As this calendar year comes to an end, the natural tendency is to look back and ask “What big milestones were there? How have I changed? Were there defining moments? What have I learned, and how will I use it moving forward?” This type of reflection can be beneficial in every aspect of life and even more valuable regarding your spiritual health and growth. One of the great ancient disciplines that can help you in this time of spiritual assessment is The Prayer of Examen.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) is accredited with the rhythm of the Prayer of Examen. In 1541, he was a Catholic priest, a theologian, and co–founder of the Society of Jesus in France, better known as “The Jesuits.” Ignatius desired to help followers engage in this practice to develop a deeper level of sensitivity to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the everyday happenings of life.
The Prayer of Examen examines your day in Christ’s presence. As this practice becomes a well–incorporated rhythm in your life, your spirit becomes increasingly aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Two themes become the centerpiece of this discipline:
When did I sense the Lord’s leading in my day?
When did I respond to His leading and when did I resist?
As you concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours, there are four simple steps to the Prayer of Examen: presence, gratitude, review, and response. The beauty of this practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel free to linger on that step. What is most necessary is to follow the Lord’s leading and not worry about completing each step. The importance is to increase your awareness of the voice of God rather than “checking all the boxes.”
The first step in Examen is to recognize the presence of God. Spend time filling your mind with the fact that God desires to be with you. Use a simple breakdown of Psalm 46:10 to quiet your mind, will, and emotions.
“Be still and know that I am God…”
“Be still and know that I am…”
“Be still and know…”
Do not rush through this step; do not become discouraged if the voices within take a long time to become still. Return to the Psalm 46:10 breakdown every time your mind wanders. It is the foundational and accomplished work of the Holy Spirit.
“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice,” said Meister Eckhart.
In the past 24 hours, what caused you to be thankful? Fill your mind and spirit with the goodness and generosity of God. What may be helpful in this step is to journal your thankfulness to God. Use simple words to express your gratitude and give testimony to God’s limitless generosity.
We live such fast–paced lives, looking at and learning from our past is a lost art. We complete the task, but we don’t take time to step back and draw wisdom from it; this is a must in the good, bad, and ugly moments of our day. By intentionally incorporating the review of our interactions, responses, feelings, and intentions we will grow in Christlikeness. The important part of this step is to restrain ourselves from rationalizing or justifying our words and actions but to state them simply in Christ’s presence.
Objectively look as you review. Whether you remember a positive or negative response on your part, ask yourself, “How did I get here? What led me to yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit and be obedient to His voice or what led me to willfully refuse to yield to His leading?”
It is important to note that we each have a tailor–made form of sin and Satan is well–aware of what temptation works on us and how much pressure to apply to get us to yield. The path to yielding to sin in our lives is well–worn. If we take the time to review the steps to sin, we will see the pattern and begin to call on the Lord’s strength earlier on the path, thus gaining victory.
When in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life? When you bask in that joy, it heightens the desire to do it again!
Having spent time in the Prayer of Examen, it is natural to have a plan for moving forward and to want to respond quickly in some way. This step is a time of resting in the revelation you have received and to wait on God for the next step without running ahead of or lagging behind Him.
“Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit” Galatians 5:25 (VOICE).
by Major Lauren Hodgson