Listen Through Your Life

Want to hear some good news? Think of this. The new life-rhythms required by the stay-at-home order can deepen and bless our lives even after the order is lifted. To help us consider what some of those new life-rhythms might be, I have chosen to take a break from my usual commentary on our Bible reading to share some things we can do to help us remain anchored to God, connected to each other and faithful to our call. For me, it all begins with learning to listen to Jesus.


After comparing the gospel to seed and one’s reception of that seed to four different kinds of soil, Jesus offered this sobering warning. “Be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand—and even more besides! To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them” (Mark 4:24-25 NLT).


Go ahead and read those verses again (seriously, I’ll wait). Learning to listen to Jesus is where staying anchored, connected and faithful all begins. Last week we looked at listening by meditating on Scripture; this week we consider how we can listen by meditating on our lives.


James teaches that doing God’s Word is evidence of hearing (listening to) God’s Word and Paul adds that we can practice doing God’s Word incrementally by simply applying what we already know and adding to it as we mature (James 1:22-25; Philippians 3:15-16). One way to put the Word into practice is by prayerfully reviewing how well our daily actions and attitudes align with Jesus’ teaching. This examination is a daily prayer called the examen (ig-zey-muh n) which guides us as we reflect upon the events of our day.


Reflecting on our lives is not something we Americans do very well. We have no problem evaluating the performance of employees, athletes or technology, but learning to apply Jesus’ teaching by probing the inner workings of our spiritual life can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar. The examen lets us break through the discomfort by using two different categories that help us evaluate how well we’ve listened.


When it comes to spiritual self-examination, one does not only seek to answer “how am I doing” (performance), but also the simpler yet more profound, “how am I” (health). To answer “how am I doing” requires we examine our consciousness. To answer “how am I” requires we examine our conscience.


Examination of Consciousness

How am I doing as a Christian? The question requires a standard against which we can measure our lives and the primary standard is our awareness of God’s constant presence with us.


How aware of God’s presence are you? How confident are you that He will never leave you or forsake you (Psalm 139; Hebrews 13:5)? Does that confidence influence your emotional response to stressful or joyful circumstances? Do you see His hand throughout the day? Are you able to recognize His desires quickly enough to work with Him or do you find that you often miss an opportunity to be used by Him? Prayerfully growing our awareness of God’s presence and activity is what the daily examination of consciousness is all about.


We learn to listen to Jesus when we evaluate how sensitive we were to God’s grace in us and around us, and how we responded to that grace at different points in our day. So, sometime near the end of your day, take 15 minutes to bring the events of your day before God in prayer. While in His presence, ask Him to help you answer a few questions. Where did I see or feel God’s grace today? How did I respond to it? Where did I cooperate with God? Where did I resist Him? Although very simple in approach, the impact can be profound. But being aware of God’s presence is only one-half of this sustaining practice; we also need to heighten our awareness of sin.


Examination of Conscience

Those who do not take the time to reflect on the motivations behind their actions will be prone to repeat the same actions again and again. When those repeated actions are contrary to Christ’s teaching they deafen us to His voice and so reduce our ability to listen.


The burst of anger that rips through our hearts but remains hidden to the casual observer, the racist thought, the selfish act, these and many other sins remain hidden from others. They also often remain hidden from us because they seem normal to us. It is what we have always done and so we don’t have experience with any other way.


What would happen, though, if at the end of each day you spent 15 minutes comparing your thoughts and deeds to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), the definition of love in I Corinthians 13:1-8, the Ten Commandments or what Jesus has to say in the Sermon on the Mount? Would those hidden faults remain hidden? Not likely. If once a day seems like too much, then what about simply once each week? Consider how this exercise could enhance your ability to worship if you practiced it on Saturday night or Sunday morning.


While Google and Apps can help many enter more fully into practicing the examen, the main thing is to grab a physical or digital notebook and just begin. Find 15 minutes at the end of the day to work through the two exercises and write down what comes to the surface. For added benefit, begin each day by reminding yourself of the things God revealed and watch what happens to how well you are able to listen.


How aware are you of God’s never-ending presence and activity in your life? Why do you do what you do? Do the same sins continue to plague you? These questions are vitally important for anyone who wishes to follow Christ and they can only be answered by regularly reflecting on your life, day by day.


May God’s Spirit help us prepare the soil of our hearts to fully receive His seed.





For those who want more detail…

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits, was known for practicing a daily examination three times each day. In the morning he reflected on the previous night’s conclusions and reaffirmed his course for the new day. At noon he considered the events of the morning and at night, the events of the afternoon. Each examination was about 15 minutes in length and covered five topics successively.


  • The first topic has to do with gratefully acknowledging the gifts God has given over the period under review. The focus is on finding concrete examples of God’s love for you and His presence in your life.
  • The second topic has to do with asking God for the grace to see yourself and your day through His eyes. The focus is on laying aside your own agenda so that you might put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5; I Corinthians 2:16).
  • The third is admitting. Here you consider your sinfulness in thought, word and deed—those things that have alienated you from God and His purposes. Once identified, write the sin down and prayerfully consider ways you can correct the problem. The focus here is eradicating vice and implanting virtue.
  • The fourth topic is repenting. The focus is on turning from your sinful action or attitude and turning toward God in His love and grace.
  • The fifth is resolving to do what we can; working with God to change our hearts. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is the One at work in us, working to align our will and actions for His purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).


With any exercise of this nature we must keep in mind the activity of grace. This effort is designed to bring improvement to our lives by opening ourselves to the Spirit’s work and Christ’s teaching. It does not rely on our strength or our wisdom. Nor is it intended to be a tool which we then use to beat ourselves into a guilt-ridden puddle. It is all about opening ourselves to a loving God who fully accepts us as we are and allowing Him to help us see us as we are and change us from within (Psalm 139:23,24). It is primarily a prayer of intercession and meditation; a habit which for centuries has helped people listen to Jesus more intently.