Self knowledge is a curious thing.
It once was a fixed truth. You are who you are and there’s no changing it. But in our day and age who you are has become a thing of choice. We can choose who we want to be, what we want to be, even if that goes directly against who God has genetically and physiologically made us to be. One current example is that when one signs up for a Facebook account there are now 71 gender options to choose from. I don’t think we need to linger long on this to see that we are a confused people, laden with incorrect and often exaggerated views of ourselves.
John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying “The whole sum of our wisdom – wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured – broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” The way we get a true knowledge of God is from His holy and inspired Word. But an often overlooked implication of this is that when we gain a true knowledge of God we also get along with it a true knowledge of ourselves.
This true self knowledge comes to us in the Word also, but we experience our true selves in prayer. Why does this come to us in prayer? Because when prayer is done truthfully, reverently, and humbly it is near impossible to have an over exaggerated view of oneself. Rather, we gain an honest sense about who we truly are and who we’re truly speaking to.
Seen in this light prayer and our relationship with God is dramatically different than any other relationship we have in this life. Whether the relationship be with a friend, co-worker, stranger on the street, our children, or even our spouse you and I can be very good (and perhaps more sneaky than we’d like to admit) at presenting ourselves in a certain manner that doesn’t honestly reflect who we really are. You can put on a face before friends without much effort, even more so with co-workers who really only sees you during work, even more with strangers on the street who’ll only see you once, and though I think it’s very difficult to do with your own children and husband or wife it is sadly possible, though no one has a closer relationship with you, to deceive even them. People can function like this for years without truthfully allowing anyone to know them for who they really are. It’s a sad and lonely story but a true story nonetheless.
In contrast to all these relationships think about our relationship to God. When our relationship with God is in view, the deception does not easily continue. For God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He knows everything about you, and therefore with Him and in relating to Him it is impossible to present yourself as someone you’re not. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Or as many have said, “The scrutinizing gaze of the omniscient God completely exposes us.”
All this to say, prayer does not allow us to deceive ourselves, and so in it we learn and in a real sense acquire our true selves. Where is the first place prayer takes us? To a true self knowledge.