Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Prayer of Examen

Dear Friends,

You were created by God to be introspective. Your brain is biologically programed to reminisce in your past and project into the future with imagined scenarios. Our Creator gave us humans this unique ability in order for us to solve problems, grow in maturity and be creative. This ability can cause remorse for what we have done and we refer to it as our “guilty conscience.” That’s helpful in self-correcting our mistakes and sins, but taken to the extreme it can cause anxiety, feelings of inferiority, anger toward ourselves and depression. We need to first be thankful that we do have those feelings of guilt and remorse. It means that we have healthy thought patterns. Those who don’t experience guilt, remorse and shame for their actions are “psychopaths” – what psychologists call an Antisocial Personality Disorder. But those of us with normal thought patterns can carry our guilt to the extreme when we get caught up in what’s called a “negative thought loop.” We think about what we did/said to our spouse, child, parent, co-worker and are over-whelmed with feelings of guilt. We feel horrible about it and put it out of our head. It pops right back in. We can’t stop thinking about it and begin to obsess about it. We emotionally beat ourselves up with the guilt all day. We have trouble sleeping that night. The guilt is still there the next day. For some of us, there are even things in our past, stupid, horrible, thoughtless, hurtful, tragic things we have done and decisions we made and decades later, we still feel the guilt that adds to our lifelong depository of anxiety, stress, feelings of shame and an overall feeling of unworthiness. But there is freedom in Christ and there’s a practical pathway out of these negative thought loops that Christians have been practicing since the ancient of days.

The PRAYER OF EXAMEN (ig-ZAY-men) is a prayerful, introspective look at our actions during the day. A version of this practice was developed by Greek philosophers 400 years before the birth of Christ and the earliest Christians, Apostolic Fathers and monastics examined their lives daily in order to confront their sins, repent and grow to become more like Jesus. Introspection of thoughts and feelings about one’s faith was an intricate part of early Christian practices and Paul specifically directed us to examine ourselves before taking communion. 1 Corinthians 11:28 In the 16th century, this practice of self-examination was developed into the five step Prayer of Examen by Ignatius Loyola, a monk who founded the Jesuits – a religious order to which the present Pope belongs. Jesuits pray the prayer twice daily and many lay Catholics and Protestants who are high-level participants in their faith have found this Prayer of Examen helpful in their spiritual walk.

❶ We settle down at the end of the day and prepare by asking for God’s grace. We invite God’s presence as we pray the first step of GRATITUDE. We thank God for the innumerable gifts He has given us and, as we review our day, we are reminded of all that we are thankful for. Gratitude always focuses our attention on God and changes our perspective on our life.

❷ We next ask God to FILL US WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT so that He leads us through this prayer. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24 NLT 

❸ Now we REVIEW OUR DAY. The good, the bad and the ugly. We might be reminded of other things we need to thank Him for. We think about our interactions with others. Our thoughts. Our words. The “things we have done and the things we have left undone.” When He shows us where we have missed the mark, we name that failure for what it is. This is where we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance for it is too humanly easy to deflect our responsibility and blame our transgressions on another person or even an inanimate object. We name our sin as anger, jealously, insecurity, selfishness, etc., confess it, allow ourselves to feel the remorse and sincerely repent of that shortcoming.

❹ Next is GOD’S FORGIVENESS. Perhaps we have not sinned but just made a mistake, a wrong decision or did something dumb without thinking. We ask God for healing of anyone, including ourselves, harmed by that mistake and wisdom to better handle similar situations in the future. During this step in the prayer, the Holy Spirit will let you know if you need to go back to someone and apologize and seek forgiveness. If in the previous step we named our action as a sin, we must now ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. And then we let it go. We are now free of any obsessive guilt and the negative thought loops that have held us in bondage. Is it really as easy as that? You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Philippians 4:13

❺ The final step is to PRAY ABOUT THE NEXT DAY. Think about what you may be doing tomorrow and your interactions with others. Ask God to give you guidance in all things and particularly those things that you find difficult, challenging or may bring on fear or anxiety. Then trust in Him that He will help you with all things that concern you. God has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us Deuteronomy 31:6 and He is waiting for us in our tomorrow. Turn off the lights. Sleep well.

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And yes there's even an App for the Prayer of Examen. Fuller Seminary is Evangelical and has developed an App for those of all Christian denominations. You can download it from the App Store for iPhone or Google Play for Android.

This is Part Two in the series on our “do-it-yourself” (DIY) Christian faith as we engage in the historic and biblically sound prayer practices from the ancient church. Next week, we’ll look at more of the prayer practices that bring us into the presence of God...

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