Look in the Mirror

To remove the blemishes on your character, you have to see them first.

You check the mirror every day to fix your hair, straighten your clothes and make sure you don’t have remnants of breakfast in your teeth. But how often do you study your spiritual reflection?

Honest self-examination is essential to the Christian life. You cannot grow without it. The mirror you need to look into is God’s perfect law of love, and the perfection of Jesus Christ (James 1:22-25). When you study the face in that mirror, you can see what needs to change so you can become more like God.

In the first-century Church, members in Corinth had become prideful and judgmental. They criticized the Apostle Paul for what they perceived as his weak speaking. Paul responded with a challenge: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). You’ve been examining me, he said; turn that examination on yourselves.

Examine here means to test, prove or scrutinize to see whether a thing is genuine or not. When you take an examination in school, you are tested on your knowledge and your progress. In a courtroom, when a witness is examined, the lawyer presses him with hard questions to bring out the truth of a matter. If the witness is lying, the lawyer tries to pin him down and expose that. Sometimes we must examine our own hearts, because our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).

Take a good look at yourself, Paul says. What is going on deep down? Don’t be content with a panoramic view, or with looking only at how others perceive you. Look into the recesses of your thoughts that only God knows. Examine not just your actions but also your motives. What sins mar your character? How can you become more obedient to that law of love?

This is work. Nobody likes to look at his own faults and ugliness, which is why we shy away from self-examination. It is also why we need to ask for God’s guidance in this process (e.g. verse 10; Psalm 26:2).

Consider the poem “Self-Examination” by Isaac Watts: “Let not soft slumber close your eyes, / Before you’ve collected thrice / The train of action through the day! / Where have my feet chose out their way? / What have I learned, where’er I’ve been, / From all I’ve heard, from all I’ve seen? / What have I more that’s worth the knowing? / What have I done that’s worth the doing? / What have I sought that I should shun? / What duty have I left undone, / Or into what new follies run? / These self-inquiries are the road / That lead to virtue and to God.”

Honest self-examination helps you remove self-deception and see yourself as you actually are, as God sees you. It reveals flaws that need to change and areas where you need to grow. Though it can be sobering, it should not be discouraging: It helps reveal a path forward. “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established” (Proverbs 4:26).

In your self-examination, give real thought to the kind of person you want to be. Pray about it, think about it, visualize it. Picture yourself a year from now, then five years from now, then at the end of your life. Who is that person?

Think of the qualities you would like to build more of. Perhaps you want to become more positive and encouraging toward others. You may want to be more wise, productive, passionate, bold, decisive, generous, self-sacrificing and kind-hearted. Make a list. Now list your characteristics that you want to reduce: perhaps negative, judgmental, disorganized, lazy, selfish, petty, oversensitive, impatient, unreliable—surely there are others. Decide on practical steps—even small actsthat will move you in the direction you want to go. Ask for God’s help in following through, and then take action.

Ponder your most important relationships. Are they as strong as they should be? Consider how to make them stronger, more enriching. Think about the qualities you appreciate in your friends and family, or even that you would like to see more of in them. Then take the initiative to exhibit more of these qualities toward them. Contemplate whether you are giving enough of your time and yourself to your relationships.

How strong is your sense of purpose in life? Think about your career. Is it challenging you and helping you grow? Does it align with your values? Is it what God wants you to be doing? How well are you fulfilling His purpose for you?

Ask yourself: What are you really passionate about? What is it about these things that excites you? How do they benefit other people? How much could you help others, even change the world, if only a little, if you focused more on these things?

Think of your legacy. Give thought to how your children will remember you, and what more you can do to sweeten these memories. How can you preserve the wisdom or other treasures you would like to bequeath to them? “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children …” (Proverbs 13:22).

These are marvelous aspects of character to contemplate. Failing to consider them can leave you mired in mediocrity, complacent and stagnant, oblivious to opportunity.

The better you know yourself, the more alert you will be to doors God is opening for you to fulfill your true potential. A true appreciation of your purpose creates a determination to use each day to fulfill it, whatever the obstacles.

It all starts with a focused look in the spiritual mirror.