SET YOUR GOALS: While it is good to do a spiritual checkup anytime of year, Lent especially provides an appropriate time to give yourself a spiritual checkup! Returning to God and repentance form the heart of the Lenten season. Kenneth Leech comments, “The purpose of self-examination is self-knowledge leading to repentance, and we can only repent of what we know” (135). Therefore, personal reflection on one’s life with God seems appropriate to this time.
The goal of Christian Year Spirituality, the liturgical life, is to enter subjectively into the life of Christ and spiritually experience Christ in a deeper way. Lent specifically focuses this goal on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through spiritual self-examination, we identify with Christ by dying to ourselves and our sin and being raised to new life.
USE THE PRAYER OF EXAMEN: This can partly be found in the “prayer of the examen”. Richard Foster says, “It has two basic aspects…The first is an examen of consciousness through which we discover how God has been present to us throughout the day and how we have responded to his loving presence. The second aspect is an examen of conscience in which we uncover those areas that need cleansing, purifying, and healing” (27-28). Our focus in these articles will be on relating the later emphasis to the Lenten season with some practical suggestions for examining our lives. Notice that the focus is on the inner life, not just exterior action.
These two aspects of the prayer of examen coincide well with Advent and Lent. Advent looks with anticipation toward the coming of God to be with us. The first part of the prayer helps the believers to focus on “God with us,” the presence of God in our daily lives. Lent emphasizes return and repentance to Christ. The second part of the prayer aides us in accomplishing this emphasis.
NO PAIN, NO GAIN: Yet, it is a difficult activity! As the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, ” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve'” (17:9-10). We can easily deceive ourselves concerning things in general. How much more are we likely too when it comes to looking at our lives? We need God’s loving searchlight to shine over the darkness of our hearts.
Looking honestly into one’s life can be terrifying! But it helps to know that God, who is love (1 John 4:8), does the examination for us and with us. Peter Scazzero speaks of Luther’s teaching, “A Christian’s righteousness, he wrote, is utterly separate from anything we do. ‘For we do nothing for it, and we give nothing for it – we only receive and allow another to work – that is, God'” (83). In our self-examination, we are not attempting to earn righteousness with God but to deepen our relationship to him. We follow his leading. We listen to his voice. He examines our hearts in the context of his love, mercy, and grace. We respond to him with faith in the work of Christ for the forgiveness of our sin.
In the following articles, I will provide some practical suggestions for preparing for and doing this personal self-examination.
Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992).
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.
Leech, Kenneth. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1980).
Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).