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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
-Psalm 139:23-24

I am convinced that one of the primary reasons many of us struggle to draw near to God in an earnest, deeper way is because we know that such a pursuit may initially involve a painful, even excruciating encounter. What misbehaving child seeks out the offended authority figure? How many of us avoid prescribed medical exams and precautionary procedures not only because of the dread of discomfort or humiliation, but also for fear of what the good doctor may find?

Yet to properly seek God requires that we consistently wade through the proverbial muck and mire to truly come clean. The saints of old in the Roman Catholic Jesuit tradition called this kind of daily reflection the Prayer of Examen and various forms of this spiritual exercise remain today[1]. The Latin word means the examining or discerning of conscience, conveying the idea of our ongoing need for an accurate assessment of the true condition of our soul.

Richard Foster, in his attempt to exhume this practice, describes what we might call the ditches on either side of the path  to intimacy with God. On the one side, if left to our own devices, we will be tempted to justify ourselves and too quickly excuse ourselves, proclaiming "it is well with my soul" when in reality it is not. In the opposite ditch lie those of us who have declared ourselves unredeemable. In either case, as inauthentic worshippers, we are resigned to prayers that ring hollow even in our own ears.

How can we avoid these pitfalls? Foster writes, "In the examen of conscience we are inviting the Lord to search our hearts to the depths. Far from being dreadful, this is scrutiny of love...There is therefore no need to repress, suppress or sublimate any of God's truth about ourselves. Full, total self-knowledge is the bread by which we are sustained. A yes to life means an honest recognition of our own evil, but it is also a yes to God, who in the midst of our evil sustains us and draws us into His righteousness."[2]

As we travel together through this season of fasting and prayer, my hope is that we will see ourselves rightly and that anything that might hinder us in our walk with God will be exposed so it may be expunged. Practitioners point to the value of journaling and traversing this journey in the company of friends. I will do both.

Is anything holding us back? Are we willing to open ourselves up to the gracious scrutiny of the Holy Spirit?

He's waiting for us.

[1] Mars Hill, http://marshill.org/pdf/sp/PrayerOfExamenLong.pdf
[2] Richard Foster, Prayer, p. 31

Don Weiss
Christian Union
Ministry Director at Harvard