“Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the LORD; let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” Lamentations 3:40-41
For the people of Judah and Jerusalem — God’s chosen people and His visible church on earth — this was important because they were under God’s judgment. Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians for 1½ years. People died of starvation and hunger. Mothers ate their own children. Many were killed by the Babylonian armies and most of the survivors were carried away into exile. The temple was looted and burned. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down. All appeared to be hopeless! Cf. Jeremiah 52.
The people were urged to test and examine their ways and return to the Lord. They were to lift up their hands to God in repentance and seek His mercy and forgiveness because it was quite obvious that they had “transgressed and rebelled” and the Lord had “not pardoned” (v. 42). They had turned aside from worshiping and serving the true God and had disregarded His commandments, and the judgments which God had said would come upon them were being fulfilled (cf. Deut. 28:15ff.).
But these words certainly have an application to us as well. As believers, we should always “search out and examine our ways,” comparing them with what God has revealed to us in His Word. And, where our lives and how we think, speak and act are not in accord with God’s Word, we repent and return to the Lord, seeking His mercy and pardon. We “lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven….”
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves….” (2 Cor. 13:5). And this is so important because our hearts can easily deceive us into thinking that all is well with our souls when, in fact, it is not (cf. Jer. 17:9; Psalm 32:1-5).
It is for this reason David prayed: “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).
When we read and study God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, who knows all and sees all that is in our hearts, reveals to us our sinfulness and our shortcomings in regard to God’s holy will, and He directs us to the crucified and risen Christ Jesus — to His holy life in our stead, to His atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins and the sins of the entire world and to His victorious resurrection (cf. John 3:14-15; 1 John 1:7 — 2:2; Heb. 2:14-17; Rom. 4:23-25).
God’s Word urges us to compare our lives with what God says in His Word and to repent of all that is sinful and evil, looking to Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness and then seeking, with God’s help, to amend our erring ways and to walk in His way, continuing in the true and saving faith unto life everlasting!
The Catechism (“An Explanation of the Small Catechism,” Copyright© 2017, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo., Question 371) offers us this guidance in examining ourselves before we come to the Lord’s Supper: “We are to examine ourselves in light of God’s Word to see whether — A. we are aware of our sins and are sorry for them; B. we believe in our Savior, Jesus Christ, and in His words in the Sacrament; [and] C. we intend, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live as forgiven sinners, resisting the devil, saying no to sinful desires, and walking in the newness of life.”
And so, I ask you: “How do you measure up to what God requires in His holy commandments? Do you see and acknowledge that you have sinned and come short of what God demands? Do you see the hopelessness of your situation under God’s law and look to Christ alone — to His cross — for pardon, forgiveness and life everlasting? And, as a fruit of your faith, do you desire, with the help of God’s Spirit who dwells in you and has given us the Holy Scriptures, to amend your life and live it in accord with God’s will which is revealed to us in His Word?”
If indeed you are sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace and mercy of God for Christ’s sake and His forgiveness for all your sins and His promise of life everlasting? If you are not truly sorry for your sins, if you do not trust in Christ alone for pardon and forgiveness, or if you do not desire and intend to seek God’s help and strength to amend your ways and live in accord with God’s Word, I must announce unto you that you do not have God’s pardon and forgiveness and you remain under God’s eternal wrath and condemnation until you repent! Cf. John 3:18; Romans 6.
Reveal to me my sinful and erring ways, O Lord, and move me to repentance and true faith in Christ Jesus, my Savior. And, by Your Spirit, lead and guide me in the way everlasting. Amen.
[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]