For the last few days, we have considered something of what it means to walk with God and have looked at two practical ways to aid this endeavour.
First, we observed that we can strengthen our walk with God by walking with the Scriptures. That is, we can learn to more closely walk with God by regularly reading, mediating, and (throughout the day) ruminating on the Scriptures.
Second, we observed that we can strengthen our walk with God by intentionally praying with the saints through the ages. Specifically, we considered how use of a book of historic prayers, like The Valley of Vision or Piercing Heaven, can assist us in this regard.
This morning, I want to consider one final practical method that may assist a walk with God. It is once more an ancient practice that has helped God’s people throughout the ages. It is the ancient practice of examen, by which the believer, relying on the Spirit, examines his or her own conscience before God.
We sometimes get nervous of these ancient practices since they are frequently tied to Catholicism, which tends to provoke automatic scepticism. Examen, however, or the practice of examining one’s conscience, was commended by Paul, for example, for the Communion Table (1 Corinthians 11:28–31). Ancient Christian leaders like Basil of Caesarea, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Augustine of Hippo encouraged their disciples to make the examination of conscience a daily practice. Bernard, for example, wrote,
As a searching investigator of the integrity of your own conduct, submit your life to a daily examination. Consider carefully what progress you have made or what ground you have lost. Strive to know yourself. Place all your faults before your eyes. Come face to face with yourself, as though you were another person, and then weep for your faults.
The goal of such examination is not to ask how you should have responded in any given situation but how you actually did so. In examen, the believer takes time at the end of the day to specifically evaluate how he or she has walked with God throughout that day. As you do so, it affords you opportunity to evaluate your successes and failures before God and helps you to recognise the kind of changes you need to make in the coming day to walk closer with God. One modern practitioner suggests five steps in the examination of one’s conscience.
First, ask the Spirit to help you identify the graces God has shown you throughout the day and give thanks for them. Discipline yourself, with the help of the Spirit, to recognise big and small kindnesses and thank God for them. Thanksgiving will prepare you for the self-examination you will enter into in subsequent steps.
Second, ask the Spirit to help you recognise how you have failed God throughout the day. In a moment, you will specifically reflect on those failures, but begin by recognising your own tendency to self-deception and ask the Spirit to highlight what you might otherwise neglect. Ask the Spirit to enable your evaluation of conscience.
Third, having pleaded for the help of the Spirit, review and recognise your failures. Carefully reflect on opportunities to obey that you did not embrace. Honestly evaluate the moments in your day when you failed to resist temptation.
Fourth, confessing those failures, ask for God’s forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. Ask God to identify ways in which you have wronged others and commit to making right with them. Identify particular steps you can take to not fall into the same sins again. Pray for the wisdom to face future temptations in a way that will bring honour to Christ.
Fifth, and finally, conclude your prayer by asking the Spirit for grace for obedience in the coming day. Considering your schedule, identify areas in which you may be tempted again to fail God.
Perhaps you don’t find step-by-step instructions particularly helpful in your walk with God. Regardless, the examination of conscience is commended by Scripture and has been practised by Christians throughout the ages to help God’s people walk with him. If you desire to walk with God, it is a practice you do well to invest in.