Psalm 141: An Evening Examen

evening prayer

“Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!” Psalm 141:2

As an off the charts introvert, my inclination for most of my life has been to keep my mouth shut. Unlike the extrovert who waxes eloquent at the first opportunity that presents itself, my tendency has been to only speak when I feel I have something of significance to say, or feel compelled to speak. Because of this, the prayer to put a guard over my mouth, never spoke to me. What I needed to learn was to speak up.

As I’ve grown and matured, I have learned to function in our extroverted society by speaking more. And so, my appreciation for these words of spiritual wisdom has grown:  “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips!” (3) There are days I wish I could take back my words, shutting the door of my lips.

Psalm 141 is a spiritual gem. It is unique in the nature of the requests made by the writer. It reads to me like an examen of conscious made at the end of the day in which the writer asks God to help him watch over his words and examine his thoughts in order to keep his heart pure. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” (2) “Incline not my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity; and let me not eat of their dainties!” (4)

He goes on to state how it is good to be rebuked by a good man, “Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness, but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head, for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.” (5) It truly is a kindness when a person points out our mistakes and failings with love, out of concern for our welfare. That is better than false words of praise by those who would lead us astray.

The writer goes on to speak against his enemies, then returns to his relationship with God. “But my eyes are toward you, O Lord God; in you I seek refuge, leave me not defenseless!” (8) He focuses on God, trusting that God will save him from evil.

The tradition of doing an examen is a long standing one, going back to Ignatius in the 1500’s, however we see a hint of it in this psalm. Originally the focus of the examen was to search out the ways in which we had sinned and gone astray from God in order to get right with God again. But now the focus is more on seeing where God has been present in our life.

Over this summer, as I reflect back over each day, I find myself filled with gratitude. Who am I to be so blessed? And yet I am. My days are filled with God’s presence.

The author of Psalm 141 concludes by focusing on God. We do well to follow his example, ending our day by focusing on our God, asking where God has been present in our life, and if we have gone astray, finding our way back.

Do you take the time each night to offer prayer to God and examine your day? If not, what is stopping you?

 

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