Assessing the ‘waves; my words and deeds create
I still remember learning how to waterski on Cultus Lake, B.C. It was both thrilling and terrifying – thrilling as I glided on the water behind the ski boat and over its wake, terrifying as my brother increased the boat’s speed testing how long I could stay on the skis. I didn’t, for long. The same experience repeated itself many years later when I went tubing on the same lake. My kids, spurred on by my brother, wanted to see dad get airborne. After a few sharp turns, my tube was zooming onto the wake and then flying into the air without me.
As I travel through this life, like my brother’s ski boat, I am keenly aware that my words and deeds leave a wake, a wave, a testimony, a tangible witness of my character. Our wakes can be such a blessing to God and others, but sadly, at times our wakes impact those around us in hurtful ways. Careless or unkind words or actions arising from pride, bitterness or selfish motives, can create a destructive wake. Indeed, such wakes can be a force to be reckoned with. I hear the words of American rapper Ice Cube buzzing around in my mind, “You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
‘Wake’ [noun]: The path or course of anything that has passed or preceded.
The wake caused by motorized boats of any kind can result in shore erosion as well as damage to vegetation that grows on or near it. Boaters rarely, if ever, think about this type of negative impact their wakes may cause. Unless they pause to reflect upon the impact of their boat’s wake, the damage continues, and they are blissfully unaware. In a similar manner, so often, unless we as disciples reflect upon the wakes we make as we live out our faith, there may be harm we are creating, are ignorant of, and thus not redeeming.
God sees my wake. What must he think? What causes him to lament? In what does he rejoice? What will reap his discipline and what, his blessing? As disciples of Jesus, we want to live Christ-like lives, but on this side of heaven, we routinely create ungodly wakes.
To prevent such a wake, Scripture counsels:
- “The prudent carefully consider their ways” Proverbs 14:15b NLT
- “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves…” 2 Corinthians 13:5a NLT
- “…let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the LORD.” Lamentations 3:40 NLT
Also, we can ask God to keep us from creating harmful wakes:
- “Put me on trial, LORD, and cross examine me. Test my motives and my heart.” Psalm 26:2 NLT
- “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24 NIV
I appreciate the wisdom of past saints who responded to their own wakes in redeeming ways as they lived for Jesus in their time and space. For example, the book Spiritual Exercises has been formative for those seeking self-understanding about how their lives are touching others. This ancient work is a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices penned by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), a Spanish priest. A little background. Ignatius was the founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. It was said that Ignatius prayed up to seven hours a day. Spiritual Exercises is intended to be a means of helping saints deepen their relationship with God and understand how they are living out their faith in the daily grid of life. The Prayer of Examen is one of these spiritual exercises. For me, the longer I walk with Jesus, the more meaningful this kind of prayer becomes. It is part of my training in godliness (1 Timothy 4:80), that is, “Devotion to God which results in a life that is pleasing to him.”
“O God, let me know myself. Let me know you.”
St. Augustine of Hippo
In the Prayer of Examen I am invited to journey inward, carefully using several spiritual movements including welcoming God’s presence, thanksgiving, personal reflection and responding to all that the Holy Spirit has revealed to me about my faith walk and what it produces.
Two questions from the Prayer of Examen which speak deeply to my heart are: “Spirit of God, reveal to me how I lived this day?” and “Spirit of God, what would you have me do with what you have revealed?” Here are significant questions that hold me accountable for the wake I create every day through my words and deeds. They are a spiritual reality check on my character and soul. My form of the Prayer of Examen is simply a practical means to hold myself to account as a disciple of Jesus. It is a practice that explores how I live out a day – a kind of spiritual debrief so-to-speak.
The transformative power of Holy Spirit is integral to this redeeming practice because doing this in our own strength tends to become self-serving and self-defeating. I must routinely remind myself of Richard J. Foster’s wisdom in his poignant work Prayer – Finding The Heart’s True Home. Foster pens, “…if we are the lone examiners of our heart, a thousand justifications will arise to declare our innocence.”
The sanctifying work of the Spirit brings the nature of my wake to my attention. He helps me realize how the waves that my words and deeds stir up in the lives of others. It is the Spirit who moves my heart to the place of confession and repentance. It is the Spirit who empowers me to godliness, transforming my behaviour going forward. It is the Spirit who reminds me of the teaching and example of Jesus and calls me to walk like him in life.
A sobering word of counsel; there is a temptation for destructive self-flagellation. I, for one, am proficient at beating myself up. Satan can really use this tactic against me. Again, Foster counsels that Spirit led self-examination is a “scrutiny of love.”
Also, I need to remember that there is nothing I discover in my wake that is beyond the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, I need to be careful not to devolve reflecting circumspectly about my day’s wake into something solely about me. This practice needs to be a love response. A response of thankfulness for the gospel, for grace, for God’s love and blessing. It needs to be part of my desire to live honorably before God – to be godly.
There is so much more than can be penned on this matter of knowing, understanding and constructively responding to the wakes we make, but for now may we all find a substantive and meaningful spiritual practice that allows us to see, understand and weigh our wakes – the daily waves our words and deeds create. May the Holy Spirit give us the humility to acknowledge and give thanks for the right and God-pleasing elements of our wakes and the courage to address those elements that hurt others, displease God, and diminish our witness of Jesus.
Framing a spiritual practice:
- Humble yourself and ask the Spirit to help you reflect upon the daily wake you make.
- Recognize that at times our wake does not please God.
- Confess, repent, seek forgiveness and make things right where needed.
- Ask the Holy Spirit’s help to give you wisdom so that tomorrow’s wake will better honour God
Reflective questions to weigh the day’s wake:
- What was my first thought of the day? What were my first words?
- What was my heart’s posture as I started the day? Ended the day?
- What space did I make for God?
- What did Scripture reveal today?
- How would I describe my private/public behaviour today?
- How would I describe my conversations with others?
- Who did I treat in an unkind manner?
- What am I thankful for about this day?
- What did I do or say that encouraged others and built them up?
- Where did I see the grace of God today? Was I a channel for it?
- What “do-overs” am I wishing for?
- What do I need to make right?
- What was my witness of the gospel like today?
- What have I learned that will help me to foster godliness tomorrow?