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Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 4’

“. . . search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” [Psalm 4:4b-5, NIV 1984]

examenBefore anyone starts the blame game, God says look at ourselves first. That’s right. Look at our own hearts because it’s very possible that our circumstances are an outgrowth of our own intentions, our own motives, camouflaged as self-righteousness.

Richard Foster calls it the “prayer of examen,” with two parts: the examen of consciousness and the examen of conscience.

The first asks me to reflect on the “thoughts, feelings, and actions of my day to see how God has been at work . . . and how I responded.” In other words, did God speak through others, through nature, through print, through image, or through circumstance; did I notice? Was I aware of Presence? Did I recognize God and how did I respond? Did I assume it was “not” God and respond with anger, disgust, or judgment? Did I stop long enough to see a need, a sorrow, or a joy? Did I walk through my day with blinders, dark glasses, or binoculars? Did I remember God?

In the second type of examen (conscience), I am to invite the Lord to search my heart to its very depth, but to remember it’s a “scrutiny of love.” Foster states, “without apology and without defense we ask to see what is truly in us. It is for our own sake that we ask these things. It is for our good, for our healing, for our happiness.” This search is done with God, otherwise, we will either justify our actions and find excuses or we will self-flagellate, finding ourselves unworthy. Neither is the point.

And why do we do these examinations? To know ourselves in the light of God’s grace, because it is only from the truth that God can build human as we were always intended to be. “Through faith, self-knowledge leads us to a self-acceptance and a self-love that draw their life from God’s acceptance and love.” (Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 31)

It is in this process that words and complaints lose their import. Silence is listening.

When understanding dawns, then it is time for right sacrifice. Of course, in the time of King David, sacrifices were specific to sin: a particular animal, a type of grain, a wave, and so on. Each sacrifice was tuned to the sin for which it was offered. But Christ completed that sin offering for us, once and for all. So what is an appropriate sacrifice from us today? The first verse that comes to my mind is  Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, then, let us keep offering to God our own sacrifice, the praise of lips that confess His name without ceasing. ” [The Voice translation] Another is Romans 12:1 [also in the Voice], “Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship.”
With these sacrifices, there is an intention then. There has to be, an expression of trust. The path might look something like this: Search, Confess, Sacrifice, Trust. And perhaps, finally, Rest.

 

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“How long, O daughter, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?”  [Psalm 4:2; NIV 1984]

Miniature by Lori Nix

Miniature by Lori Nix

It’s not a cozy message, this psalm. Instead, I hear a strong admonishment. All along, I skimmed over this verse and relegated it to someone else’s state of being. After all, I’m not delusional. Am I? Am I?

Clearly, I have been quick to sugar-coat my own spiritual condition. How can I ignore that I am still grappling with serious issues that color my world dark: judging others, selfishness, lying, just to name a few and more than likely, not that foreign to any of us.

As a follower of the Christ, I have the opportunity to know God, to dwell in the light of God’s countenance, to change up my response to the challenges of life. I am promised that every prayer will be heard and every prayer answered.

However, am I abusing this grace?

If I continue in the old ways which dig me into a deeper hole, is there wonder that I am complaining that God is not relieving my distress and seemingly not giving response? Perhaps the delusion is my own inability to accept the answer already given. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, am I kicking against the goads (the inevitability) of God’s plan? Am I trying to go one way when God is leading me another?

I am reading a rather frivolous fantasy book right now but the basic story line is relevant. A young man grapples with the “gift” of magic versus his own desires and expectations within his society. In his culture, he is expected to be a soldier and follow the dictates of his father’s line. But the magic is directing him elsewhere and is literally fighting for a place within him.

So I wonder if I don’t do the same thing. I invited the Spirit to dwell within me but then fight the very direction given. While fighting, I may be missing the very best part of my life. I have struggled for so long alone. I made my way. I made things happen. I was intentional and ambitious. I was determined. But the Spirit is slowing me down. I know it but I fight it.

I can’t keep asking God to help me do the very things I have been called to stop doing, right? It is a delusion. Here is a place for prayer to begin. Here is a place to truly understand what it means to “Search your heart.”

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Psalm 4

trustThis Psalm begins, ” Answer me when I call to you . . . Give me relief from my distress. . . have mercy on me and hear my prayer.”

How often have I cried out in this way: Do Something! Anything!

It’s a kind of command and a kind of plea. The words carry a feeling of desperation as though God has not been answering, has not given relief, has not been merciful, and has not heard any of my prayers. Not true, of course. I know it, but when I am overwhelmed, I feel abandoned by God, alone, and sometimes, even drowning.

In these moments, it is the critical time to stop and think and consider. Am I child of God or not? Have I surrendered my soul to God or not? Do I believe God is in this life of mine or not? No matter what I might have said or done to get myself here, is God still sovereign?

When I am unwilling to pray, I do the greatest damage to myself. I can convince myself that God is not listening, why bother? I can display my life and use it as evidence that God does not answer. I can choose to embrace the arguments of the enemy to my spirit to deafen my ears, to blind my eyes, to dull my senses.

God hears my prayers if I speak them from the heart. Whether they are well spoken or not, desperate or not, flowery or not, God hears because I asked God to be in my life. I accepted the Presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit within me.

When my circumstances seem out of control, I must take a break and change up my image of prayer. It’s like pounding on a locked door, crying and anxious, while God is calling me to turn away, take a walk, take a breath, engage trust. Believe in the “answers” that come from the most unlikely places, that are far more creative than my requests.

I want to stop making my prayers a list of recommended solutions.

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