Ep 102 Practice of Examen | Where truth and life intersect
Updated: May 4, 2020
You might recall that in the last podcast, we first talked about entering into the Presence of God, and the way we do that is through gratitude. It's just really through gratitude that we sense his deep love for us, and the way that occurs is that you start thinking about what you're thankful for, and sometimes it's hard to get going on that, but if you can just start your list of being thankful for it, you will find that it increases, and pretty soon, you're thankful for your socks, you're thankful for a chair, you're thankful for a book, and allow yourself to go deep in this process of being thankful. Don't cut it short, because as it goes deeper, and deeper, your love for God and his love for you begins to increase, and then, you find yourself in this beautiful presence of God. It's here that you invite God's grace.
What is inviting God's grace? Well, God's grace is his action on our life. We invite God's grace into our lives, and this is really about surrender. God is going to be at work, you're going to let go, and so, at this point, we invite God in, and we ask him, "Lord, show me the way, show me who I am." This simple practice of examine is what we're going to talk about today, and it should become a daily habit. It's really important to, everyday, take a look and detect God's movement in your day, and we can detect it in two ways, either with experiences, or we can look at the relationship in our day. I like to look at the relationship's. Every day, or in the evening, I'll sit there, and get my little journal out, and I'll begin to go through, and name every person that I ran into in the day, or had a dialogue with, or something, or some conversation with, or a meeting with.
I'll begin to examine that, and see what can I pray for this person? And, how was my response? These are just little short notes. I've got a really small notebook that I do this in, and it's in that... that I really try to detect what is God's movement? And, how can I pray for this person? So often we have to really think through... I was going to say rummage through. It'd be like looking at a bookstore, and you walk in, and you kind of check the magazines, you look around, you got to spend a little time there to see, does something stand out to you? Does something draw your attention? And, that's the same thing you do with these relationships. You look, and you say, "What's drawing my attention here with this person? What am I sensing from them? How did I respond? Why is this important to me?"
We take this time to go over these relationships, we list them in this book, and then, you want to remember to look back, and you will look at a couple of things, and this rhythm is really important. There's a rhythm of: look at the names in your list, you pray for light, you give thanks, and you begin to examine the relationships, and your response to it. You're really going to pay attention to what stands out to you, and oftentimes, I've even gone through, and tried to fill in what emotion did I feel? Did I feel comfortable? Did I feel encouraged? Excited? Did I feel like this person was a support to me? Or, did this person drain me? Now, you go through your list, and then, you go through, and kind of pray through each person. I'll put a prayer for each person in the evening.
Now, this kind of an examine where you're just looking at relationships, and then keeping this relatively simple just to start. There are a lot of ways that you can use the examine in your daily walk, or in your spiritual practices, but you can do this on a walk, you can do it in a car, you can talk with a spouse, or your family members at dinnertime. When we talk about who did you encounter today? What was it like? How did they make you feel? What did you learn from this person? These are all wonderful questions to go deeper, and then, pray for that person. You'd be surprised at how it's so transforming. You might have a day where you think, "You know, I really didn't see anybody, and I didn't do anything." But, when you sit down, and you start thinking, "Wait a minute, I saw a person at the cleaners."
And then, this becomes an intentional practice, then the next day, you're more intentional about engaging people, about asking them questions, and encourage them. This is kind of like putting on Jesus. Really it is, the way Jesus went about with people, the way he engaged people, the way he encouraged, gave hope. It's just a wonderful practice. You can do that, and then after you look at some of these relationships, you might see some that you think, "Well, this one does not make me feel very comfortable." Or, you might have a circumstance that comes up. When these circumstances, or relationships come up that are making you feel uncomfortable, it's important to take time to reflect, and sometimes I will begin to think, "Where in Scripture, is there a relationship like this that I can identify or learn something from?"
For example, my husband came home from work, and he kept telling me, "There's this guy that just... he doesn't like me, and I can't figure out why." He went over, and over. Was it anything that he did, and why he couldn't befriend this person? And so, it was bothering him, and we decided, "Well, let's just sit, and look at the Scripture, and see is there anywhere else in Scripture that is an expression of what my husband was going through." We thought about several different stories in the Bible in Scripture, but then, suddenly, my husband said, "You know what it's really like, it's like David, and Saul relentlessly chasing him for no reason, and yet, David always had this Godly response." And suddenly, you wonder, "What, what is bothering this person? Was it ego, or competition." For some reason, when you solve that problem with Scripture, and then, you can pray that back, it really brings a sense of peace.
Now, if you don't do that, sometimes, you know you can lay in bed at night, and you'll wrestle over and over about a relationship, or a circumstance, and you try to make sense of it. It's so much easier to bring it before God, look into Scripture. Is there anywhere else in the scripture? Or, in the Bible stories where something like this occurs? What do I learn from this? How should I respond? And, how will I meet this in a different way the next day? What's my plan for the next day? I think this is also a wonderful way of mentoring. When you're dealing with somebody who's got relationship issues, or team building issues, or things like that. You can go in, and say, "Where else in Scripture has this ever occurred?" I'm surprised how many times that Scripture will come up and help me solve a problem.
I actually have a file cabinet full of experiences, and truth that I journaled. Again, think about it. This is where truth and life intersect, and it's so important to write this down in a journal, and because you can use these experiences (life), and truth in many teaching situations. I've used those in situations where I'm having to teach, or give a short presentation, or a talk, and I've got a file cabinet where I can go through, and just look at all of these experiences, and relationships that connect, to really give a deeper insight into who God is, and who I am, so don't cut this short. Think about it as a way of finding a deeper knowledge of who God is. Really, it's growing in wisdom, and that is so important, growing in wisdom, and growing in your own character, and especially when critical events come up, you're much more easily able to handle the critical event.
When you've kept a journal, you can look back. It's also a wonderful way to help you make decisions in the future. What are the things that attracted me? What are the kind of people I like to be around? How am I going to navigate this circumstance? Again, just don't cut it short. You can use this kind of, a deeper dialogue with leadership, or team building. You begin to develop this skill. Even as a retiree, you can look and see where the hand of God has entered your life, and then, look at scripture. These are great mentor lessons, or as a Bible study leader, I've used so much of those as part of a Bible study, and intro to Bible study. We look to Scripture, figure out what story connects with this relationship, or experience, and then, what has become clear to me. It's the part about what's become clear to me that is important, and that really takes some deep waiting time.
Honestly, I have had to wait sometimes for a couple of days to get clarity on something. It may not come that night when I'm writing in my journal. I may still be wrestling that maybe I haven't found the Bible verse that connects with this truth to this experience, and so, I'll let it go for a day or two, but it comes up, and all of a sudden, you know, I'll find a verse, or God will give me the verse, or the Holy Spirit will put it on my heart what it is, and it's just this great satisfaction of solving a problem, and then, knowing how to move forward, especially if it's something where you think it needs a time of confession, time to really think through, and ask God for forgiveness, and then, think about how am I going to be better tomorrow? What am I going to do tomorrow?
One other thing that you can use to look at relationships is that Colossians 3 scripture. In verse eight of Colossians 3 it lists some emotions, "Anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk." Is any of this happening in this occurrence? How can I change that to become, and then, in verse 12 it says, "We ought to have compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience." You could take that scripture, and say, "Next time I encounter this person, I'm going to have greater patience." Or, "I'm going to really practice having a compassionate heart, and being more kind." For more details, I'm going to suggest a book it's called A Simple Life Changing Prayer by Jim Manny.
It's a very practical guide, and it's a small book. You can read it in an hour. It's easy to read, and you can also as a team building, you can talk together, and ask these how and why questions, and look at this book. It's a practice that your team members could all use, and review circumstances, or events that have happened in the past week, or in the past day, and then, expend some time in contemplation. Wait for clarity, see if there's a scripture to go deep, and then, your team can really enter into deep dialogue, and see where God's hand is, to see where truth and life have intersected in that week. We really need to seek Jesus as our model, so we look inward for the presence of God. Jesus says, "My father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home in you.' John 14:23. This is really a body experience. Dallas Willard says, "You can study a lot of practices, but unless you engage the body, the... you only skim the surface of formation." So, really, to prepare for the works of service, is for building up the body of Christ.
Now, I would like to, I think, at this time, I'm going to go ahead, and what comes to my mind as that body experience, a place of waiting, or contemplation (for example) is a Labyrinth walk. I don't know if you're familiar with it or not, but oftentimes, people will think, "Well, it's a maze." No, it's not a maze. A maze is a place where you'll lose yourself. Walking a labyrinth is where you find yourself. It's a place where you can extend your time with God, where you can wait for clarity, and you can kind of walk it out. Now, the Labyrinth has its roots in ancient culture, and it resembles the design in-laid on the floor at Chartres Cathedral during the 13th century. If you couldn't go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you could go to the Cathedral, and walk the Labyrinth. I've seen Labyrinth set in Botanical Gardens, at churches, outdoors, especially the Episcopal Church close to my home has one, and it's beautiful, set outside. It's wide enough you can take a stroller on it, but as you enter into it, there'll be directions there on where to start. It's very clearly laid out. First thing I would do is really suspend all your expectations (this is surrendering to God as opposed to controlling God.)
Don't go into this thinking something big is going to happen, but it's a process, and notice how you feel when you enter in. Notice the pace of your footsteps, notice what happens with your eyes, and when you walk into the center. Take time to pause, stop at the center, listen and reflect a bit, and then, bring your insight or inspiration back with you, and record it in your journal. You know, it's different every time I walk a labyrinth, and it's been so much fun to walk a labyrinth with friends, with new believers, with my team building event. If you don't have a labyrinth, well, take a walk. Use a regular route, remove your headphones. Walking is really the oldest practice, and it's still the best.
Take your soul for a stroll, really long walks, short walks, morning walks, evening walks, whatever form, or length that takes walking is the best way to get out of your head. We can recall here the convocation of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said, "Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well being, and I walk away from every illness, I have walked myself into my best thoughts."
We have the practice of the examine, we're going to examine relationships, or experiences, and we're going to walk it out, wait for clarity on a Labyrinth, or just walking your regular route, but remember, when you're walking your regular route, it's the same process. You begin with thanksgiving, you invite the light of Jesus, and then, you begin to review your day.
One other resource that I'm going to mention here are the letters of Frank Laubach. These letters are a testimonial of life in an intentional moment by moment relationship with the heavenly father. We can study a lot of information, and we can take in all the instruction on how to do something, but having a resource like the letters of Frank Laubach, you're really allowed to see in a true fashion what happens to a person who is a lonely missionary, serving on an island in the middle of the Philippines, and what happens out of his loneliness, and what he learns. This is a really small book. I think it has like 32 letters in it. I actually took a group of leaders, and we just started reading the first letter, and we underline what were the insights in this letter that just really helped to explain what it's like to grow in Christ's likeness.
This process of transformation is about one person's life and how his life is changed. By seeking the face of God in all circumstances, he reveals a movement guided by the Holy Spirit of inner transformation. He moves from his problems, and circumstances to God, and the beauty of his creation. He began to see beauty in the people around him, and the way they live, and how they loved. In his letter, he writes, "My worries faded, and my soul rest in perpetual sunshine." Frank Laubach is an example of transforming grace, the transforming grace of God in one human who lived as Jesus lived.
The Examine will transform the way you see people too, and the experiences that you're involved in. Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God says, "Christian formation is the formation of the inner life, which directs the outer life. Inner life is what counts, the outer life becomes an expression of inner transformation into Christ-likeness." What it really is, is cultivating beauty in your life, and in the world we live in. This flows over into love for God, into love for his people.
Thank you so much for listening. If you have questions or want to view the show notes, and resources. Go to my website at unlockingchristianspiritualpracticespodcast.com. Thank you and blessings on your journey.