“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)
Faith (Greek – πιστις – pronounced piss-tiss): Faith is more than simply being persuaded of a truth. It is conviction of the truth in such a way that our lives become an expression of that truth. Conviction of the truth involves the active quality of showing what we hold firm in our heart. Our belief involves the struggle and progress of making our whole selves align with the truth. Wholehearted faith is union with God and a life committed to God’s will by aligning our body, mind, and entire system toward the truth. In Hebrew, the term for heart (לֵבָב) also means mind. Our mind and heart are one, just as our body is a temple whose parts all work together as a single unit. Like the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, the new covenant includes having God’s law written on our hearts and mind. It is not simply an intellectual activity, but an active investment of the whole self toward making God’s Kingdom come in complete commitment to truth, justice, and love.
The Habit of Faith – Making Our Lives an Active Expression of the Lord’s Prayer
To live by the truth, will make changes within our bodies. To live by the truth will help us overcome addiction. It is the overcoming of bad habits and sin. To make our faith alive and real, it cannot simply be an intellectual operation. At its most basic level, faith is an exercise of love. Faith involves love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. It is through love that faith is revolutionary and can make change in the world.
Verna Dozier wrote that “every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying revolution” (thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). This is a call for revolution in our own hearts as much as it is to overthrow systems of injustice in the world. Not a violent revolution, but a revolution of the heart in doing our part to turn the world toward the will of God. The Lord’s Prayer is central to Christian faith because it is the prayer that Christ taught us to pray and that he modeled in his own life. It cannot simply be something that we petition to God. It is a petition to God, but is also a petition of change. It is a conviction of our own life and heart to worship God in Spirit and truth. It means being convicted to building God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is an expression of our willingness to participate with God in changing the world. It is a call to forgive. It is a reminder of our gratitude for our daily bread. Our most intimate prayers will change our bodies intimately and deeply.
Prayer is central to our faith. But we cannot simply petition God that God’s will be done on earth. Yet we must and ought to petition that God intervene on earth. The Lord’s Prayer is specifically Christ’s response to the question of how we ought to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is foremost a prayer of action for each and every one of our lives. It is a personal affirmation and call for how we are to make God’s Kingdom come with all that we have and all who we are. If we are to follow God’s will, then our prayer life will also draw us into serving the God of love through a life infused with love. If we are unwilling to be loving, then it is hypocritical to pray for God to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves. Later in this chapter, you will find the Daily Examenexercise. It is an excellent tool to help open up the power and meaning of the Lord’s Prayer in your life. It is also an excellent way of making love the expression of our lives and to help us listen to how God is at work in our bodies.
The Neuroscience of Faith
A conviction of the truth becomes internalized and a part of our person. Three important parts of our brain that establish a sense of conscience that drive us toward the truth are the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is associated with inhibiting inappropriate social behaviors. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) is involved in moral and ethical decision making as well as making meaning of life. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is associated with reasoning, planning and executive function. Research has found that when the DLPFC is more active the VMPFC is less active. Conversely, when the VMPFC is more active the DLPFC is less active. This suggests that when we act on a clear conscience our thinking is clearer.[i] As an example, the idea of setting aside time to pray the Lord’s Prayer to better follow God’s will in your life sounds like pretty simple planning. Imagine planning to pray the Lord’s Prayer and then immediately after going to spew partisan hate at your neighbors who have a different political view than you. The ethical decision-making part of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) should be in real conflict with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the planning part of the brain, when these two very different activities are combined.
Being drawn to the truth and having a clear conscience are only parts of what it is to be faithful. Every chapter of this book and each fruit of the Spirit works in us producing conviction of the truth. The neurological hardwiring toward peace, patience, and joy also are ways that we become convicted of the truth. Neurologically we overcome bad hardwiring and enter into the riches of the fruit of the Spirit when our lives become an expression of faith. If by faith we say that we accept the light, but choose to live in darkness then we are not living truthfully. Truthful living is aligning our thoughts, actions, desire, and will toward love. Scripture is clear on this: “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (1 John 1:6). Neurologically, our body will let us know if we are living in darkness or by the light. All we have to do is pay attention to whether we walk in hate versus kindness, joy versus addiction, or patience versus desperation.
A Theology of Faith – Conviction of the Truth
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” ~ (John 3:16)
One of the most beloved and well-known reminders of whose we are is John 3:16. Because this verse is printed on billboards, bumper stickers, and T-shirts, and conveyed through countless devotionals, most people are familiar with John 3:16.
This verse is central to Christian faith. It provides support, comfort, and hope. It speaks of God’s love for us all. It reminds us of our salvation. It is utterly beautiful. And it is likely very familiar. But I would like to introduce you to just one of the words in the original Greek from this scripture that will show you how much richer and powerful it is, especially for how we understand our faith. That word is εις.
When I learned of this one word’s meaning within John 3:16 it was completely astonishing. I was in a Greek course in seminary when we were parsing out scripture. I remember the professor saying something about it and it sounded so very strange to me. It also sounded intriguing. It opened my mind and I hope that it opens your mind, too. To have scripture that is so rich and meaningful, and then to find out that it is more beautiful than we thought is one example of what makes grace so amazing. Just when you think your mind cannot be more astounded, then God opens you up to even more riches.
Having our mind opened by something unexpected is a key feature of our consciousness. If you walk into a garden, your conscious mind might not register the trees, birds, clouds or many of the details present if you are preoccupied with something else. In any given moment, the brain is receiving and processing an enormous number of messages. In the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and is confused not to find Jesus. Her conscious thought led her to believe she was talking with the gardener when in fact she was talking to Jesus. It was only when Jesus called her by name that her consciousness came to light and she recognized that she was talking to her Lord and Teacher, Rabboni!
When our expectation is violated, it sends a very strong message that awakens our conscious thought. It causes us to think whether the new message is a threat or an opportunity. When we see something new in the familiar, it can wake us up to even more riches. It can open our minds and transform us toward the greater glory of God.
To allow John 3:16 to open our minds with even more power and wonder, the Greek word εις, usually translated“in” [“… everyone who believes inhim…”], needs its time in the spotlight. This word includes several different meanings that are all very important. It is a small word, but provides incredible insight about the beauty of our belief. This Greek word ειςis pronounced like the word “ice” in English.
The word εις is used hundreds of times throughout scripture and is very common. What is extremely interesting is that it is not always translated as “in”. The word εις is also translated elsewhere in the bible as for, on, into, to, and toward. Perhaps it might sound strange to think John 3:16 also implies to believe forhim, believe onhim, to believe intohim, to believe tohim, and to believe towardhim.
The word εις is translated as “for” in parts of the bible. In Luke 3:3, John is preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin using the word εις as “for”. When we look at John 3:16 we might also see how we believe not simply in Christ, but we believefor Christ. Belief is for the purpose of God. But it also implies by God’s purpose we believe. By God’s grace we are drawn into belief. And our faith compels us to bear fruit that will last.
εις is also translated as “into” in many parts of the bible. This includes examples of “into the house” or “into the land of Israel”. εις is also used in this sense as, lead us not “into” temptation or to be thrown “into” the fire. It implies moving from one place or condition to another. When ειςis used in John 3:16, it also implies moving from one place or condition to another. Our faith is mysterious and powerful. It changes us. We believe into God. This might sound utterly strange, but it captures more of what our faith is. Our faith is something more than mere intellectual consent. Faith is conviction, obedience, fealty, allegiance, fidelity, loyalty and constancy.
εις is also translated as “on” such as in the example of seed falling “on” fertile ground. We believe “on him” implying that our belief stands on the grace and goodness of God working in us. Through faith on him, we allow the fruit of the Spirit to blossom through us. As Christ said, “for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
The word εις is translated as “toward” such as in Acts 20:21, by having “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus”. Elsewhere it is used as “toward” heaven. This implies that when εις is translated as “believe in him” in John 3:16 that it also implies to believe towardhim. Our faith draws us closer toward God. We are drawn into a deeper and fuller relationship with God.
εις is translated as “to” on some occasions. This is most simply used in instances of a place, such as toJerusalem or toBethlehem. But it is also used as “to” destruction. It might seem very strange to translate John 3:16 as “believe to him”, but what εις implies is that through our faith we come toa new state of being. Our belief draws us tobe a new creation. We can be grounded in love, joy, and peace rather than any old conception of ourselves.
Like so many words that get translated from another language, we lose a part of what the original is conveying. To believe in God also implies to believe to God, to believe into God or believe toward God. Any of these other ways of translating the word εις will probably sound very strange. But it matters because it sheds light on how belief is much more than a matter of intellectual assent. Our belief naturally draws us to bear fruit and live in relationship with God. Our belief will draw us deeper into knowledge and appreciation of our bodies, minds and the reality of the world around us. Once we realize that our belief is about union then our whole makeup can change. Sadly, if our minds are certain of our disconnect to something, it will appear real even if we are completely and absolutely connected. Like telling a blind man that there is no water nearby when he is in fact sitting beside the edge of a lake.
If your understanding of faith is more integrated, then your prefrontal cortex will be more integrated with the whole system of your brain and body; not only your body, but with the world and your larger reality. Our belief is about union. Union with God is union with love. We are reset, refocused and repurposed. Emmanuel is the God who is with us. We are hardwired for love. It is the core of Christ’s teaching. We just need to say yes and start reveling in it and sharing it with others.
We all have core beliefs, which are important to our sense of self, and which guide our decisions. I might believe that healthy eating is important. Someone else might believe that certain racial groups are inherently superior. Some people believe it is important to keep an open mind. Some believe in ghosts. Dictionary.com defines the verb phrase “believe in” as to “be persuaded of the truth” or “to have faith in the reliability, honesty, benevolence” of something. Merriam Webster defines “believe in” as to have “faith or confidence in the existence of (something).” Going further, the online etymology dictionary, etymonline.com says that “belief had by the 16th century become limited to mental acceptance of something as true.”[ii] As Christians, our belief is more than mental acceptance. Our belief is all about union.
The Strong’s Exhaustive Bible Concordance is a detailed study tool that identifies every Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic word in the Bible as well as how it is used. Strong’s definition of εις (#1519) is: “A primary preposition; to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time, or (figuratively) purpose (result, etc.)”[iii] Both prepositions inand intoindicate relationship, but into, to ortowardfurther signify movement or change. These other meanings of the word ειςrepresent movement from old to new, past to present and future, falsehood to truth, and despair to hope.
What we believe in is extremely important. We believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. We believe that God is love. Belief is absolutely essential, but it becomes most powerful when it is more than simply being cognitively persuaded of something. If our faith transforms us, then it is powerful. If through our belief, we become a new creation and move into a new community and way of life in God, then it is powerful indeed.
Unless our faith integrates us with God’s reality inside of us and God’s kingdom throughout creation, we will not be in connection with truth. Because God is love, we can be integrated and connected. Love is about integration and connection. Love is about union and communion. If our belief draws us into a life of living by the fruit of the Spirit, then we will be integrated into love.
I invite you to read John 3:16 again, but this time remembering that “in” also means into, to, toward and for: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes inhim may not perish but may have eternal life”.
To “believe into him” might sound unfamiliar, even strange. To “believe to him” or “believe for him” might also sound unfamiliar. They are not phrases that we’re used to, especially when we think of John 3:16. But these other meanings of the word εις capture the fact that faith in God births something truly different in us. What happens when we “believe in” is not simple mental acceptance but a mysterious, awesome, and wondrous metamorphosis.
Richard Lawrence wrote in his Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, that the linking of belief with εις by the early church was never done in secular Greek and expresses the inmost secret of our faith. The New Testament “portrays a person committing himself or herself totally to the person of Jesus Christ, for our faith is into Jesus.”[iv]
To get a better picture of how powerful and unique our belief is, let’s take a closer look at how εις is used in scripture. In the New Revised Standard Version translations of the below scripture, where εις is used in the original text, I’ve bolded it to remind you that it is also translated very differently elsewhere in the bible and also means into, to, toward, or for. I hope it is striking and perhaps mind blowing for you, as it was for me, to find how often this word appears in the New Testament.
In John’s gospel, εις shows up often (e.g. John 7:38, John 11:25, John 12:44, John 14:1). Notably, in John 6:29, Christ says about himself: “This is the work of God, that you believe inhim whom he has sent”. Later, he expounds:“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
Other apostles applied εις in their writings about faith in Jesus: “Through him you have come to trust inGod, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God” (1 Peter 1:21).
“All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes inhim receives forgiveness of sins through his name”(Acts 10:43). Everyone who believes into, to andfor the purpose of him.
In Matthew’s gospel we see the spiritual impact of believing in Jesus: an indivisible union is created between believer and Lord. Matthew 25:40 says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Christ does not separate His community from Himself. They have changed and become part of Him. They have believed into Him, so what is done to them is done to Christ Himself.When the apostle Paul had his conversion experience, Christ spoke to Paul saying, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Paul thought he was persecuting Jesus’ followers, but Christ revealed that his union with his faithful community of believers was such that their suffering was also His suffering.
Because we are neurologically hardwired for love, we can only live in harmony with ourselves if we are living in harmony with others. 1 John 2:9-10 is a good example of this: “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.”
Paul reiterated these concepts of union with Christ and love for one another in his many letters to fledgling churches around the known world at that time. Underscoring his union with Christ, he said, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). About the unity and love between those who believe intoJesus, he instructed: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul articulated these concepts by relating them to baptism, the visible act by which early Christians publicly submitted themselves to Jesus’ authority and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). [Interestingly, while the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible often translates εις as in, we see in the NRSV that εις is in fact translated as into in this passage.]
This scripture illustrates our earlier conclusion that life in Christ involves both death and rebirth. In baptism, we die to our old self—with all of its principalities and powers, and God rebirths us into a new creation—with Jesus as sovereign. In his book Paul, theologian NT Wright clarifies this: “Those who are baptized into the Messiah, form the single family; they have come ‘into the Messiah’, they have ‘put on the Messiah’, they ‘belong to the Messiah’, they are ‘in the Messiah’.”[v]
Through baptism, we become part of the body of Christ. We believe into this reality by changing the way we think and act. Since Christ’s personhood and mission were characterized by love, we believe in, into andfor the one body of Christ by matching our thoughts, actions, and will with Christ’s love. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).
Why is this so important?
It’s important because the kingdom of God is wired within us, and we get to participate with Christ in extending that kingdom outward into the world. That kingdom reigns in love. The Daily Examen exercise that you will find later in this chapter is so important because it is one of the most effective tools to keep our focus on God’s work through our lives and to commit our will and actions toward serving God. It gives us a time of reflection to consider how we help build God’s kingdom. Being focused on the concrete and tangible expressions of our faith and love is essential to being a follower of Christ. Gustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation is an excellent resource that details the importance of the concrete actions that help build God’s kingdom. It is another resource to help draw out the importance of our living an active faith. As Gustavo Gutierrez and others recommend, our theology is most powerful when it helps us liberate ourselves and others for a life of abundant love. If our theology is not about love, then we will be disconnected from the very way that we are neurologically hardwired. We are called to be a part of the saving action in the world through what we do, as an extension of who we are. The very meaning of the name Jesus in Hebrew is “Yahweh is salvation”.
Living by Faith as if we are in Heaven
Our salvation gives us tremendous hope for our future. There may not be an exact knowledge of what will come after this life, but there is conviction that there will be a new life to come. I believe a real failure of church leadership has been not investigating the idea of heaven. Seeing heaven simply as a place in the clouds with angels playing harps is rather old fashioned. But what then is heaven? We will never know the fullness of heaven in this life. But we can get a glimpse of it through scripture and our own experience of God.
Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that, “the essence of ‘heaven’ is that it is where God’s will is unswervingly done. Or, to put it in somewhat different terms, where God’s will is done is heaven.” I believe all of us would like to think that about heaven. We would like to think that those who go to heaven will do God’s will, that it is a place where we can trust others will do God’s will, and that we can rest in that trust. If we live lives that cause suffering and we are hateful to others, why would God allow us to go to heaven and cause suffering, hate and hurt to others there?
If God allowed hate and hurt to defile heaven it would no longer really be heaven. It would be like hell. Hell is generally considered a place of torment, untruth, and suffering. So, you could say, where the will of God is not done is hell. Wherever the will of God is consistently not done, becomes hell. When truth and justice are not practiced, people suffer. We become the cause of our own suffering if we do not live by love. God’s Kingdom suffers without love.
The Daily Examen and Lord’s Prayer are so essential to our faith because they both invite us to ask and to live by reflection on how we are serving God’s will from day to day: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. We are invited to help make this world as it is in heaven.
Living by faith in community
I have seen in my lifetime the erosion of faith in religious institutions. Some studies and polls by Pew and Barna have found that especially amongst young people, that religion is a negative rather than a positive. It is to be distrusted. How tragic and sad this is!
Faith provides hope and strength. Active faith invites others to participate and gives a good reason why to participate. If our faith is not relevant, then it will die. God’s Kingdom is amongst us just as God is amongst us. When our faith is active and real then we will see it at work in our bodies and through our neurological systems.
There are many national studies out that have found a decrease in those who attend church regularly.[vi] Studies also show there has been a dramatic increase in those who do not ascribe to any particular faith tradition. This group is often referred to as “Nones”.
Those who have “None” as a self-designation, still have a unique and personal form of faith. It might very well be that they want “None of that”. They want “None of that” when it comes to so many people who proclaim faith, but live lives of hypocrisy. They want “None of that” when it comes to the extreme divisiveness and hate that is perpetrated in the name of God. The list of “None of that” could go on and on.
It is critical that communities of faith remain relevant. It is critical that our actions, our worship, and liturgy reflect love. We must stay relevant and truthful to the Good News of Christ.
Worshiping in community should be about helping us believe in,into,and forthe purpose of God. The primary act of this is our baptism. In baptism we die to our old self:“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
The Baptismal Covenant of my own tradition in the Episcopal Church calls us to seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves. It also calls us to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human. Baptism is not simply believing in something, but believing into someone new. It is easy for all the promise of baptism to make us forget about the price. This is not to discount the joy in new life or our faith in the life to come. There is cost to discipleship. We are to love as Christ loved.
When we celebrate the Eucharist we are also invited into this new life. St. Augustine said this brilliantly in his Sermon 272: “If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!”
Also, within my own tradition of the Episcopal Church, again after communion we are reminded of our commitment to live into the life that Christ has called us in our post communion prayer:
“Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer, 365).
Let us live into the likeness of Christ by serving God’s will together. There is no better way than in community. We don’t have to go it alone. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we serve our Father. We pray to give us ourdaily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. These are all expressions of community and togetherness. Our faith is not meant to be a singular endeavor cut off from the rest of the world. There are others like us who can help us and who we can help. Find a church home and it will change your life.
The Neuroscience of Falsehood / Unbelief
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
While much could be said about different types of belief or nonbelief, I would like to focus on one point. That one point is about how our faith either draws us into believing intoand for the purpose of God or not. Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death”. As we have seen with the neuroscience is that the wages of sin are in fact death. The truth becomes internalized in us and through us. If we live in sin then sin lives in us. If we bring sin into the world then we invite others to live in sin. We invite them to believe intoand for the purpose of sin and falsehood. In their book How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman detail how the “thalamus makes no distinction between inner and outer realities, and thus any idea, if contemplated long enough, will take on a semblance of reality”.[vii] Our personal and societal myths of falsehood become more true to us than reality because our brains become conditioned to see unreality and then try to convince the world that it is true. Just two examples of myths not based in reality that people try to impose on others are sexism and racism.
On a further point regarding falsehood, research at Harvard on fMRI imaging also found that those who act dishonestly show greater activation in the nucleus accumbens. This is a part of the basal forebrain that plays a part in our reward system. Prolonged focus on reward versus honesty can cause these circuits to promote higher levels of greed and lying. Continued lying, when someone is not caught, will decrease the emotional threat that the amygdala will register. As the discomfort of lying diminishes, the internal mechanisms to put on the breaks will disintegrate.[viii]
Another important point about falsehood is how Jesus was very upfront about the sin of keeping children from knowing the love of God. He said to let the little children come to him. As discussed earlier, the love or lack of love and secure attachment with parents to children can produce false projections of how God relates to us. Without love and healthy connection, children often grow to be adults projecting the same disconnect onto God that their parents shared with them. An angry or abusive parent will often draw a child to believe in an angry and abusive God. An anxious or avoidant attachment might also draw an anxious or avoidant relationship with God. We are to love one another and to love God. We owe it to our children to teach them healthy and secure attachment so that they do not project a false reality about God onto their future. We can believe into and for the purpose of God by submitting our will to the will of God. For God is love.
A final point about falsehood and unbelief that we can invite both atheists and ourselves to consider is this: Our world is a very broken place. There is much suffering. With our knowledge of the immensity of space, both believers and atheists can agree that the very fact that we exist and have consciousness is something exquisitely extraordinary. We can agree and believe together in the awe and wonder of our existence. It is an enormous falsehood not to work together with people who are different from us. With this extraordinary truth in mind, how will we work together to bring love, joy, and kindness to the world and overcome trauma and suffering?
Strengthening the Habit of Conviction to the Truth
Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Daily Examen is a powerful technique for seeing God’s presence at work in our lives. The Examenexercise and the Lord’s Prayer I believe are the most important exercises in this book.
They draw our prayer life and connection to God into an active expression in the world and through our lives. They also integrate our neural circuitry to focus and strengthen our connection with God’s work in and through our lives. The Examenis often done at the end of the day for about 15-20 minutes or can also be done in the morning for the previous day’s events.
The Daily Examen reflection is a way of opening up the Lord’s Prayer and making it part of our daily rule of life. The examination calls us to see God at work: to hallow God’s name and to see God at work all around us. The examination calls us to live our lives by God’s will, drawing to mind how we are following God’s will or not following God’s will: Thy will be done. The examination calls us to ask for God’s forgiveness just as we forgive others: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. It calls us to remember God’s glory and power working in us. If we commit ourselves to daily examination, then our lives will be transformed into something glorious and powerful because we seek and serve the God of love.
The Lord’s Prayer is the most succinct teaching of how Jesus taught us how to pray. When we pray it and petition that God’s will be done, it is not with shrugged shoulders as if saying to God, well if that’s what you want, I guess I’ll give in to it. God is not remote. God is with us always. As theologian NT Wright calls it, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of submission and commission. It is a risky prayer. It is a prayer of subversion and conversion.
I invite you to pray and reflect on the following as part of your daily prayer practice:
The Daily Examen
Surrender– Lord, I am Yours. I Pray that my life is an expression of Your will.
Thankfulness – What gifts from God are there in my day for which I give thanks?
Review – What are one or two ways that God has worked through me today? (Linger on how God has worked through you today in love, joy,peace,patience,kindness,goodness, faith,gentleness, orself-control).
What are one or two ways that I have not allowed God to work through me today? (Where have I createdindifference, craving,anxiousness,impetuousness, hate, ignorance,untruth,prejudice, orvolatility?)
Forgiveness– Lord, I am thankful for the times that I loved generously today, and am sorry for when I did not. I pray for ways to reconcile with those I may have hurt.
Grace– Holy Spirit, I pray for Your fruit to grow in me, my enemies, friends, and neighbors.
I pray for one or two specific ways to help me and others grow in Your love tomorrow. I thank You for the ways You have inspired me.
I complete my time of examination by intentionally praying the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
You might want to pray the Lord’s Prayer using the below which elaborates some of the meaning a little deeper:
Almighty, Ever-living, God Who is Love,
Sacred is all that reveals your love and majesty,
May all my desires and actions fulfill your will. May the will of all match your will and bring your Kingdom both on earth and in heaven.
Give us today our nourishment as we commit ourselves to a nourishing life.
Untie us from all that binds us, as we untie others who are bound by any ailments, afflictions or addictions. May we work toward our own liberation and the liberation of all.
Help us not to enter into temptation but deliver us from evil. May we also contemplate how our life might produce evil and stop any ways we contribute to it in our hearts, home, community, nation and world.
For all is yours and ever will be yours; May all that I do draw me and others deeper and deeper into your splendor, your wonder and your power, forever and ever.
The Daily Examen is the most important exercise in this book because it helps us examine how the fruit of the Spirit is working in us each day. It allows us to thank God for the gifts that we receive. It allows us to celebrate those gifts over time as they become stronger and more beautiful. It also allows us to acknowledge our sin and the bad fruit working in us. It attunes us to receive God’s grace and envelopes our life in prayer. It provides us hope for the days to come.
For Group Discussion or Personal Reflection:
Daily Examen: The root of the word “devotion” means putting down one’s vow, fealty or allegiance. By examining how we live out our faith by the fruit of the Spirit through love, joy, and patience, we can track how each day we are living or not living by God’s will. If you make this part of your daily practice, it will eventually become a pivotal part of how you view the world so that every moment of your life is intentional in following God’s will of love.
How can the Daily Examen strengthen your active expression of faith?
How can the Daily Examen help you live by the Lord’s Prayer?
Try this: Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Think of a time when you most felt faithful to God. If it is difficult to think of only one time, allow yourself to linger on whichever is the first example that came to mind. Do this for at least a minute allowing yourself to relive the experience. Now with your eyes still closed, then turn your attention to how your body feels. Perhaps you feel a sense of confidence, direction, clarity, or embrace? Perhaps you feel God’s presence? Where in your body do your feel these sensations? Describe below how it feels in your body to be faithful to God.
Keeping the sensations in mind from the previous exercise, through what one habit will you let yourself go deeper to feel and relish in God’s faithfulness working in and through your body?
Try this with caution. Do not retraumatize yourself. If a memory comes to mind that is too challenging use a different memory: Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Think of a time when you lived in or by falsehood. If it is difficult to think of only one time, allow yourself to linger on whichever is the first example that came to mind. Allow yourself to briefly relive the experience. After fifteen seconds and with your eyes still closed, then turn your attention to how your body feels. Perhaps you feel a sense of inner conflict, turmoil, headache, butterflies in the stomach, or fear of being exposed? Describe below how it feels in your body to live in falsehood.
What do you look forward to doing in heaven??
If you list did not include love, kindness, or service to God, why not? What scripture, resources, or tools from this book can I use to help create heaven on earth?
What one habitual and settled tendency with my spouse, friends, family, or community is stuck in a cycle of falsehood and what specific changes would create more systemic conviction to the truth?
What one specific and measurable goal to create more faithfulness do I have that will help overcome an ingrained practice of falsehood at an organization, church, or political group that I belong to?
~ Pray ~
God, I am Yours. I say yes to faithfulness.
I will challenge and overcome my falsehood and unbelief.
I surrender to Your faithfulness.
[i]Jennings, The God Shaped Brain, 38.
[ii]“Belief, (n.),” StudyLight, accessed December 18, 2018, https://www.etymonline.com/word/belief?ref=etymonline_crossreference.
[iii] “Strong’s #1519 – εἰς,” StudyLight, accessed modified January 31, 2019, https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/1519.html.
[iv]Lawrence Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 117.
[v]N.T. Wright, Paul, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 114.
[vi]“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center, accessed November 11, 2019, https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/.
[vii]Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. 55.
[viii]Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, “Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Complicated Relationship with the Truth,” National Geographic(June 2017): 47.