Practicing Lent: Examen

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This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.

Another busy day. Teaching music at the Lutheran school in the morning. Piano lessons in the afternoon. Dinner with my sweet hubby. Bible study with my small group in the evening.

I fall into bed exhausted. But before I step into dreamland, I take time to practice Examen. I close my eyes and watch a “video” replay of my day.

I thank God for the good things: a big hug from a preschooler at school, time with my husband, laughter with my awesome Bible study gals.

I ask the Holy Spirit to show me where I messed up that day–yep, I lost my patience with those antsy third-graders–forgive me. Lord.

I look for God’s presence in the ordinary moments of my day and I see Him in the unexpected warm weather in the middle of winter, in the faces of the children as they sing of God’s love, and in the words of hope in God’s Word.

I go to sleep forgiven and grateful.

The Spiritual Discipline of Examen

The practice of Examen is one of my favorite Spiritual Disciplines.

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I know intellectually that God is always with me. I grab onto God’s promise:

I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5)

But sometimes I forget. I get caught up in my to-do list, in the hectic activities of each day. I forget that God is always with me to love me, guide me, and cheer me on. Examen helps me be more aware of Christ in the mundane moments of every day.

You too?

To practice the Spiritual Discipline of Examen, start by finding a quiet place and asking the Spirit to guide your time of reflection. Close your eyes and review the last 24 hours. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What inspired gratitude today?
  • What happened that was painful, sad, or disappointing?
  • What moment do I now regret and need to confess?
  • What moments of my day were life-giving?
  • What moments of my day were life-draining?
  • When did I sense God’s nearness?
  • When did my hectic pace of life crowd out a sense of God’s nearness?
  • When did I give and receive love?
  • When did I feel an absence of love?
  • What did God teach me today?

Spend some time thanking God for His presence throughout the day and thank Him for the things that brought joy. Confess the sins the Spirit brought to mind and receive forgiveness because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Visual Examen

Recently, I discovered a more hands-on way to practice Examen in a book titled Praying in Color:  I have adapted this method for our Practicing Lent journey.

For this practice,

  1. Start by downloading and printing a sheet with a geometric pattern that will guide your experience.
  2. In the center of the pattern, write the words of Joshua 1:5: I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
  3. Then, in the spaces closest to the center, write down things for which you are grateful. Did you get a hug from a preschooler? Did you see a spectacular sunset? Write down anything from the last 24 hours that brought you joy.
  4. Next, ask yourself a few questions about your day. In the outer ring of the pattern, write a word or two that recalls these moments:
  • When did I feel closest to God?
  • When did I feel distant?
  • When did I mess up and sin? Where do I need to confess and receive forgiveness?

End with a time of confession and thanksgiving. If you like, color the spaces of the design while you pray. Many people find the act of coloring focuses their thoughts. (I suggest that you at least darken the spaces listing your sins so the words are no longer visible–symbolizing God’s cleansing mercy.)

God is with us. But sometimes we forget. Examen helps us appreciate the Lord’s presence in the ordinary and mundane. During this holy season of Lent, appreciate anew Christ’s nearness.

Examen helps us appreciate the Lord's presence in the ordinary and mundane. Click To Tweet

Next step: Download and print the Examen pattern. For a summary of the Visual Examen practice and a list of Scirptures that will guide your practice–Click here. 

 

The Characters of Christmas: The Shepherds

TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY

Good news.

Doesn’t your heart do a happy dance when you hear that phrase?

For me, this year started out with a lot of bad news. My husband was diagnosed with lymphoma. A friend of mine lost her battle with lung cancer. Life seemed to be one long string of bad news.

But in the middle of the year things started to turn around. My husband, John, responded well to chemotherapy and we rejoiced when his oncologist gave us the good news that he is officially in remission. Then my daughter shared the happy news that she and her husband are expecting baby number four. And the cherry on top was the news that my daughter and her family are taking an a sabbatical from their work in China and will be here in the U.S. for six months.

Lots of good news!

I bet the shepherds near Bethlehem on that Christmas night felt much the same way. The whole nation of Israel had been groaning under Roman rule. They were tired of seeing foreign soldiers in the streets. They were tired of obeying a ruler who lived far away. Life seemed like a long string of bad news.

So when the angel announced that he had good news for them, he immediately had the shepherds’ attention:

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

THE shepherdsThe shepherds didn’t wast any time in going to see what all the good news was about. They raced to Bethlehem to see the baby and immediately told other the good news (Luke 2:17). They praised God for all they had seen and heard (Luke 2:20).

As I think about the shepherd’s response I am humbled. 

You see, the good news they received did not immediately change their financial situation. Sharing the good news probably gave the their 15 minutes of fame, but it didn’t get them wealth or power.

Still, they realized that this was the best good news and so they told others and praised God.

I, on the other hand, may not always be exuberant about spiritual good news. I can’t wait to tell everyone the happy news that my grandchildren are coming for Christmas, but I may be timid about sharing the best news of Jesus coming for Christmas. I may be brave about talking about my new book, but may be timid about talking about the new life I have in Christ.

So this Christmas I’m praying that I will be more like the shepherds–rejoicing in the best news ever!

This Christmas rejoice in the best news ever--Jesus Christ is born! Click To Tweet

Jesus Christ is born! We are rescued from sin and death! In Christ we have life and peace! We are welcomed into God’s family. 

Next step: I would love to hear your good news! Share any good news you received this year in the comments below. And think of one way you can share the best news of all this Christmas!

When You Struggle to Rejoice

 

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Does that command in Philippians 4:4 make you wince?

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I certainly have days when it’s hard to be full of joy. Hard to rejoice in anything.

And what is rejoicing anyway?

I looked up the word rejoice in my Greek dictionary and found that it comes from the word chairo.

It carries the idea of being glad about something. It is the picture of a person who is euphoric over something that has happened. Other words to describe chairo would be overjoyed, elated, ecstatic, exhilarated, thrilled, jubilant, or even rapturous. (from Sparkling Gems From the Greek, p. 682)

When I read that I asked myself–when was the last time I was purely ecstatic about God? When did I feel thrilled in God’s presence?

I think it’s been too long.

But perhaps it’s because I keep looking for joy in other things. I expect to find it in success. Or friendship.

I wait for joy to happen when everything goes according to my plan.

And because that isn’t very likely, joy remains elusive.

Perhaps I should be glad that I can’t always find joy in something other than Jesus. Because then in my desperation, I’m forced to look to the only reliable Source of joy–my Savior.

God doesn’t tell us to be euphoric over success, or achievement, or even cute shoes because none of those are lasting.

God asks to be elated in Him.

Question: What has brought you joy in the past week?

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Where Do You Find Joy?

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Joy can be an elusive commodity. I often wish it were available at my corner convenience store. (In fact I saw a convenience store in China named Easy Joy. You can read about it here.) Because I am searching for joy I have been diving into God’s Word to find out what God had to say on the subject.

One thing I learned is that:

Joy is found in God’s presence.

Psalms 16:11 says:

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ( NIV 1986)

God fills me with joy in His presence. There’s no doubt about it. When I am turned toward God, looking at Him, I feel joy. When I am facing my problems, I feel anxiety, disappointment, and doubt.

Where do you feel closest to God?

For me, one of the places I feel closest to my Creator is when I am in nature. Places like the Shawneee National Forest in the picture above make me realize that God is so much bigger, so much more original, so much more amazing than my mind can comprehend. Looking at what He has made helps me to see Him.

But I live in a city and it requires time and effort for me to get out into nature. I admit–I don’t make that effort very often.

God tapped me on the shoulder and asked:

Wouldn’t it make sense to go often where you feel closest to me?

Whether it is in a brick and mortar church or a forest cathedral, shouldn’t we yearn to go where God seems near? Whether it’s sitting in a quiet room listening to music or skiing down a snowy mountain, shouldn’t we make the effort to go where we can almost touch Him?

Even though it’s February, even though it’s cold. I’m going to go outside and worship. I’m going where I sense God is near.

Question: Where do you feel closest to God?

Book Review: Fight Back With Joy

HowToFightBackWithJoy“More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.”

Author Margaret Feinberg makes this profound observation in her new book Fight Back With Joy.

Her journey with joy began by choosing “joy” as her one word for the year. She expected the year to be a mix of giddy feelings, spreading kindness, and banning worry. But in the middle of this year of joy, life threw another ingredient into the mix: cancer. Not a very common ingredient in a recipe for joy. Fight Back With Joy is Margaret’s story of how she found joy in the midst of pain.

But the book isn’t just a retelling of Margaret’s battle with cancer. Instead, she writes for all of us who fight for joy in our life battles with money troubles, broken relationships, and painful loneliness. Through her story and the stories of other joy-fighters in Scripture, Margaret gives all of us the tools to discover joy in the midst of life’s heartaches.

Margaret writes:

The Bible insists that joy is more than a feeling: it’s an action. We don’t just sense joy; we embody it by the way we respond to the circumstances before us.

What is the genesis of joy? I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us.

This resonates with me because I have found this to be true. If I simply take time to remember God’s fierce love even when deadlines loom, over-packed schedules crush my soul, and life comes crashing in, I am comforted. When I take the time to hear God whisper, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) my heart pushes back the deadlines, the busyness, and the looming darkness to rest in the joy of God’s grace.

Margaret reminds us that no matter what life brings, God can help us fight our way back to joy. Her book and Bible study give us the tools to win the battle.

Purchase the book here and here and the Bible study here!

Question: How do you fight for joy?

How to Live with a Holy Longing

HowToLiveWithAHolyLonging

 

A holy longing.

I love that phrase.

There are a lot of things I long for: my family nearby, time with friends, a little more success, a new handbag, dark chocolate that has no calories. The list could go on and on.

I tend to beat myself up about this because the really disturbing thing is that even when one of my desires is met, I’m not immediately satisfied. Instead of sitting back and thinking–Now I have everything I want, all is well–I start wanting the next thing on my list.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what is wrong with me. After all, I’ve been a Christian a long time. I should have made a little more progress on this contentment thing.

 

Then I read this quote by Augustine:

The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing.

Suddenly everything made sense. A good Christian will not be satisfied here on earth. In our hearts we will always be longing for more because we were made for more than this world. No matter how big our houses are, or how successful we are, or how much money we have in the bank, we will naturally want more. While all of those things can be good things, they won’t truly satisfy.

2 Corinthians 5:2 puts it this way:

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

In this life we groan, because whatever we have now simply can’t be enough. We yearn for the time when we will be in heaven, perfected in holiness united with Christ.

Perhaps this is one of those unlikely truths in God’s kingdom, but when I realized that I won’t be satisfied while here on earth, I began to be more content.

To me, living with a holy longing means:

  • I don’t have everything I want–but God has given me some amazing gifts–I can be thankful.
  • I don’t have everything I desire–but I’m trusting that my Lord is leading me on an amazing adventure–I can watch in expectation for His plan.
  • I don’t have everything I long for–but I know that someday I will–I can begin to hold my Savior’s hand with patience.

All my little wantings–all my silly desires for cute shoes and dazzling success–are actually a shadow of something deeper:

a holy longing.

Question: How would you describe a holy longing?

 

 

Where Joy is Found

happiness and peace

Where do you find happiness? Where do you look for joy?

I often think I can find happiness in this world. So I outline bigger goals, work harder and longer at achieving them. I buy more beautiful things or schedule more fun in my life.

But happiness in this world is elusive. The moment I’m within arm’s reach of my manufactured bliss, it seems to move down the block.

Lately I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. And I especially like what he has to say about happiness:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on… That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

All my reaching for more–more success, more things, more activities–does not bring me true happiness.

Because true happiness and joy are only found in God.

Question: In what other things have you sometimes tried to find happiness? Did it work?

When You’re Struggling to Rejoice

phil 4-4

Does that command in Philippians 4:4 make you wince?

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I certainly have days when it’s hard to be full of joy. Hard to rejoice in anything.

And what is rejoicing anyway?

I looked up the word rejoice in my Greek dictionary and found that it comes from the word chairo.

It carries the idea of being glad about something. It is the picture of a person who is euphoric over something that has happened. Other words to describe chairo would be overjoyed, elated, ecstatic, exhilarated, thrilled, jubilant, or even rapturous. (from Sparkling Gems From the Greek, p. 682)

When I read that I asked myself–when was the last time I was purely ecstatic about God? When did I feel thrilled in God’s presence?

I think it’s been too long.

But perhaps it’s because I keep looking for joy in other things. I expect to find it in success. Or friendship.

I wait for joy to happen when everything goes according to my plan.

And because that isn’t very likely, joy remains elusive.

Perhaps I should be glad that I can’t always find joy in something other than Jesus. Because then in my desperation, I’m forced to look to the only reliable Source of joy–my Savior.

God doesn’t tell us to be euphoric over success, or achievement, or even cute shoes because none of those are lasting.

God asks to be elated in Him.

Question: What has brought you joy in the last week?

God is a God of Celebration?

This month has been a time of celebration for my family. My son (the baby of the family) got married on August 9! My husband performed the service, I sang a song, the little grandsons were all ring bearers. At the reception we feasted, laughed, and danced until our feet ached.

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August 9th was not only my son’s wedding day, but my wedding anniversary! Here’s a picture of John and me with our wedding photo.

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This August 9 will be a time of celebration that will live long in my memory.

Did you know our God is a God of celebration?

For much of my life, that thought seemed incongruous with the Lord I knew. Growing up, God seemed to be a God of serious thought and solemn ceremonies, not a God of rejoicing and celebrating.

But looking closer in the Scriptures, I see God truly is a God of celebration. In the Old Testament Yahweh commanded His chosen people to observe seven feasts each year. For three of these feasts they were to abandon their work and travel to Jerusalem to celebrate their God (Deuteronomy 16:16). These were times of feasting and rejoicing—times to thank God for what He had done for them in the past and revel in the blessings He had bestowed on them in the present.

In the New Testament Jesus was known as a partier. The Pharisees criticized Him for eating and drinking with sinners (Matthew 9:11). People wondered why the Pharisees and John the Baptist’s followers fasted, but Jesus’ disciples went on eating and drinking (Luke 6:33). Parties were a favorite theme in Jesus’ parables. The people in His stories celebrated finding a lost lamb, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15). Jesus even compared the kingdom of God to a sumptuous banquet (Luke 14:15-24).

Too often my worship of my generous, caring, loving God is sedate, somber, and dull. But I want to learn how to celebrate!

Instead of absent-mindedly mumbling my way through worship on Sunday, I want to passionately express love to my King. Instead of looking cool, calm, and collected, I’m going to clap along with the praise songs and sing the hymns at the top of my lungs.

Maybe I’ll even dance. Some churches even use liturgical dance to celebrate our awesome God. I may not dance in church, but maybe I can do it in the privacy of my own home. Admittedly this may feel a bit risky and undignified. But I will be in good company. King David was criticized by his wife, Michal, when He worshiped without inhibitions. David was focused on praising God and not on how he looked. He told Michal, “I will celebrate before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:21 emphasis mine).

So this week celebrate our awesome God. Sing and clap and dance your worship!

Question: Give your reaction to the statement: Our God is a God of celebration.


Three Simple Things to Help You Find Joy in God’s Presence

Lighted candle. Silver cross. Digital timer.

What do these three items have in common?

At first glance in might not seem they have any connection.

But all three items proved very useful in my quest for my joy.

I have been concentrating on finding joy in God’s presence. Because really, the Lord is the only reliable source of joy. Sunny days make me happy, but this past week we’ve had rain almost every day. Friends bring a smile to my face, but sometimes they are busy–too busy to get together. I love chocolate, but not what it does to my hips.

However, whenever I turn my attention toward God, I discover joy.

So I set out how to do that more often. I asked myself: How could I remind myself to stop and turn my heart to Christ at different times during the day?

Here are three things that worked for me:

1. I lit a candle during my devotional time in the morning. Somehow this made Jesus feel more present as I read His Word to me that day. Christ, the Light of the world, filled the room, illuminated Scripture, and chased all the dark out my heart.

2. I took a small silver cross that usually sits on a bookcase in the family room and started placing it in odd places around the house. Because the cross had sat in that one place on the bookshelf so long, it had become almost invisible. Now when I saw it in the kitchen, near my computer, on my vanity tray it reminded me: Jesus is here. My Savior loves me. Christ makes this place sacred.

3. I bought a new digital timer and put it near my computer. I set it for 20 minutes or 35 minutes or any other random time. When my new little gadget beeped, it reminded me to stop what I was doing for a minute, close my eyes, and put myself in God’s presence. Sometimes I would also take the time to listen to a Christian song that would help me see Christ in my mind’s eye. Another way to use this technique would be to set an alarm on your watch or phone to beep at various times during the day to remind you–God is here.

God is here. What an amazing thought! He is always near, but I don’t usually pay attention.

What I found was that when I did pay attention, I found joy. Joy in that moment. Joy that spilled out into all the other moments in my day.

Joy is found in God’s presence.

And these small items helped me to remember:

God is here.

 Question: What do you do to remind yourself that God is near?