It is helpful as a continual practice to ask God to show us the true condition of our hearts. Paul challenges believers at least three times to “examine” themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4). Even Job, who the Bible recorded as blameless and upright (Job 1:1), knew to ask, “How many are my iniquities and sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (Job 13:23). We are prone to blindspots as believers and sometimes inadvertently grow cold in our love for God. As we come before the Lord in worship or quiet time, self-evaluation becomes a critical part of the development of our faith.
Recently I stumbled across a great resource that illustrates this exercise, and it came from an unexpected place, The Way of a Pilgrim: And the Pilgrim Continues His Way by an anonymous nineteenth-century Russian peasant. It describes a poor man who desired to understand what it meant to pray without ceasing. He roamed the Russian countryside, asking church leaders to help him learn how to pray. The work is entirely Russian Orthodox and monastic in nature, and I found myself disagreeing with much of the book. However, there were several profitable takeaways, including one specific quote that may be worth while for you.
Toward the end, a priest near Kiev shared a painfully honest evaluation of his spiritual condition with the pilgrim. The confession resonates as a critical evaluation of the hidden struggles many of us also face. Take a moment to read this man’s testimony, and ask the Holy Spirit to identify similar areas of your heart that may have turned cold toward God. Due to the lengthiness of this quote, it might be helpful to pause for prayer after each of the four points.
Turning my gaze at myself…I am convinced, through experience, that I love neither God nor my neighbor, that I have no faith, and that I am full of pride and sensuality. This realization is the result of careful examination of my feelings and actions.
1. I DO NOT LOVE GOD
For if I loved Him, then I would be constantly thinking of Him with heartfelt satisfaction; every thought of God would fill me with joy and delight. On the contrary, I think more and with greater eagerness about worldly things, while thoughts of God present difficulty and aridity. If I loved Him, then my prayerful communion with Him would nourish, delight, and lead me to uninterrupted union with Him. But on the contrary, not only do I not find my delight in prayer but I find it difficult to pray; I struggle unwillingly, I am weakened by slothfulness and am most willing to do anything insignificant only to shorten or end my prayer. In useless occupations I pay no attention to time; but when I am thinking about God, when I place myself in His presence, every hour seems like a year. When a person loves another, he spends the entire day unceasingly thinking about his beloved, imagining being with him, and worrying about him; no matter what he is occupied with, the beloved does not leave his thoughts. And I in the course of the day barely take one hour to immerse myself deeply in meditation about God and enkindle within myself love for Him, but for twenty-three hours with eagerness I bring fervent sacrifices to the idols of my passions! I greatly enjoy conversations about vain subjects which degrade the spirit, but in conversations about God I am dry, bored, and lazy. And if unwillingly I am drawn into a conversation about spiritual matters, I quickly change the subject to something which flatters my passions. I have avid curiosity about secular news and political events; I seek satisfaction for my love of knowledge in worldly studies, in science, art, and methods of acquiring possessions. But the study of the law of the Lord, knowledge of God, and religion does not impress me, does not nourish my soul. I judge this to be an unessential activity of a Christian, a rather supplementary subject with which I should occupy myself in my leisure time. In short, if love of God can be recognized by the keeping of His commandments—“If anyone loves me he will keep my word,” says the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:23), and I not only do not keep His commandments but I make no attempt to do so—then in very truth I should conclude that I do not love God.
2. I DO NOT LOVE MY NEIGHBOR
Not only because I am not ready to lay down my life for the good of my neighbor, according to the Gospel, but I will not even sacrifice my peace and my happiness for his good. If I loved my neighbor as myself, as the Gospel commands, then his misfortune would grieve me also and his prosperity would bring me great joy. But, on the contrary, I listen with curiosity to accounts of my neighbor’s misfortune and I am not grieved but indifferent to them and, what is more, I seem to find satisfaction in them. I do not sympathize with the failings of my brother but I judge them and publicize them. My neighbor’s welfare, honor, and happiness do not delight me as my own; I am either completely indifferent to them or I am jealous or envious.
3. I DO NOT HAVE FAITH IN SPIRITUAL REALITIES
I believe neither in immortality nor in the Gospel. If I were firmly convinced and believed without a doubt in eternal life and in retribution for our earthly actions, then I would be constantly thinking about this; the very thought of immortality would inspire me with wonder and awe and I would live my life as an alien who is getting ready to enter his native land. On the contrary, I don’t even think of eternity and I consider the end of this life as the limit of my existence. I nurture a secret thought within and wonder, “Who knows what will happen after death?” Even when I say that I believe in immortality, it is only from natural reasoning, for down deep in my heart I am not convinced of it and my actions and preoccupations with earthly cares prove this. If I accepted the Holy Gospel with faith into my heart as the word of God, then I would be constantly occupied with it; I would study it, would delight in it, and with deep reverence would immerse myself in it. Wisdom, mercy, and love hidden within it would lead me to ecstasy, and day and night I would delight in the lessons contained in the law of God. They would be my daily spiritual bread and I would earnestly strive to fulfill them; nothing on earth would be strong enough to keep me from this. But on the contrary, even if I sometimes read or listen to the word of God, it is either out of necessity or curiosity; I do not delve deeply into it but feel dryness and indifference to it and I receive no greater benefit from it than I do from secular reading. Further, I am eager to give it up promptly and go to worldly reading, in which I have greater interest and from which I get more satisfaction.
4. I AM FULL OF PRIDE AND SELF-LOVE
All my actions confirm this. When I see something good in myself, then I wish to display it or brag about it to others, or interiorly I am full of self-love even when outwardly I feign humility. I ascribe everything to my own ability and I consider myself more perfect than others, or at least not worse. If I notice a vice in myself, then I try to excuse it or justify it; I pretend to be innocent or I claim that I couldn’t help it. I am impatient with those who do not show me respect and I consider them incapable of judging character. I am vain about my talents and cannot accept any failure in my actions. I grumble and I am glad to see the misfortune of my enemies, and my intention in doing anything good is either praise, self-interest, or earthly comfort. In a word, I continuously make an idol out of myself, to whom I give unceasing service as I seek sensual delights and try to nourish my carnal desires.
Studying…(this)…leads me to conclude that I am proud, adulterous, without faith; I do not love God and hate my neighbor. What state could be more sinful?
Ouch! So that’s how David felt when he wrote Psalm 51. There are at least a few parts of this confession that I have to claim as the condition of my own heart. Maybe you also had a “am-I-even-a-Christian” moment as you read this. Great! Praise God for the times we are confronted with our shortcomings! Savor God’s amazing grace and mercy that He pours out on us as we confess our sins. If the Holy Spirit has convicted your heart, then rejoice that it was not so cold that it defended its condition but instead chose to repent.
Remember, God loves us with an everlasting love that is more long-suffering than we can imagine! Trust God’s Word and be encouraged that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Never forget, “…neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
When we seek the Lord through self examination, the Spirit is faithful to direct our hearts back to Him where we are reminded of His unconditional love for us. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1)!