“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.” – Psalm 139:23-24
Years ago, early in my ministry, I was invited to conduct a Week of Spiritual Emphasis at a Christian elementary school. As the week progressed, it became obvious to me that two of the teachers were having a serious conflict. Their negative attitudes toward one another regularly boiled over in staff meetings. If one suggested an idea, the other opposed it. When both of them were present in a meeting, tension filled the air. It was apparent that they did not like one another at all.
Toward the end of the week, I preached on Christ’s great intercessory prayer in John 17. Jesus was about ready to leave His disciples. Soon He would be betrayed and crucified. He would rise from the grave and ascend to His Father. His earnest prayer reflects what was on His heart. It reveals what was on His mind just before His death on the cross. The Savior was concerned about the unity of the church. He prayed, “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me” (John 17:21). Christ longed that the dissension, jealousy, striving for supremacy, and conflict between His disciples cease. He prayed that their unity, in spite of all their differences, would reveal to the world the power of His love.
As I shared the longing of Jesus’ heart with these students and teachers, something remarkable happened. The last night of our Week of Spiritual Emphasis, we scheduled a foot washing and Communion service. The Holy Spirit broke through. God moved powerfully. The two teachers who experienced such division knelt at each other’s feet. The Spirit of God broke down the barriers. They embraced, confessed their negative attitudes and prayed together.
The disciples experienced this same sweet repentance and humility during the 10 days in the upper room that preceded Pentecost. During those ten days, the disciples confessed their petty differences toward one another. They repented of their jealousy and pride. And their hearts were filled with love for Christ who had given His all for them. How they wished they could live the last three and a half years over again.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever wished that you could go back and correct your past mistakes?
When we see God’s loving-kindness and observe the righteousness of His character, we recognize our weakness, shortcomings, and sins. In the blazing light of His unconditional love and perfection, our hearts are humbled. We are led to deep confession and repentance. We cry out to Him for the salvation and righteousness that only He can provide. When we are overwhelmed with His holiness, with the prophet Isaiah, we cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (Isa. 6:5). Self-examination may not always be the most pleasant experience, but it is absolutely necessary. In self-examination we ask God, “Is there anything in my life that is not in harmony with Your will?” We pray, “Lord, reveal those attitudes deep within my soul that are not like Jesus.”
God’s goal in this process is to lead us closer to Him. He does not want us to wallow in guilt or be filled with remorse over our past lives. His goal is to lead us “in the way everlasting.” Although it is healthy to take a candid look at our own spiritual lives, it is unhealthy to dwell on the faults of our past lives. Dwelling on our faults and focusing too long on our mistakes only discourages us.
Always remember, our Lord is bigger than our mistakes and greater than our failures. We certainly need to honestly know our condition—but it is much more important to know His grace. Understanding our weakness prepares us to receive His strength. Understanding our sinfulness prepares us to receive His righteousness. Understanding our ignorance prepares us to receive His wisdom. The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s conviction is to lead us to Jesus. As we recognize our sins and mistakes through a process of self-examination, we can thank God that the Holy Spirit is leading us closer to Jesus, and as a result to each other. The convicting power of the Holy Spirit is preparing us to receive the fullness of the Spirit in latter-rain power. But before God makes us, He must break us. Before He fills us, He must empty us. Before He is enthroned in our hearts, self must be dethroned.
Mark Finley is an assistant to the General Conference president.