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Prayer of Examen: A Secret Guide to Gratitude


Gratitude is a buzzword this time of year, both inside and outside of the church. Millions of people will gather around a table to give thanks – whether they acknowledge the Giver they’re thanking or not. For Christians, Thanksgiving serves as an annual reminder of what God calls us to do all the time.  

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Giving thanks in “all circumstances” can feel like a tall order. It’s easy to do so when things are going well—when you’re feeling particularly happy, loved, comfortable, secure, or excited. And if you know this passage from 1 Thessalonians well, even challenging circumstances prompt you to thank God for the little you do see amidst the darkness. 

Surprisingly, the hardest circumstances in which to give thanks are often the ordinary, unremarkable ones. The average days that blur together, passing quickly. You’re not not thankful, but nothing thankworthy sticks out in your mind when you go before God in prayer. 

Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t say, “give thanks in all circumstances unless life’s a little boring right now.” So, what do we do?

Ignatius of Loyola was a fourteenth-century monk committed to living out this command in 1 Thessalonians. He believed that, in order to rejoice, pray, and give thanks all the time, you need to be aware of God all the time

This means seeing your life as one plotline in God’s story, self-identifying as a Christ-follower first, viewing God as a present and relevant character. And it means contemplating the implications of living with God in all of your life—not just at church or during your morning devo. So, during your time in the office, as you chip away at housework, when you make your weekend plans, you’re consciously aware that God’s in the picture too. 

This isn’t a new concept. The tricky part isn’t believing that God’s with you. It’s being aware that he’s with you. It’s staying conscious, present, and intentional in your thoughts through all the mundane, auto-pilot moments because you know that God is in those places too.  

Fortunately, Ignatius developed a simple prayer to stay aware and thankful: the Prayer of Daily Examen.

Examen does precisely what it sounds like: it helps you examine each day before you go to sleep a night. This reflection prevents your days from blurring together, requiring you to think about what happened and how God was at work before you move on. 

As you practice this, as you reflect on the day before and invite God into the day to come, the times of examination start to come together. You get so used to remembering the individual moments that you start to notice them in real-time too. Before you know it, giving thanks all the time becomes a lot more natural.

During this season, while thanksgiving is on your mind, give Examen a try. At night, before you go to sleep, follow the five steps below to examine your day with God.  

1. Illumination

Pray for God to reveal what he wants you to notice when you reflect on your day. (James 1:5)

2. Thanksgiving

Review everything that happened, working through your day hour by hour. Give thanks for each part as you go. (Philippians 4:6)

3. Signals 

Recognize the feelings that surface during your review of your day. What are these emotions signaling? (What’s causing them?) (Psalm 119:18)

4. Discernment 

Choose one of these feelings and work through it with God in prayer, discerning its significance in your life. Why did you feel this way? What is God revealing to you about your circumstances, relationships, sin, or need for him? (Romans 12:1-2)

5. Anticipation

Look toward tomorrow. Survey the things on your schedule and invite God into each one. Ask him to reveal himself to you, increasing your awareness of him as the day unfolds. (Isaiah 41:10)

Finish this time of examination by praying The Lord’s Prayer, as Jesus directs us. (Matthew 6:9)  

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
Now and forever. Amen.

Want to put this into practice? Download a free Examen Prayer Card to guide you through your nightly review of your day.