Week 6, Day 5: A Daily Prayer
One of my go-to passages in the Bible is Psalm 139 (NIV), which ends with this request:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
A whole lot of pain and suffering could have been avoided if we were a little more aware of our own tendencies to cause others pain, even unintentionally.
Prayer is also, at some level, spiritual warfare — that is, it is a contending for the things of God in realms that we cannot even see. When we slow down and create space to listen to God, we are fighting back against a culture that tells us that if anything good is going to happen, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. When we put our requests before God and entrust them to him, we push back against a narrative that says God is not good or trustworthy.
But that spiritual warfare is also against the sin in us, the selfishness in us, the pride and greed in us, the unintentional havoc we wreak. When we allow God to challenge and change us in prayer, we refuse to believe the lie that we have no role to play in God’s story and we refuse to believe the lie that we can do no wrong. Even when we cry out, as Peter did, “Lord, rescue me!” (Matthew 14:30), it is a brilliant flash of light amidst the encroaching darkness.
Centuries ago, a man named Ignatius of Loyola, who was the founder of the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church, developed a prayer of daily examination — what people in recovery might describe as a “fearless moral inventory.” It has become known as the Daily Examen. It rests on many of the same assumptions that we have been building on:
that God is good and trustworthy, at work and knowable in the everyday,
that God’s Spirit speaks to us and we can hear from him, and
that our lives (and through us, the world around us) can be transformed as we become more aware of God.
And it puts into practice many of the things we have been learning:
how to listen to God,
how to discern God’s voice and activity, and
how to build space into our daily routines for silence with God.
Ignatius envisioned this prayer being prayed twice a day, once in the middle of the day and once at the end of the day.
The five steps of Examen prayer have been articulated many different ways over the years, but here is one way of breaking it down, from Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, who uses five Rs to help us remember the steps:
RELISH the moments that went well and all of the gifts I have today. I begin by giving God thanks for all the things I’m grateful for today. I allow my mind to wander as I reflect on the ways God has blessed me on this particular day. I allow big things and small things to arise—everything from the gift of my faith, to the gift of my marriage, to the easy commute to work today.
REQUEST the Spirit to lead me through my review of the day. Next, I want to look at the moments in my day when I did not act so well. However, before doing so, I ask God to fill me with his Spirit so that the Spirit can lead me through this difficult soul-searching. Otherwise, I’m liable to hide in denial, wallow in self-pity, or seethe in self-loathing.
REVIEW the day. I look back at my day and ask the Lord to point out to me the moments when I have failed in big ways or small. I take a sobering look at the mistakes I’ve made this day.
REPENT of any mistakes or failures. If I have sinned, I ask God to forgive me and set me straight again. If I have not sinned but simply made a mistake, I ask for healing of any harm that might have been done. I ask for help to get over it and move on. I also ask for wisdom to discern how l might better handle such tricky moments in the future.
RESOLVE, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well. I ask God to show me how tomorrow might go. I imagine the things I’ll be doing, the people I’ll see, and the decisions I’ll be mulling over. I ask for help with any moments I foresee that might be difficult. I especially ask for help in moments when I might be tempted to fail in the way I did today.
Finally, a quick word on keeping a prayer journal. One of my spiritual aids is a prayer journal, a notebook in which I can keep a record of my prayers — both the things I communicate to God and the things I hear from God. This has been an invaluable way of looking back on the history of my interactions with God, the ways God answered prayers (even in ways I didn’t expect or ask for!). It can also serve as a guide to remember what to lift up in prayer. I have a theme for my prayers each day; so, for example, on Sundays, you might pray for your church community; on Mondays, for your family; on Tuesdays, for your friends; and so on. You may find that you’re already doing this! I hope you’ll keep it up.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, my will—all that I have and possess.
You, Lord, have given all to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord.
All is yours. Do with it as you will.
Give me only your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.
- Ignatius of Loyola
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: What are some daily habits you have right now — whether healthy or unhealthy?
Heart: How might it change the way you live to spend the first moments of your day and the last moments of your day in conversation with God?
Hands / Pray: Before you go to bed tonight, set aside 10-15 minutes to practice the prayer of examination. Try it each night next week.
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"Give me only your love and your grace, for that is enough for me."
- St. Ignatius of Loyola