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Who Can Discern Their Own Errors?

Richard Beck offered a few reflections on prayer this morning that resonate with my own experience and practice. Prayer doesn’t come naturally to me either. I, too, have been “saved” by the discipline of a regular practice. I, too need a morning routine to reroute me from less productive ways of starting my days, whether it’s uncritically beginning to feed at the trough of the entertainment news cycle or engaging in fruitless online discourse or whatever. I like what Beck says about how the way we “imprint” our day matters. If the first thing I reach for in the morning is my phone or my laptop, my heart and mind begin to be shaped in ways that are deeply unhealthy.

So, I, too, try to cultivate better practices. My habit lately has been to rise early, make a pot of coffee, light a candle, grab my bible, prayer book and prayer beads, and begin the day in a quieter space, with better words. It’s not magic, of course. My mind drifts. My prayers occasionally seem lethargic and lifeless. Sometimes the words seem mechanical. To combat this, I try to just sit in silence. Sometimes I’ll just stare at a little olive wood carving of Christ on the cross that I picked up in Bethlehem earlier this year. Staring at Jesus is a good cure for most every ill. I try to spend at least half an hour this way. At the very least, it’s time that my brain is not occupied in the frantic ways that tend to become my default without this discipline.

One of the readings I encountered in prayer this morning was Psalm 19.  I was struck in a new way by verses 12-14:

But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

Someone (I forget who at the moment) once said that we don’t simply read the Psalms; the Psalms read us. How very true. There is a spiritual and psychological awareness and honesty to these verses that digs into our souls in uncomfortable ways. We don’t tend to see our own blind spots very well. That’s kind of why they’re called blind spots. We’re quite good at sniffing out the errors of others. Our own? Not so much. We have too much invested in not discerning these errors. Too much of our own pride and self-sufficiency, too much of our own identity is tied up in not facing these errors honestly. And then of course there’s the dead ends that we quite willfully and cheerfully blunder down. These are easier to spot but at least as hard to change. And gradually, the sin that we hate but cannot leave begins to rule over us.

It’s not exactly a pleasant reading of our souls, but it is a necessary one.

And what can we do but ask but plead for forgiveness?

Forgive me, O God, from the sin that I am too invested in ignoring, from the sin that I willfully chase after. Rule over me instead, for the rulers that I choose are thoughtless and cruel and care little for my soul. Gift me anew with the hope of innocence.


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    St. James once said, (famously or infamously depending on how you have been enculturated into a Christian worldview) “Faith without works is dead” .

    I might add to that, it has been my experience, that worship without a personal prayer schedule, is on life support.

    Wake in the morning, wash yourself. Take 10 minutes in a quiet space before a cruciformed cross and be in the company of our Lord.

    My favorite prayer is when I sit and smile before him and just give thanks for all I am given.

    It will change your life.

    Thanks for this, Ryan.

    September 15, 2018
  2. mike #

    I sense that the warm fuzzy glow of your time in Israel is beginning to wane somewhat as you settle back in to the rut of routine life with the same old pesky temptations and sins.

    I recently listened to a guy who advised that we stop judging ourselves OR our sin any longer, that I train myself to suspend the Knowledge of Good and Evil and accept my life without judgement knowing that Christ is literally living His life through me AS ME by His indwelling Spirit.In essence we accept the fact that we cannot inwardly change ourselves, that only God and God ALONE can create lasting change.

    If we experience no spontaneous prayer scattered throughout our day then there is little that a prayer schedule can do for us IMO.

    September 19, 2018
    • Paul Johnston #

      I like the reference to spontaneous prayer, Mike. Ironically my experiences of spontaneity often revolve around my sinfulness. I think the moment I become consciously aware of wrongdoing is always the best time to confess to the Lord, there is a sincerity of the moment that even a trip to the confessional (I am Roman Catholic) likely lacks.

      As for scheduled morning prayers, I honestly think a revolution of Christian thought and behavior would occur if all Christians spent as little as 10 minutes every morning in conversation with the Lord.

      September 20, 2018
      • mike #

        Yes, an awakened conscience keeps me returning along the well worn path to The Throne of Grace throughout my day, and this serves as a constant reminder of both my depravity and my neediness. “God help me please” has replaced the worn out “I’m sorry” which became meaningless after years and years of over-use for the same repetitive sin(s).

        The spontaneity I referred to is more related to a seemingly constant connection with The Lord that inhabits a corner of my conscious awareness. Normally my awareness is occupied with the mundane day to day distractions of living, but interspersed throughout the day God will initiate prayer, usually through nature,people or by revelation.

        I agree with your thoughts on dedicating time for meditation/contemplation/prayer, Paul.

        September 20, 2018
    • Warm and fuzzy? Ha! First time those words have been used to describe me in a while, Mike. Like, maybe, in forever 😉

      Re: suspending judgment of good and evil and just accepting our lives… I’d probably be more in line with what Paul says here. If anything, spontaneous prayer leads me to a deeper awareness of my need for confession, forgiveness, and grace (all of which require not suspending judgement and just accepting my life!). My two cents, for whatever they’re worth. Thanks for your comment.

      September 20, 2018
  3. Reblogged this on Walking Toward Yourself.

    September 23, 2018

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