“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? ” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Growing spiritually isn’t automatic. Left to our natural inclinations, we’ll move away from God, not towards him.
Personal examination doesn’t need to be complex to be powerful.
Great spiritual progress can be made by simply asking, “God, did I do what God wanted me to do today?” Listen to God, and allow your convictions to come into focus through prayer and reflection.
There are times when a deeper examination is necessary for growth and breakthrough. Before we get started, a few assumptions to get on the same page:
- I’m defining an action as anything that impacts the world around us. It may be a word, a look, a touch, etc. Illustration1.
- Every action leads to multiple consequences–some of which we observe and some we don’t. Illustration2.
- With these assumptions in place, shouting alone in the woods with no one to hear you is not an “action” because there are no consequences.
When I want to examine one of my past actions, the following five questions frame my rear view mirror:
KNOWLEDGE: What unchanging principles impacted my action? How did my understanding of good/evil, right/wrong, wise/foolish, true/false guide my decision?
WISDOM: How well did I apply the unchanging principle(s) to the specific situation to consider the consequences? Was I able to accurately predict all observable consequences? Did I miss something I should have caught?
DESIRE: What was I my goal, what did I want to accomplish? In a sea of consequences, which few were I looking to achieve?
MOTIVATION: Why did I want what I wanted? It’s possible to want the right things, but for the wrong reasons. This question is subtle, but it’s too important to skip. Two thousand years ago, Jesus criticised the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs6. The warning is still relevant today: looking good without being good is a real temptation for believers. The motivations of the heart are muddy waters! They are difficult to discern because we often have several reasons, they change constantly and they are often in conflict with one another.
ATTITUDE: What was I feeling before I acted? Emotions are often an invisible game changer when they influence our actions. Feeling joy, peace, confidence leads to the best actions. Shame, sadness, anger rarely lead to good actions.
You can’t grade a test without knowing the answers. You can’t judge without a standard. As it relates to our KNOWLEDGE, our perception of truth ought to line up with what God says is true. It’s human nature to think we are right most (or all) of the time. One way we grow spiritually is to give up what we think is true and accept what God says is true.
We want our WISDOM to be accurate. That we take the principles we believe in (which are hopefully God’s principles) and correctly apply them to the current situation. We gain wisdom through prayer, observation, and reflection.
DESIRES are typically very specific because they are tied to the moment of our action. However, following the example of Jesus, we are ought to be serving others. If our act was selfish, we missed the mark. As we look to our MOTIVE, we were either humble or we were not.
Finally, our ATTITUDE ought to be joy, a feeling deeper than happiness because it’s not based on our situations. Joy comes from remembering everything God has done for us and the promise of our eternal future in his presence. This world’s greatest setbacks can’t hold a candle to the indescribable light of living in God’s presence.
The next time you make a mistake, or are surprised by your actions, work through these five questions. It will be slow and feel unnatural. That’s ok. Maybe my questions aren’t a great fit and you need to figure out your own. That’s great, go for it! The goal is to draw closer to God!
Relationships don’t just happen. You know this. They take all kinds of work in several different directions. One foundation for a healthy relationship is communication—speaking and listening.
While the best friendships may not require a strict structure, they do need intentionality and authenticity.
We are intentional when we make the time to talk and listen. Intentionality pushes further: we think through what we want and need to say. We also position our attitude to hear the response and take it to heart.
Of course, none of this is important if we aren’t authentic, telling the truth to ourselves and our friend.
What follows is a simple way to pray with intentionality. There are probably thousands of ways to pray—dig through the old writings and you will find them. I’m not suggesting this is the only pattern—or even the best. Take it for what it’s worth, even if it’s a method that you find lacking: fix it and make one for yourself!
Thank God for his gifts and blessings
Thank God for who he is (good, loving, powerful, etc.)
Appeal to God for help and answers
Appeal to God for others
Confess your sins (pride, ego, mistakes, etc.)
Follow his voice and your conscience
Ezra had money problems: he had too much. He also needed to travel a great distance–four months from Babylon to Jerusalem–which exposed him to theft. He trusted God for protection, but he also took diligent steps to minimize his risks. Ezra divided the treasures among 12 priests and said:
“Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel.” (Ezra 8:29)
Essentially, Ezra said, “Hold on to this stuff, because we’re going to count it all when we get to Jerusalem.” God graciously protected the travelers from thieves, and the 12 people were faithful in their stewardship. Once they got to Jerusalem, Ezra writes:
“Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.” (Ezra 8:34)
The newly rebuilt temple was dedicated to the Lord, paid for by the money Ezra bought. Good times. This part of the story was great (spoiler alert: the next part, not so much).
In our lives, we have accountability for everything but the most important things. We are accountable to our parents (for their rules), teachers (for their assignments), and bosses (for our work). When we drive, we’re accountable to the law and those hidden cops who are keeping the highways safe. Society has built in accountability…for the little things.
But we’re not accountable for the big things. I’m talking about the conditions of our heart: our motives, fantasies, and desires. This kind of accountability has to be chosen, and it’s easy to ignore and fake.
Accountability makes us stronger. Eventually we’ll be held accountable to God. But for the current chapter of our lives, we get to choose it.
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Read the passage two times, make a note of the words, phrases, or verses that don’t make sense. Allow everyone to share their questions without others “answering” or “solving” them.
Without looking at the passage, retell this event in your own words. Once everyone has shared, check the passage to see if anything needs to be added or corrected.
Based on your experience with temptation, how does it work? What are the stages or steps involved? What happens first, second, third, etc.?
In what ways does the spiritual world show up in this passage?
What’s the difference between being “led by the Spirit” and “tempted by the devil? Why did God want this to happen?
Why didn’t Jesus make the bread? He was hungry and later in his ministry, Jesus would feed large crowds of more than 4,000 people and 5,000 people, why wouldn’t he feed himself?
What does this passage teach about the devil?
Where are the physical locations of each temptation? In your opinion, why do these locations matter?
What were the three temptations? Can you come up with some modern-day equivalents?
How does Jesus’ answers address each temptation? In your own words, restate each of Jesus’ answers.
In each of his answers to the devil, Jesus quoted scripture. Why is scripture helpful for fighting temptation?
Satan used scripture in his second temptation, what does this mean? Was Satan wrong or was the scripture wrong?
Why wouldn’t Jesus jump and let the angels catch him (v. 6)? Especially when the angels cam and helped him at the end of this passage…why not let them help in the middle of the event?
As you consider the biggest temptations in your life, pick one of the scriptures below for meditation and memorization:
- “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
- “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
- “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1)
In this scripture, we can see at least three things:
- An invitation
- It is addressed SPECIFICALLY to those in need
- A promise for that need to be met and fulfilled
This means that:
- Invitations call for a response
- Needs call for recognition
- Promises call for trust
Therefore we ought to:
- Respond to God’s invitation. Invitations aren’t meant ignored or just opened—they are offered so that they will be accepted. God is calling us to move forward, come closer to him, the well is open and we must go to it.
- Recognize our need. Drinking water is so much easier when we feel the thirst! Unfortunately, the soul’s thirst is much easier to ignore than our stomach’s thirst. When we know that our soul needs more, we are quick to respond to God’s invitation.
- Trust God’s promise of fulfillment. Trust and hope move us forward. We cannot grow closer to God if we don’t trust his promises. And this trust is ongoing, just like it is in our human relationships. It would be so great if we only needed to trust God once and never doubt again!
These three things—responding, recognizing, trusting—are connected, they aren’t really separate actions. Each one works to strengthen the others.
These few words tell us a lot about God. The invitation is evidence of God’s love—no one is forcing him to draw us closer to his sustaining presence. God knows we are broken, that we are thirsty, and he still loves us. God is trustworthy, the Creator who sustains the universe will also give us the waters we need.
Check out the rest of Isaiah 55 to find out how much his waters will costs us.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.” (Isaiah 54:7)
God is everywhere, but he is in some places more than most. This doesn’t really make much sense and that’s because our finite minds cannot fully understand or explain the Infinite God. Somehow, “more” of God’s presence was in the tabernacle and this scripture speaks to “less” of God’s presence.
So while God is everywhere–there are no gaps in his understanding or attention or power–God does “pull back” and abandon people.
We don’t know how this works, but we do know why God abandons people (in this case, Israel). It’s actually quite simple and unsurprising: God abandons people who are disobedient, those who reject him and his ways.
Another question pops up: How much rejecting does a person need to do before he experiences abandonment from God? I think this is a bad question…or at least the wrong question. This is like asking, “How far can I flirt before I’ve cheated on my spouse?” Scripture doesn’t give us a solid line that fits every person and every situation.
Instead, let us then concern ourselves with absolute obedience and devotion. This will drive us closer to God which is better than wondering how far we can wander from him.
When we fall short, failing enough to be abandoned by God, there is hope. We can trust that we have been abandoned by a God who has deep compassion. He will bring us back. Israel returned home from captivity. Nineveh’s repentance averted destruction. Peter was reinstated. Paul was confronted and called to apostleship.
Let us take hope when we are abandoned by the God of deep compassion, for he will bring us back after a brief moment.
What is it about your life, that you are most excited about?
What are you proud of?
What accomplishments are you eager to share?
Boasting—whether it happens in conversation with others or in the solitude of our hearts—is the act of declaring what we think is good. Some examples:
“My kid scored the winning run.”
“My car is awesome.”
“My income is incredible.”
“My wit is quick.”
Isaiah talked about empty boasting:
“We have heard of Moab’s pride —how great is her arrogance!—of her conceit, her pride and her insolence; but her boasts are empty.” (Isaiah 16:6)
Jeremiah talked about the right kind of boasting:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me…’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
Empty bragging springs from a heart independent from God. Self-sufficient achievements are expressions of prides, arrogance, and conceit. Boasting in the Lord glorifies him.
“My kid scored the winning run. He had very little success all season and this really boosted his spirits.”
“My car is awesome. It’s really old and it’ll probably break down a lot, but I’m thankful I have one. Now my parents don’t have to drive me around any more.”
“My income is incredible. I never thought I’d make this much, it’s more than I need and feel that God is calling me to support your ministry.”
“My wit is quick. My neighbor was really angry, I had no idea what to say. In that moment, God gave me the right words to say.”
Genuine boasting in the Lord puts the spotlight on him.
There are at least two aspects of overconfidence: perceived and actual.
Externally, some people are viewed by others as too confident. These people might be humble on the inside, but people don’t see it. This is a reflection of their foolish lack of self-awareness.
Naturally, some people are too confident on the inside, and their pride is a reflection of their heart.
Most of the time, internal overconfidence is expressed externally. Sometimes, people seem prideful but their hearts are humble.
Both diseases of overconfidence are inconceivably difficult to self diagnose–all those pesky self rationalizations get in the way.
Unfortunately, I haven’t just observed this, I’ve experienced it firsthand. Understanding the symptoms of overconfidence could lead to greater humility.
Perceived overconfidence exchanges inspiration with intimidation or indifference.
When we see the right amount of confidence in others, we are inspired and appreciate their passion. Your favorite singer doesn’t step on the stage sheepishly.
Actual overconfidence exchanges surrender for self-sufficiency .
Rather than trusting God, the self-sufficient place their trust in their own skills and achievements.
Are people intimidated by you? Are they indifferent and apathetic to your ideas? Who gets the spotlight in your heart, is it God or you? Talk to someone in your life to get an outside perspective.
“The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge.”
(a) Where do you find refuge when you are tired, exhausted, hurting or devastated?
(b) Where has God created refuge for you? In what prayers or places or people can you find his power and presence and protection?
(c) How can you get from (a) to (b)?
(d) What is keeping (c) from becoming a reality?