Second, taking pictures puts me on the right side of the camera. As long as I can stay away from that nosy lens, I can imagine that I actually look the way I do when I look at myself in the mirror. No awkward angles. No unflattering poses. No ruthless inventory of how I really look.
The same kind of thing happens in the spiritual realm. There are plenty of ways to pose so that we get a flattering, but dishonest look at ourselves. That’s unhealthy for two reasons. First, it can put us in denial of something that can really hurt us in the long run. Second, it can produce shame that blinds us to our great, great value to God and to the world.
How would you like a strategy for taking an honest inventory of your heart and soul?
Maybe I should phrase that a different way…
Do you need a strategy for taking an honest inventory of your heart and soul? I don’t really care whether you want it or not.
Here are eight questions that can turn the lights on in your spiritual life. They can be used alone or together. You can go through them in 15 minutes, or an hour, or an entire day. The questions are based on Paul’s energetic series of charges to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).
Take a few minutes or however long you can. Get alone with a journal, legal pad, or an electronic tablet and write down some notes based on your first response to these questions:
1. What is God doing right now that I can rejoice in?
Careful how you answer that. There is always a reason to rejoice… not so much because of how your circumstances are going, but because of what God is doing. Rejoicing is the result of being in God’s presence, no matter what the circumstances are. So… for a minute forget what the economists or politicians are doing. Forget what the devil or celebrities are doing. What is God doing right now, and how can you rejoice in it?
2. What do I need to talk to God about?
Specifically, what’s going on in your thoughts and feelings right now? If you are to pray without ceasing, dare you talk to God about the ideas, dreams, memories or images that have passed through your mind in the last 15 minutes? Dare you open your heart and confess your truest feelings, whether they’re “presentable” or not? Remember, you can talk to him about anything.
3. What am I grateful for?
Be specific. Saying “I’m just thankful for everything” is in truth being thankful for nothing. “In everything give thanks” means there is in every life point a reason to say thank you to God. That includes the heartbreaks as well as the high points. As Oswald Chambers said, “If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.”
4. Am I resisting or quenching the Spirit in any way?
Most of these questions tend to generate almost-instant answers. What was your instant answer to this one? If the Holy Spirit promises to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, He’ll be glad to respond to this question for you. Look for attitudes, points of resistance, selfish motives or unloving actions, among others.
5. What am I hearing or reading that speaks to me (whether I like it or agree with it or not)?
Paul said not to take prophesying lightly. But I take this also to mean being aware of any recurring or compelling theme that appears to be coming from the Lord. The problem isn’t that God isn’t speaking – it’s often that we haven’t taken the time to listen.
6. What am I neglecting to do that I know is right?
When God speaks to us, it nearly always comes with a desired response of faith or obedience. Sometimes heaven seems like brass because we haven’t responded to the last thing the Lord led us to do. What have you put off for later, avoided, or gotten too busy to do? Who have you ignored or mistreated? Or who have you refused to forgive?
7. What needs to be reflected on, evaluated, examined, and then held on to or rejected?
Test all things, Paul said, and hold on to what is good. Some things don’t come with instant answers. They need further thought or inquiry. Some opinions or positions you have may need to be revisited. Just important, some truths or practices or relationships have stood the test of time for a reason, and they need to be held onto. Don’t let them slip away!
8. Have I said or done anything that would seem questionable or evil to a total stranger or those who know me best?
Meddling time. Paul didn’t say flee evil, but all appearances of it. Hey, I know about your liberty and living under grace. I get it. But I also understand that it’s possible to rationalize (with your rational lies) that God and everybody else “understands” when the truth is, you’re the only one who doesn’t understand. It’s one thing to do whatever it is you do when you’re alone. It’s another thing to do it in secret. As my friends in Recovery say, “You’re as sick as your secrets.”
The ability to take a fearless and searching inventory of the heart is what separates a growing, liberated life from one who is stagnating or going backwards. Maybe it’s time for you to come over to the other side of the camera.
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