Word of the Week: Introspection

Zeng Shen, who lived from 505 to 435 B.C, was an influential Chinese philosopher and an ardent disciple of Confucius. Although young enough to be Confucius’ grandson, he won high praise from the old sage.

One of the sayings for which Zeng Shen is famous goes something like this. “Every day I ask myself three questions.

The first is, “Have I sinned in my thoughts and actions toward others?”

The second is, “Have I broken faith in any of my friendships?”

The third is, “Have I tried to teach anything to others I have not fully learned and understood myself?”

These are good questions. One that every leader should cultivate–a good exercise for parents, preachers, and pastors. It’s also a good practice for all Christians desiring to follow Jesus and seeking to examine their behavior.

Our word of the week is “introspection.”

Introspection is defined as “observation or examination of one’s own mental and emotional state, mental processes; the act of looking within oneself.”

It is much easier to look at others, evaluate their actions, and judge their motives rather than looking within our own hearts and minds. But to be true disciples of Christ we must develop the regular habit of personal introspection.

While that exact word is not used in the Bible the concept is frequently taught. The Psalmist prayed, Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24). On another occasion, he wrote, “I considered my ways and turned my feet to your testimonies.”

In the New Testament, we’re exhorted, to “examine (our) own work” (Gal 6:4). Examine our thoughts while we take communion (1 Cor 11:27-32). And then James uses the analogy of looking in a mirror to see ourselves as God really sees us (Jas. 1: 23-25).

Richard J. Foster, theologian and the author of The Celebration of Discipline, wrote, “If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture–including our religious culture–we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation.”

The apostle Paul challenges us to get inside ourselves with these words. “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Cor 13:5)

Here are some excellent questions of introspection:

(1) Am I in the Faith? Am I walking by faith? Living by faith? Standing fast in the faith of the gospel? Or am I influenced by the world? Am I deceived by religious error? Or popular opinion?

(2) Is Christ living in me? Vance Havner once quipped “It is possible to know all the answers without knowing HIM who is the answer!” Too often we are concerned with what is politically correct. Whether or not we are in step with others. Or the views of a well-known religious leader. They are not the standard! Christ is!

(3) Am I testing myself to be sure that I’m not disqualified? Other versions translate “disqualified” as “reprobate” or “fail the test.” In a moral sense, it is a person whose mind is perverted. We need to examine ourselves to make sure we haven’t failed the test.

Why does a teacher give a student a test over the material studied? To make sure they have passed. To make sure they haven’t failed the course. How would you know without examination?

We can know if we are passing or failing by going to the text book–The Bible. It gives us the answers. And accurately tells us what our score is.

(4) Do you know who you are? Not in some mystical sense, but in practical, honest evaluation of your heart. Your motives. Your attitudes. Your actions. It is possible to deceive ourselves. Often the admonition of the Bible is “Be not deceived.”

Robert Fulghum was right, “The examined life is no picnic.” But it is Biblical. And painfully necessary.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

 

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