Rediscovering John Wesley's Prayers of Examen: Praying for our Neighbor

For a number of years there has been a resurging interest in the subject of spirituality.  For many it raises concern and worry about the introduction of practices from Eastern religions such as Buddhism.  It is certainly fair for those in the Christian faith to express their concerns and examine practices that are introduced into the life of the Church.  However, there is a long tradition of spirituality which is Biblical and that is foundational to our life and our practices.

In her article on “Biblical Spirituality,” Dr. Sandra Schneiders  notes how we can trace the resurgence of interest in spirituality to the publication of Vatican II.  Since then, the Church has developed a far more openness across denominational lines.  The benefit for the Church universal, I think, has been profound even if unappreciated. 

Dr. Schneiders goes on to note at the foundation, “…biblical spirituality refers to the spiritualities that come to expression in the Bible and witness to patterns of relationship with God that instruct and encourage our religious experience (134, Interpretation, April 2002, Vol. 56, No. 2).”  Her tracing of the development of biblical spirituality is both insightful and directed at our continuing need for further study in this area.  She reminds readers that one might be both academic and spiritual.  Few scholars question this reality in the work and life of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth and others.

It should be of considerable interest then for a Christian in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition, clergy or laity, to examine spiritual practices which are proposed to be introduced into the life of our people.  Our Book of Discipline deems it part of our work as God’s people.  

In the midst of this opportunity to look into the proverbial closets of our extended Christian family, we seem to have trended away from what sits in our own closets of the church!  Could it be we have practices which are part of our own tradition which the Church needs?  Could it be in our counsel as pastors or practice as directors or teachers we could share our biblical spirituality with people?  I am convinced we do and one of those items comes from John Wesley’s Works that in many ways parallels Ignatius of Loyola’s daily Examen.  That practice of 18th Century Christians is entitled,  A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week and is found in Volume 11 of “The Works of John Wesley.”    

I have taken these daily prayers and questions of personal examination, and sought to translate some of the more archaic English phrases into language easier to understand.  Where available, I have removed the “thee” and “thou” to make it easier and still keep the intent.  My hope and prayer is you’ll find, as I have, these prayers and practices which John Wesley provided to the Christians of the 18th century, to be both Biblical and applicable to your own spiritual life and practice.  During this third week of Lent, I will post the prayers and “examen” questions for each day through till Sunday.

Monday: Love of Neighbor


General Questions which may be used every Morning
1.  Did I think of God first and last?
2.  Have I examined myself how I behaved since last night’s retirement?
3.  Am I resolved to do all the good I can this day and to be diligent in the business of my calling?

…O thou, who are good and do good, who extends your loving kindness to all humanity, the work of your hands, your image, capable of knowing and loving you eternally: strengthen me so I exclude no one, O Lord, from my charity, those who are objects of your mercy; but let me treat all my neighbors with that tender love which is due to your servants and your children…Let me look upon the failings of my neighbor as if they were my own; that I may grieve for them, that I may never reveal them but when charity requires and then with tenderness and compassion.  Let your love to me, O blessed Savior, be the pattern of my love to them.


Particular Questions relation to the Love of our Neighbor
1.  Have I thought anything too dear to part with to please or serve my neighbor, anything but my very conscience?
2.  Have I rejoiced or grieved with my neighbor?
3.  Have I received their infirmities with compassion, not with anger?
4.  Have I contradicted anyone, either when I had no good end in view, or when there was no probability or convincing?
5.  Have I let my neighbor who I thought was in the wrong (in a simple thing) have the last word?

…O my God, fill my soul with a love for you so complete that I may love nothing except for your sake and in subordination to your love…May I always honor You in my thoughts; never mention thy venerable name, unless on just, solemn and devout occasions; and not even then if I do not give you all adoration.  O let it be the one business of my life to glorify you, by every thought of my heart, by every word of my tongue, by every work of my hand; by professing your truth all the way to my own death, if it should please you to call me to it; and by engaging all people, as far as I am able, to glorify and love you.  Let me lie down with holy thoughts of you and when I awake let me be filled with you.

MAY I ASK?  If you have chosen to use these, how have you grown closer to God in the experience?

MAY I SUGGEST?  Consider using these during another week of the year and add a daily fast.  You might also pick another 40 day journey and use these prayers, journaling each day.

Also Referenced: Wakefield, Gordon. Fire of Love. New Canaan, Connecticut. Pivot. 1977. 


Dalton said...

Ken: I love this idea. Wesley's questions are intimidating when you look at them all together, but less so when divided into a daily program of examen. I look forward to using this structure in my own devotional life.

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Thanks Dalton. I've just finished a paper for my class at Garrett on Ignatius and Wesley. Then I ran across the little book, "Fire of Love," and I felt the same way. In Wesley's Works, stuff is all crammed together. I don't think they believed in white space in the 18th century!

I pray this is as meaningful for you as it has been for me. This first prayer on "neighbors" really took me to task the first time I prayed it(and every time since).

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