Search me, God, and know my heart.
Try me, and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the everlasting way. 1
It is good to take time to regularly examine the Bible, but it is far better to let the Bible take time to regularly examine us. The former gives us knowledge of the scriptures that can puff us up. The latter gives us knowledge of ourselves that humbles us, opening the door to repentance and the building-up that is of God. The former happens as we read and study the scriptures. The latter happens afterwards as we take time to meditate on what we have read and studied.
The Bible is not a religious textbook or doctrinal repository. It is the word of God: living, active, and powerful. It has the power to probe our minds, our hearts, our inmost being (Hebrews 4:12). But the benefit is only experienced by those who submit to its scrutiny.
The examination of the scriptures is usually painful. Knowing this, I don't let God's word examine me as often as I should. I expect this is due to fear of what it will reveal. A phrase from The Neverending Story comes to mind:
"Confronted by their true selves,
most men run away, screaming!"
I already know there's bad stuff deep inside me, but I'm comfortable keeping this knowledge as general or theoretical as can be. I don't want to be confronted with the specifics. However, avoiding the doctor for fear of his diagnosis of cancer will do serious harm if there really is cancer. There can be no cure without there first being a diagnosis.
Regardless of how God's word makes me feel, it is always a good thing to submit to His probing of the deeper recesses of my heart. How else can those fleshly strongholds I'm only vaguely aware of be fully revealed in all their ugliness and torn down? It is those very areas that have hindered my walk with the Lord since I've known Him. Why should I let them continue to obstruct God's will for me?
I'd like to share a few of these painful, probing scripture passages that have been on my mind lately. You will probably find them very familiar and not painful at all, especially if you just give them a quick read-through and forget about them. But the more I let them examine me, the clearer I see the true condition of my heart. I find myself becoming more desperate for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to work in me God's cure.
Love Of The World Or The Father?
Don't love the world,
neither the things that are in the world.
If anyone loves the world,
the Father's love isn't in him. 2
I like to think I don't love the world—at least not in the bad way. But when it comes down to specifics, there are some things in the world I do find attractive and pleasing: certain foods, books, songs, movies, TV shows, jokes, philosophies, … rollercoasters.
But Jesus presented an exclusive choice. I can either love the world, or I can love God. I can't do both. I don't even have the option of loving the world less than God. I am not to love the world at all. (I'm talking love here, not the mere use of the world's things. We can't isolate ourselves from the world. We have to be in the world, but not of it …just as Jesus was.)
Of course, it's easy to say, "I love God and not the world," but what do my actions show? What kinds of thoughts do I find pleasing? What motivates me? What would I rather spend my time doing? If I examine myself according to my thoughts and actions, will I find I love the Father or hate Him?
Thorns Or Fruit?
"Others fell among thorns.
The thorns grew up and choked them.
this is he who hears the word,
but the cares of this age
and the deceitfulness of riches
choke the word,
and he becomes unfruitful." 3
These words of Jesus are frequently on my mind. The "cares of the world" and the "deceitfulness of riches" are the things that the world is concerned about: food, clothing, family, employment, a good retirement, entertainment, comfort, pleasure, happiness. These are not evil in themselves, but they become evil when they form the basis of my goals, desires and motivations. This happens all too often, and when it does, Jesus ends up taking the backseat in my life. Then I find it more difficult to hear Him speak to me. This hinders my growth in Christ to the point where it becomes impossible to bear fruit.
The fruit that love of the world prevents is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24), which is headed up with love. So love of the world prevents the love of the Spirit. If I allow the world to attract me, I shouldn't wonder that I'm not making progress in loving my enemies, growing in patience toward those who irritate me, growing in my relationship with the Lord, and so on.
What thorns have I allowed, and even now am allowing and nurturing, in my life? (It's time to do an inventory!) The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches are the number one cause for stunted spiritual growth. God only knows how much spiritual fruit I've already dropped prematurely due to the thorns in my life!
Sowing To My Flesh Or The Spirit?
Don't be deceived.
God is not mocked,
for whatever a man sows,
that he will also reap. 4
As any farmer knows, if you want to harvest wheat, you need to sow wheat. You can't sow one thing and expect something else to crop up. This God-given law has been in effect since the beginning of creation and it can't be circumvented.
For he who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption.
But he who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 5
Another sure God-given law is presented in this passage. I can sow to my flesh, or I can sow to the Holy Spirit. Which one I sow to determines what I reap. It matters not what I intend to reap, desire to reap, or think I will reap. If I sow to the flesh (i.e., my desires) I will reap corruption. If I sow to the Spirit (i.e., His desires), I will reap eternal life (which is the kind of life, not just the length). I believe there is no way around this; it is just as sure as the law the farmer relies on.
When it comes down to it, sowing to the flesh is no different than sowing thorns. So why do I still sow to my flesh at times? I don't know. I may do many good things for the right reasons, but if I also cater to my fleshly desires, why should I expect a good harvest?
Thorns are whatever I do that hinders the life and work of the Holy Spirit in me, and they must be dealt with right away. Thorns start out seemingly innocent enough, but as time goes on, they grow harder and become more entrenched – more difficult and painful to pull up. I must pull them up anyway by denying myself in those areas that grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and I must sow to the Spirit instead.
Appearances Or Fruit?
"Remain in me, and I in you.
As the branch can't bear fruit by itself,
unless it remains in the vine,
so neither can you,
unless you remain in me.
I am the vine.
You are the branches.
He who remains in me, and I in him,
the same bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing." 6
Jesus' words search me in various ways here:
As one branch connected to the Vine, I desire to look good, with lots of healthy green leaves. But God is not concerned with looks. He did not plant the Vine for decoration but for fruit. Am I concerned with appearances, or the goal at hand?
Assuming I desire fruit, why do I desire it? The Father placed me in Christ so that I would bear much fruit for Him. Is my desire to satisfy myself or get the admiration of others, or is it simply to satisfy God?
Twice Jesus stated the absolute necessity of abiding in Him to produce fruit. I can do nothing without Him. But do I really believe this? How essential do I view my connection to Christ for hour-by-hour living?
Awareness of my need to abide in Christ is good, but am I really abiding in Him? It is very easy to fool myself here. Abiding in Christ is not just listening to Him or agreeing with Him, but doing what He says. Do I do what He says?
But be doers of the word, and not only hearers,
deluding your own selves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror;
for he sees himself, and goes away,
and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. … 7
The word of God provides a thorough examination of the heart. If we were graded on the results of our examination, most of us (myself included) would not even receive a C-. (The few who have A's or B's probably wouldn't be aware of it anyway.)
But even with a failing grade, this examination is a good thing if it leads us to call out to God for the grace of a lasting change of heart, mind, and actions.
Without this change the examination is useless. It is like someone who looks in a mirror, and then leaves and forgets what he looks like. This is a believer whose Christianity is relegated to a limited portion of his life: Sunday mornings, a devotional reading, or the occasional prayer. Jesus Christ is something added to life, rather than what life is all about. There is no continual meditation and communion with the Father and Son. There is no fellowship of the Spirit. There is little difference between that person and the world.
This is a man who has fooled himself, and is probably plagued with doubts. I do not want to be this man.
"Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine,
and does them,
I will liken him to a wise man, …
Everyone who hears these words of mine,
and doesn't do them
will be like a foolish man, …" 8
The way out of self-deception and into real, tangible, spiritual union with Jesus is to act on what He says. I can be both a doctrinal genius and a fool at the same time if I don't obey my Lord.
The examination continues, but the time for action is now. Let us examine ourselves closely, grit our teeth, and through the power of the Holy Spirit painfully pull out all the thorns in our lives, living only for the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path.
Examine me, Yahweh, and prove me. Try my heart and my mind. 9