SEARCH ME, O GOD—The Examen – revisiting an ancient discipline

SEARCH ME, O GOD—The Examen – revisiting an ancient discipline

4 - Search Me O God - iStock-848538628by Peter Cusick

“Let me just make it to church, and everything will be fine!” But now we have a problem. We can’t go to church! What on earth are we going to do? How can we be spiritual without being in church? What if this COVID-19 pandemic has other ramifications? There are medical issues. There are economical issues. But what if there are some spiritual issues as well?

From time to time, I have gone to see a physiotherapist for a sports injury. I am using the term “sports” loosely, but it works. He would say, “Peter, your core is weak” as he poked his finger at my less than trim midsection. “If you would develop your core muscles, you would have fewer issues with the rest of your body.” He would then describe a few horrible-sounding things one does to develop one’s core. Although I walk dutifully, I’ve developed my own system of physiotherapy. I stopped squash, hockey, tennis—those things that people with “weak cores” have trouble with.

I have humorously used this illustration to help my clients understand that we all have a spiritual core, and that we need to learn to develop and strengthen it because, as goes your inner core, so goes the rest of your body. I am using the term “inner core” to mean your heart, your inner being, your spirit, or your soul. The Book of Proverbs tells us: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). The discussion then surrounds this question: “How do you develop your spiritual inner core?” Well, interestingly, not everyone develops their inner core in the same way. It has to do with how one is wired, how one thinks, and what particular gifting one has.

Living for a fairly long time and pastoring for the majority of my life, I see that high on the list of inner core development is church life. As a certified spiritual director, I spend time with clients on a one-to-one basis. The one common thread I find in all my ministry with clients (directees) is that most have difficulty on the “relationship” level with God. Now let me briefly explain. This doesn’t mean they are not followers of Christ, are not saved, not born again, not a Christian—or whatever introductory level of commitment language you choose to use. What it does mean is that after the initial conversion experience, outside of a couple of basic things, people are stuck. The basic things most of my directees get are going to church and stopping noticeable sins. But after that they are stuck.

To complicate this issue, what if you can’t go to church? What if church is your spirituality (i.e., “Church is what I do because I am spiritual.”)? How are you going to develop your spirituality and your spiritual inner core?

I grew up singing a hymn that went like this: “Search me, O God, and know my heart today; Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray. See if there be some wicked way in me; Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.”[1] Coupled with this hymn was the monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. My dad put such a mortal fear in me of “partaking in an unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:27) that I would repent of every possible known sin during the distribution of the emblems. Thank God that in Vineland they served from the front to the back, where I was usually sitting!

But, in all honesty, that was the extent of my “confessing.” I’ve since become aware of and use liturgies of confession. I believe confession is now part of my spiritual walk, but we seldom hear of it unless we worship in a liturgical setting. Church history is full of well-known acts called spiritual disciplines; that is, exercises or activities one may use to develop one’s spirituality or inner core. Let me give one of many samples of a spiritual discipline—praying the Examen.

Enter the Examen

The Examen is a historical practice of setting aside a specific time for examination, an intentional creation of space to hear God and receive from God. Now don’t think of the Examen as only a test. It’s not so much a test as a time of reflection. What the Examen is meant to provide is an opportunity for you to purposefully and intentionally look for God in action in your life. This is more than evening or morning devotions. It is an examination of your day when you are searching for things like:

Where was God?

Where did I respond to God?

Where did I miss God?

What was God showing me or telling me today?

Where did I fail God?

The point of the Examen is simple: God is far more active in your life than you are thinking or seeing. The Examen provides you with a moment to stop and look for God. It’s not good enough to generically acknowledge, “Yeah, God is with me!” The Examen asks the deep questions that will grow and enhance your spirituality, helping you to be exposed to God. I stopped wrestling with this fact years ago: if there is a problem between God and me, it’s my fault. The Examen helps us to find those problem areas so our relationship with God deepens. 

In using the Examen, you don’t need a church service, nor do you need others. You need God and you need yourself. The Examen is a great way to feed and strengthen your spirituality. It is purposefully and intentionally looking for God and His activity in your life. I assure you, God is up to something—all day long! Perhaps it’s time to stop on a regular basis and look for Him.

How do you “do” the Examen? I didn’t invent the Examen, and I’m not too sure I need to reinvent it. Search the web or use an app—and you will find many samples of the Examen, both modern and ancient. Choose one that suits you. What matters most is stopping and seeing God, hearing God, and allowing God to deal with your soul. This will strengthen your inner core, which will in turn strengthen your entire spirituality.

The Examen is one of many spiritual disciplines you can search out and begin to practise, giving you good opportunities for growth and spiritual formation, whether you are not in church—or when we all get to go back to church. Happy searching!


[1] “Cleanse Me,” J. Edwin Orr, Public domain.

 

Peter Cusick pastors St. Thomas Pentecostal Assembly in St. Thomas, Ont. Visit besidepeacefulstreams.com.

This article appeared in the July/August/September 2020 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2020 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.