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“. . . 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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