As we enter Holy Week, it is appropriate that the subject of today’s message on praying is titled “Prayer Checkup”. We are all no doubt familiar with checkups in other aspects of our lives – particularly the importance of medical checkups; but spiritual checkups? Sounds like going to the confessional or having the minister visit and being expected to answer questions about our faith that we really might not feel comfortable discussing. Well, be assured, it involves neither of those things; although, it does involve examining our lives a little closer than perhaps we are used to – in the matter of our spiritual health.
When we are challenged to let Scripture shape our lives, to examine our motives for hints of self-serving, and seek connection and/or correction from the living God, we are going through a spiritual checkup. Packer applies this to prayer specifically as prayer is the vehicle through which we engage with God in relationship and it is in and through this relationship that we seek for God to give us our checkup. The passage of Scripture which is the focus of this message is from Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (vv.23-24)
As mentioned before, Packer is concerned more with the development of our relationship with God and how we view that relationship. Our actual prayers in words come from the ground we prepare as we enter into the presence of the One we call our Lord, our Friend, our Companion on the journey. And a vital part of that preparation is what he calls a “prayer checkup.” When we come to regard a spiritual checkup as a necessary spiritual discipline and give it its proper place in our lives, we will be more honest in our prayers. As we take ourselves to our doctor and expect that person to examine all aspects of our physical and mental health to help us discover areas of weakness that can be helped through medical treatment, we come to God and expect God to help us examine all aspects of our spiritual health to help us discover areas in our lives that God can help us with that we might become healthier in our spirits, our minds and our bodies.
First God checks up on our faith. This happens when we ask ourselves questions such as: Do we trust God, do we trust Christ? Do we look out for and take careful note of God’s promises; do we rely on God to keep those promises? Does our faith bring us peace of heart – peace with God through forgiveness, peace with circumstances through leaning on the Lord, peace with people because through faith we love them? Does our faith hold up in crises or give way under pressure?
Second God checks up on our repentance. Our repentance is not about regret and remorse for things gone wrong but a change of life that we are constantly seeking to make. We are to be serious about tracking down and turning away from all the false steps of our past. Remember the Iona Community interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer when we said: Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. We ask for forgiveness but we also ask for help to change.
Third God checks up on our love. Love is the most basic command of God for life and the one that we all have the most difficulty with - whether it be love of neighbour or enemy or even self. Our checkup is a way to be more conscious of how we are seeking to express our love to God, our love to neighbour or stranger and even of how we are approaching the love of our own self - the person we are in God’s eyes.
Fourth God checks up on our humility. Packer describes humility as honest realism and realistic honesty. Genuine humility comes from a desire in us to be Godward in direction and to let that mind that was in Christ Jesus – to quote Paul – be the same mind that is in us. When we invite God’s help in self-examination we will find ourselves asking questions such as: Am I able to joyfully perform tasks in my church that have little or no visibility? Do I regularly credit others for their contributions? Can I value and enjoy people who are not normally considered respectable? Are my thoughts toward the difficult people in my life infused with grace? Do I honour others with my thoughts, words and actions? As we learn to honestly say yes to questions like these, we are learning humility.
Fifth God checks up on our wisdom. Time spent in reading the Scriptures, meditating on the words, and exploring the meaning of the Scriptures bring to us a depth of wisdom to help us find the way through this life, what life itself is meant to be and how to cope with life, its ups and downs. Wisdom helps us to form strategies, calculate consequences, channel passions, discern and avoid foolishness and cherish peace and harmony.
Finally God checks up on our focus. When you really think about it, when we invite God to check up on our faith, our repentance, our love, our humility and our wisdom, we are inviting him to check up on our focus. How far have our faith, repentance, love humility and wisdom combined to make us clear-sighted about our goal in life and the priorities it brings. God wants us to discern whether we’ve got life together or whether, as yet, we haven’t. Probably the second is true for most of us but that doesn’t mean that we are done for. It just means that we need to keep trying, to keep being open to God’s checkup, to being open to trusting God to continue drawing us along the path.
We began this message with Psalm 139: “Search me, O God.” The Psalmist knew that he needed God to check him out. He knew that he needed God to examine him so that he could become more aware of his spiritual health and his relationship to God, to himself and to others. The searching of God – the eternal physician – happens as the teachings found in the Scriptures impress themselves upon us and then the indwelling of the Holy Spirit carries those teachings to the depths of our being where they can help us to help ourselves.
A prayer checkup will help us be more focused as we seek to come into the presence of our God and to engage our friend and Lord in honest meaningful conversation. So let us ask God to lead us in the way everlasting; let him search us that we may see what he sees and let him show us what needs to change for the health of our spirit and life. Let us invite God to examine our inner being, the part that no one else sees so we may be led into spiritual health finding our faith enlivened, our desire to follow God deepened and our prayer life strong and engaging. May we not hesitate to go with God!