9 Steps for Self Examination

Photo Credit: nathanmac87 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: nathanmac87 via Compfight cc

“The hardest person to be honest with is yourself.” I don’t know who said it, but it certainly rings true for me. Honest self examination, though, is an essential spiritual discipline. In order to plot a course to where we are going, we have to know where we are starting. I’m really talking about confession – acknowledging our sin and our need for God’s grace in our lives. We know confession is essential, but many times we limit confession to our actions. In Mark 7:14-23 we find Jesus teaching His disciples that what really defiles a person comes from within—from the heart. Growth in Christ necessitates times for personal reflection, admission of faults and failures, and repentance. Here are 9 steps to help you in practicing the art of self examination. 

1. Dedicate time. Real self-examination takes time. Of course prayer should be a daily discipline, and confession should be part of one’s prayer. In addition to that daily time, though, I’m talking about carving out an hour or more periodically, maybe weekly, to spend focused time in prayer for reflection and introspection. If we stay busy we don’t have to hear from God. If we don’t hear from God, we don’t have to do anything about what He says. Sound familiar? It’s flawed logic. Seldom do we keep margin in our lives, but we need to set apart some dedicated time to take a deliberate look at ourselves. For me this is usually Saturdays (and since we’re being honest, no, it doesn’t happen every week!).
2. Use a journal. Writing down your thinking can help you organize your thoughts. Also, putting thoughts down on paper can create space for you to think deeper and beyond the clutter. Spelling doesn’t count. No one is checking for grammar. This is just for you.
3. Pray with your Bible open. All the questions you need for a thorough examination are found in God’s Word.
4. Ask God to tell you the truth about yourself. Pray, “Search me, O God, and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). Don’t just say the words, take time to meditate on this request until you really mean it.
5. Ask specific questions. Again, Scripture is our guide. Turn the words of a passage like Mark 7:21-22 into a series of questions. It’s a thorough list where Jesus is talking about the things in our hearts. I have written these questions in my journal so that I can make reference to them and meditate on them one by one. Spend time praying through each one, being as specific as you can:

Evil thoughts – What evil thoughts do I have?
Sexual immorality – Is sexual immorality in my thoughts or actions a part of my life?
Theft – Have I stolen things, or even ideas, from others?
Murder – Have I wished someone didn’t exist or was completely out of my life?
Adultery – Have I acted or thought in adulterous ways?
Coveting – Have I wanted something that belongs to someone else?
Wickedness – Am I depraved in my thoughts?
Deceit – Do I lie or mislead others?
Sensuality – Do I seek to gratify the pleasures of my senses?
Envy – Do I look at others with a jealous eye?
Slander – Do I speak against someone or cause others to question someone’s character?
Pride – Do I think more of myself than I should?
Foolishness – Do I waste or squander that which I have been given – time, talents, resources, or relationships?

6. Confess your sins. As you meditate on Mark 7, confess wherever you find agreement with the passage. That’s what the word “confession” means. It is agreeing with God that these are sins in your life.
7. Believe the Gospel. Remember that you don’t have to walk in sin. We need Jesus and can take comfort that his sacrificial death is sufficient to cover all our sin. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
8. Don’t live in shame. The great weapon of the enemy is keeping us in shame and guilt over the darkness of our past attitudes and actions. Again, turn to the Scriptures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
9. Commit and repent. Close your time of confession and examination with a resolution to walk in submission to the Spirit of God and replace his fruit for the desires of your flesh (see Galatians 5:16-24). Pray for God to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you (Psalm 51:10). Consider Jesus’ command to the woman caught in sin as if he was speaking to you. “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). True repentance doesn’t happen in the prayer room. It happens when we step back into the world and face the temptation to sin again.

Music is also a part of my routine. Ending my time with a song like Matt Maher’s “Christ is Risen” helps me to praise God and remember his promises.

So, open your calendar right now. Look at the week ahead and schedule an appointment with the Lord for a time of self examination. Keep these questions handy or search the Scripture and develop your own.

What practices help you reflect and renew with God? Share your stories so we can grow together!