Have you made a new year’s resolution for the coming year?
Many of us are afraid to make resolutions because we’ve failed too many times.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology (University of Scranton), 45% of Americans make resolutions – only 8% achieve them.
If your desire is to make a resolution to know God better – but you’re afraid of failure – let me introduce you to a centuries-old practice full of promise that’s flexible and forgiving.
The beginning of a new year is a great time to take stock and take action.
January is named after Janus, the ancient Roman god of doorways or thresholds. As shown in the accompanying photo, it is depicted by two faces: an older one looking back; a younger one looking forward.
The exercise I want to acquaint you with has both these features: reflecting on the past; anticipating the future.
Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) developed the Examen.
It has deep biblical roots and can become a daily practice that may take only 5 minutes, or as long as you like. If you miss some days, don’t see this as a failure – simply take it up again and move forward.
The Examen is organized as five steps that flow naturally. I’ll use modern language adapted from Timothy Gallagher.
1. Gratitude: Note the gifts that God’s love has given this day, and give thanks to God for them.
I usually begin with the simple, yet profound, acknowledgment that I am loved by God. Ephesians 1:3-14 identifies no fewer than ten benefits a follower of Jesus has “in Christ,” “in the Beloved,” or “in him.” Considering any one of these can initiate deep gratitude.
For what gifts do you thank him today?
2. Petition: Ask God for an insight and strength that will make this examination a work of grace, fruitful beyond human capacity alone.
This is a request of humility, dependence, and companionship.
3. Review: With God, review your day.
Look for the stirrings in your heart and the thoughts that God gives you this day. Look also for those that have not been of God. Review your choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
For me, this includes the practice of finding a quiet place and praying the words of Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT):
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Wait patiently for him to answer, then respond intentionally to what he points out. In this way, you are being invited to participate with the Spirit in his work of transforming your identity.
As I’ve written elsewhere, if these stirrings and thoughts are from God they will always be consistent with Scripture, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and God’s character of love (“Is that You God?”).
4. Forgiveness: Ask God for his pardon where it is needed (1 John 1:9) – those things that have offended God – and thank him for his cleansing touch.
This acknowledges our deep need of greater intimacy with God. This intimacy is open freely to each of us on God's terms.
5. Renewal: Look forward to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with his loving desire for your life.
This is neither a therapeutic technique nor behavior modification. It is the intentional act of drawing nearer to God (James 4:8) where you can co-operate with the Spirit’s gracious and powerful work of transforming you into becoming more like Jesus Christ.
I have prepared a small chart of these five steps as a reminder. You can print it and place it in your Bible.
Whatever you may call it, how often you may engage in it, however you adapt it – let me encourage you to begin and continue this practice with God.
May this resolution be a delight for you.
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