I recently stumbled across an excellent passage in A. W. Tozer‘s book That Incredible Christian that offers some “rules for self-discovery.” It strikes me as an excellent “examination of conscience.” Others have offered their own versions. The C. S. Lewis Institute, for instance, offers an “annual check-up” here. And Roman Catholics offer several different kinds as a preparation for confession. Tozer’s has an artful way of getting under our assumptions and “default-settings” (to borrow a phrase drawn from David Foster Wallace).
Here’s the passage in full.
There is a place for self-judgment and a real need that we exercise it (I Cor. 11:31, 32). While our self discovery is not likely to be complete and our self-judgment is almost certain to be biased and imperfect, there is yet every good reason for us to work along with the Holy Spirit in His benign effort to locate us spiritually in order that we may make such amendments as the circumstances demand. That God already knows us thoroughly is certain (Psalm 139:6). It remains for us to know ourselves as accurately as possible. For this reason I offer some rules for self-discovery; and if the results are not all we could desire they may be at least better than none at all. We may be known by the following:
1. What we want most. We have but to get quiet, recollect our thoughts, wait for the mild excitement within us to sub side, and then listen closely for the faint cry of desire. Ask your heart, What would you rather have than anything else in the world? Reject the conventional answer. Insist on the true one, and when you have heard it you will know the kind of person you are.
2. What we think about most. The necessities of life compel us to think about many things, but the true test is what we think about voluntarily. It is more than likely that our thoughts will cluster about our secret heart treasure, and whatever that is will reveal what we are. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
3. How we use our money. Again we must ignore those matters about which we are not altogether free. We must pay taxes and provide the necessities of life for ourselves and family, if any. That is routine, merely, and tells us little about ourselves. But whatever money is left to do with as we please—that will tell us a great deal indeed. Better listen to it.
4. What we do with our leisure time. A large share of our time is already spoken for by the exigencies of civilized living, but we do have some free time. What w o wth i is vital. Most people waste i t staring at the television, listening to the radio, reading the cheap output of the press or engaging in idle chatter. What I do with mine reveals the kind of man I am.
5. The company we enjoy. There is a law of moral at traction that draws every man to the society most like him self. “Being let go, they went to their own company.” Where we go when we are free to go where we will is a near infallible index of character.
6. Whom and what we admire. I have long suspected that the great majority of evangelical Christians, while kept somewhat in line by the pressure of group opinion, nevertheless have a boundless, if perforce secret, admiration for the world. We can learn the true state of our minds by examining our unexpressed admirations. Israel often admired, even envied, the pagan nations around them, and so forgot the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the law and the promises and the fathers. Instead of blaming Israel let us look to ourselves.
7. What we laugh at. No one with a due regard for the wisdom of God would argue that there is anything wrong with laughter, since humor is a legitimate component of our complex nature. Lacking a sense of humor we fall that much short of healthy humanity. But the test we are running here is not whether we laugh or not, but what we laugh at. Some things lie outside the field of pure humor. No reverent Christian, for instance, finds death funny, nor birth nor love. No Spirit-filled man can bring himself to laugh at the Holy Scriptures, or the Church which Christ purchased with His own blood, or prayer or righteousness or human grief or pain. And surely no one who has been even for a brief moment in the presence of God could ever laugh at a story involving the Deity.
These are a few tests. The wise Christian will find others.