Socrates once said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. While there are many things on which I disagree with Socrates, this is not one of them. In fact, I would say that he does not go far enough. I would say, that “the unexamined heart is not worth beating.” So often, we go about our lives without stopping and looking at the influences that motivate and guide us, though they are the closest things we own as human beings. The Lenten season is generally one of prayer and fasting. In fact, these are two of the three “Pillars of Lent”. The third, fourth, and fifth weeks of lent are known as being the weeks of the three scrutinies, which match these pillars very closely. The first of these three is the scrutiny of prayer. Scrutiny, of course, means to closely examine and search your own heart as you pursue these spiritual practices. The scrutiny of prayer is a time meant for us to search our own hearts, take what we find and compare it with Scripture. This echoes the cry of the heart of King David in Psalm 139, who writes…
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! -Ps 139:23–24
To scrutinize our own souls in the discipline of prayer is to invite the Holy Spirit, and the word of God to bring light to the darkest corners of our hearts. These are the corners in which we hide the sins that we have become accustomed to or value. The idea that these things are even hidden in our hearts is, of course, merely an illusion. The darkness in these corners of our hearts is not dark to God. In fact, David spends the first sixteen verses of this Psalm 139 recounting just how incredibly thorough and intimate God’s knowledge of Him is. The darkest corners of our heart are only dark because it is us who does not know them, or perhaps we choose to ignore them. Though it is our heart, unless we examine it with the Spiritual disciplines, its true depths remain unknown to us. God knows the secrets we keep in the dark. We keep them in our hearts because we value them. In response to these secret sins that reside in the depths and steal away the love due God, David writes in verses seventeen and eighteen…
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. -Ps 139:17–18
Like all of us, David recognizes that his heart is not entirely pure. If this were not so he would not, at the end of this passage, request God to test and search his heart. We all have those secret things in our hearts which we come to value at a spiritual cost. The counter to this though, is to recognize what has true value. As we look at the puerile things that often become so great in our hearts, we can compare them to what God has to offer His children and they will pale in comparison. It is only then, when we recognize that God has more to offer than those secret passions that we hide away, that we can say with contriteness of spirit, “Lord, search and test my heart, and make it wholly yours.” As I said on Sunday, when we ask God to change our hearts with humility and integrity, God will always grant us our request. It is never wrong to request that God change our hearts. It can be wrong if we try to change our own hearts on our own, but God lacks the frailties of human determination and will. If we ask Him, He will always work in our welcoming hearts. Before we can ask with the humility and integrity required, however, we must recognize the sins that are buried in our hearts by looking at them through the lens of Scripture. When this process is complete in our lives, we must then recognize that God’s way is the better way. When we are fully resigned to pursuing God, we must ask Him to change the heart that we have just examined.