Throughout my busy day ......
...... have I kept your Word O Lord?
The beautiful thing about beginning the practice of prayer in our lives is the discovery that God is speaking to us, personally. As we listen, we hear God giving direction for our life; what is right and true and good for us to live by. We begin to follow God's Word and doing so brings a special peace into our hearts.
But then, an unsettling pattern begins to become evident. We find ourselves doing the opposite to what we have received from God. Surprised by this, we recommit ourselves to God's direction, only to see ourselves, again doing the opposite. Troubling indeed, but in this we are not alone. Listen to St.Paul speaking about this.
So the trouble is not with God’s Word, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that God’s Word is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s Word with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s Word, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 8:14 - Paraphrase Translation) (Substituting "Law" with "God's Word")
When speaking of sin in this context, St. Paul is talking about that which is the "broken part", of our human condition; that which is imperfect and non-compliant with truth. There are various areas of our being where this brokenness occurs; in our physical body, in our psychological formation, in our wounded emotions, in our negative interactions with others, in our troubled conscience, in a history of failures, in our broken hearts. All of this combined, is what St. Paul calls, "the flesh". We enter life innocent and pure, but soon, all these forces begin to shape us. Our good intention must scale this rising wall of negativity, but for the most part it is unable. "I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate."
The goal of the life of prayer is to scale this wall of negativity and reach true freedom of heart. But in order to do this, I must understand what is working against me. What I cannot overcome on my own, the Lord's grace empowers me to accomplish. "Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Within the rich resource of prayer is a form of prayer specifically intended to support us as we deal with our divided hearts. It is called the Prayer of Examine. In this form of prayer, we look back over the events of our day, to discover the forces, within and without, that shaped our living that day. For those things that drew us closer to the Lord we give thanks. But we are equally intent on recognizing the things that divided our hearts, and interfered with our efforts to be faithful to the Lord. Our intention is not to accuse ourselves, the Evil One has that covered. We are looking for those places in our lives where the Lord wishes to meet us, so that he can bring his saving grace to heal us and empower us.
In a secular worldview, people look for all manner of excuses for their negative behavior or to put the blame on others. In the prayer of examine, one is ready to except responsibility for their actions, what ever the reason, but most importantly, they seek to understand how, with God's grace, to be an instrument of reconciliation and redemption for that which is broken. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17. The aim of the Christian Life is to become a co-redeemer with Christ. The aim of prayer is to learn how.
Our lives are lived out in the real world of time and place. It was at this very time, this place, that I did, said, interacted, reacted, or failed to say or do, that resulted in these real consequences. The Prayer of Examine is no less real. It too, must have a time and place in my day to take place. It must be approached in all honesty, for its purpose is to uncover and see; but to see as the Lord sees us.
- Ask God for light. I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
- Give thanks. The day I have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it.
- Review the day. I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
- Face your shortcomings. I face up to what is wrong—in my life and in me.
- Look toward the day to come. I ask where I need God in the day to come.
"Yet how do we hear the voice of God? Our Christian tradition has at least four answers to that question." - See more at: Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards through Your Day
(For a complete and thorough treatment of the Prayer of Examine, go to the Ignatian Spirituality Site - LINK)
- This prayer need not be long in time. (10 to 15 minutes is often enough)
- One is not trying to "to strain gnats out of their soup", rather to discover what may be spoiling it - what needs changing in the recipe, to make it better.
- "Know thy self". Life has shaped me into the person I am today. But it is I, that person, that God knows perfectly, the person God accepts into his loving embrace, the person whose future the Lord will reveal.
- Nothing is greater than the hand of God, nothing more perfect than his plans for us.
- We are vessels of clay, now formed by his hands, destined to contain the treasures of heaven.