Too often we are too distracted and preoccupied to notice God’s presence in our lives. Jesus calls us to do the hard work of self-examination: to focus less on taking the specks out of other people’s eyes and more on taking the logs out of our own life. Producing good fruit in our lives grows out of a deep place, through a heart in communion with God. The Prayer of Examen is a helpful prayer practice for self-examination and become more aware of God’s presence with us in our daily lives.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Luke 6:39-49
Last summer when all of our children and grandchildren were here, we went to the zoo. As we were walking along, someone in our group pointed up and said, “look there’s a gorilla way up high on that pole! It was actually an orangutan, but it was about as big as a gorilla.
Sure enough, there it was up there, swinging from a pole, looking down on all the funny looking humans walking by. Most of those humans were too preoccupied with other things to notice that orangutan right above them.
Sometimes we talk about the “elephant in the room”. The elephant in the room is a problem or difficult situation that everyone is aware of but nobody wants to talk about.
The gorilla in the room is when nobody notices what’s there so you don’t talk about it.
In the prayer book by Skye Jethani that we have been going through, he talks about the ‘gorilla in the room’. This phrase comes from a test that psychologists do that’s called the ‘invisible gorilla’ test, where people are so focused on counting how many times basketball players are bouncing a ball that they don’t even notice when a person in a gorilla suit walks across the court. (p.117, What if Jesus Was Serious about Prayer?)
Jethani says “we can be so focused on the news, our work, or the 10,000 things vying for our attention that we may go days and even weeks without seeing God in our lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean that God is not there. Like the gorilla, God might be in the middle of our busy life thumping his chest to get our attention, but we never take our eye off the ball long enough to see him. Prayer is a time to slow down, refocus, and notice God’s presence.”
And then Jethani offers a prayer practice called the prayer of examen which is a way of reflecting on, examining the events of our day in order to learn to notice how God was present with us throughout the day. Well come back to this a little later.
In our scripture today, Jesus is getting at the importance of self-examination. He says that we humans are good at seeing and criticizing all kinds of specks in other people—you know, their faults and the ways that they annoy us.
The news media plays right into this because they focus on all the bad things that people do, you know, the worst of humanity, right? Maybe that trains us to look for those same things in people around us, right?
But Jesus tells us not to look outward, but inward. To examine ourselves instead of other people. To take the log out of our own eye before looking at the speck in other people’s eye.
And if we’re honest and take the time to look inside, we’ll discover some logs that need to be taken out.
If we have the courage to look deep enough inside us, we will most likely find some stuff that needs to be dealt with, so we can grow to become more like Jesus.
I see this idea of going deeper, digging beneath the surface to see what’s underneath in order to be healthy and whole, as the overall theme of the scripture passage today.
First Jesus first talks about reaching down deep to take out the logs from our eyes so we can see more clearly,
Then he says that the key to producing good fruit in our words and our actions comes from deep inside our heart; if our hearts are pure and in the right place, they we will produce the fruit of the spirit on the outside: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.
And the last metaphor Jesus uses is of building a house with a solid foundation. If our foundation is deep and strong, we will be able to succeed in hearing God’s desires and plans for us and then living them out in our lives.
Yesterday a group of guys from the church started putting the fence in for our new playground. Cory Suter said we had to take the post hole digger and dig down 2 feet in order for the fence to be sturdy and withstand the test of time.
The first 6 inches or so was pretty easy, because it was dirt, then it got harder because the next foot or so was clay, and then it was even harder at the end, because we were digging into rock.
Digging deeper into ourselves can also be hard work. We open ourselves up to discover things that maybe we don’t want to see, that we don’t want to face.
This past week I attended the Pastors and Leaders conference at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. It was a great time of renewing friendships with people I was in seminary with and making new friends,
There was inspiring worship in good ol’ Mennonite 4-part harmony, there were talks and Bible studies that fed my spirit and soul, and there were some really interesting and practical seminars.
Thank you so much for giving me the time and the funds needed to attend this event—it was energizing to me.
One of the seminars I attended was presented by Jes Stoltzfus Buller of Mennonite Central Committee, and it was called Peaceful Practices: A Guide to Healthy Communication in Conflict:
She talked about the importance of self-awareness, of examining what’s going on inside of ourselves as one of the keys to having healthy communication with others and working through conflict.
She talked about how conflict can play out in our brains: when we disagree with other people, and get upset, our amygdala goes to work. The amygdala is the part of our brain that processes strong emotions like pleasure and fear with knee-jerk reactions,
It sees things that are threats to us, and reacts with defensiveness and distrust of others. In conflict, the amygdala is our first line of response, it’s our surface-level reaction to people and situations.
But we also have another part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex. And the seminar leader said that we need to exercise this part of our brain in conflict, because it’s the reflective and curious part of the brain that enables us to trust other people.
The work of the prefrontal cortex facilitates dialogue that is respectful and constructive, that goes deeper instead of surface-level just knee-jerk reactions that we often end up having, and which prevents understanding and reconciliation to take place.
The seminar leader then told a parable attributed to the Cherokee Native American tradition, to illustrate the conflict that takes place inside of ourselves that we need to get a hold of in order to settle the conflict we have with other people.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a conflict between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, goodness, empathy, generosity, truth,and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
As Christians, we can say that the qualities of the good wolf are like the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. How do we feed this fruit, so that it flows from inside of us to a lifestyle that is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control?
One way is to have people in our lives, including our church community, who model the fruit of the Spirit and show us what it looks like in real life. They inspire us and encourage us to produce good fruit in our lives.
And another way to produce good fruit is to cultivate a life of prayer leads to deeper communion with God, who is the source of all the good fruit of the Holy Spirit.
One thing that Jethani stresses in his book is that a key to a growing prayer life and with it greater intimacy with God is becoming more aware of God’s presence in our lives and in the people and circumstances around us, as we go throughout our daily lives.
It’s like God is this gorilla in the room, but we don’t always notice Him, because we are too distracted by everything around us, and too busy to slow down and take time to quiet ourselves, get in touch with what’s going on inside us, down here.
The great 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal said that “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
The prayer of examen that I mentioned earlier is a simple but effective way to learn to sit quietly in a room alone with God, in solitude and silence. It helps us to slow down, examine ourselves, and notice where God was present during the events of our day.
The prayer of examen was first developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
In the prayer of Examen, we bring our true self into the presence of the true God (P. 120) “Examen” comes from work for the indicator on a balance scale. Just like a bathroom scale doesn’t lie, the examen is meant to reveal the truth within us.
It’s a time of reflection on our day, or on the past 24 hours.
So to close this time I’d like to lead us in a prayer of examen to get more familiar with it. We’ve talked a lot about prayer this past 6 weeks, and now our goal is to spend more time praying.
The prayer of examen is to take time to reflect on our day, or the past 24 hours, and ask ourselves when we experienced and were aware of God’s presence,
when we felt close to God, and when we might not have sensed God’s presence and felt distant from God. Over time, we will begin to become more aware of God being with us during the day and not just at the end of it. (P. 117-18)
PRAYER OF EXAMEN
Close eyes if helpful, get comfortable, pay attention to your breathing.
Rewind back to the beginning of yesterday, and then go through your day in your mind. Pause like you would a remote while watching a movie at those moments when you felt some deeper emotions, times that felt significant in some way.
During those moments, ask yourself: When did I sense God’s nearness to me? What moments were life-giving of your day?
When did God seem distant from me? What was the most life-draining moments of your day?
What emotions stand out to me during the events of the past 24 hours? What might God be saying to me through those emotions?
To close, choose one thing from your day to pray about specifically. It could stem from something positive or negative, a person you encountered or a situation you experienced. Pray as you feel led, whether it’s to intercede, praise, repent, or give gratitude.
Psalm 139: 23– Search me, God, and know my heart! Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. AMEN.