with you.
Where Did you feel a greater capacity to love others, freedom from sin?
Were there unresolved issues or questions? Express those to God.
Thank God for being with you even in the places that were dark and confusing.
Using Psalm 139:23-24 as your prayer, invite God to bring attitudes, actions, or moments to you where you fell short of exhibiting the character of Christ or the Fruit of the Spirit.
As God brings different things to mind, reflect on what contributed to the situation and what might help you respond differently in the future.
Express willingness to take measures to allow Christ’s character to be more fully evident in you.
Read 1 John 1:9 and reflect on God’s forgiveness and his power to continually transform you
Ask God if there is anything you need to do to make things right with someone or in a different situation.
If we let God speak to us, transform us, show us what it means to be loved unconditionally, then we start to see ourselves and the world around us with his eyes and begin to show others his love in new ways. Take the leap!