Examen prayer is the Holy Spirit’s application to our lives of scriptural teachings or descriptions of holiness in order to determine where we lack and/or succeed in living a holy life.
1. Invite God to search the depths of your heart as you meditate on the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:1–20. Ask him for insight into how the truth in Scripture and your own experience have intersected.
2. You may wish to hold up other Scriptures as a mirror for your soul. Some suggestions include the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1–12), Paul’s New Life in Christ (Col 3), or the Well-Pleasing Service (Heb 13).
3. Read slowly, pausing at each sentence or verse to listen for anything that stands out. Perhaps there is an area of your life that you would like God to examine—your use of time, your relationship with your coworkers, the books you read, etc. Perhaps you will invite him to look through a particular period, your day or your week. Think through your thoughts, feelings, and actions in the context of the passage. How did they draw you to God? To self? How were they like or unlike the picture of God that the reading paints? How has God been at work? What seemingly ordinary things might God have been using for his own purposes? How did you respond?
4. If you find your mind wandering or trying to dredge up remorse without conviction (Matt 6:7–8), perhaps it is time to move on to the next sentence or verse. (Suggestions for dealing with distractions can be found under Lectio Divina/Practice/4.)
5. When something not quite right comes to light, avoid the urge to defend yourself. Instead take responsibility for what is wrong and ask God to purify you. On the other hand, avoid the urge to punish yourself. Trust that you will receive God’s mercy (Eph 2:4–5).
6. God’s Spirit encourages as much as he convicts. As you practice the prayer of examen, do not forget to sit still for his smile. When something is shown to you that falls in line with the commands, do not diminish it. Thank God for this evidence of his work through you and for allowing you to participate in his plan (Jer 9:23–24).
7. If it is difficult to hear his voice pointing out matters for celebration or confession in your life because your own inner voice drowns him out, begin by listening for his characteristics or actions instead of your own. What does God reveal about himself as you read through the Commandments?
8. Write down your confession to God, both the truth about yourself and the truth about him. Make sure to note the whole truth: his holiness, which cannot be trespassed against, as well as his love that redeems you with mercy. If you have felt a nudge concerning an action you might take, a word you might offer, or a new perspective you might adopt, write that down, too. When you are done meditating through the passage, read what you have written. Thank him for his work. Offer all that you have discovered about yourself to all that you know to be true of God. The goal is not to journey into yourself and stay there, but to journey through yourself to the heart of God.2 Yield to his righteousness and mercy and wait.
2Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 32.