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The Jesus Prayer

Purpose

To call on the name of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to invite Jesus’ presence into our lives and each situation, and to receive His abundant grace and mercy.

Introduction

The Jesus Prayer came from the early Christians that went to live in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine in the early centuries of the Christian faith. They were called the desert Fathers and Mothers. The desert appealed to them because it eliminated most of those other things to think about, life was stripped down to the essentials.[1] This allowed the desert fathers and mothers to dedicate their lives to ascetic practices and communion with God. They adopted certain prayer habits with the aim of keep their minds fully on God at all times and the Jesus Prayer evolved as a way of praying without ceasing, of staying in continual orientation towards Jesus. With mental repetition over time, the action of saying the prayer causes it to “descend into the heart” giving it it’s other name, “prayer of the heart”

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner”

The first part of the Jesus Prayer echoes the many times people have asked Jesus for mercy in the scriptures during the years of his earthly ministry.[2] The second part comes from the prayer of the Publican in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly." Matt 15:22

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Luke 17:11-13

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:46-47.

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.’” Matt 17:14-15.

These are all cries for Jesus’ help, not for leniency.[3] God’s forgiveness is abundant and free, but we keep on sinning. Unfortunately with sin comes guilt and shame, the Jesus Prayer releases us from this. There may be times when we recognize that we are about to fall into temptation, the Jesus Prayer can help give us pause, some breathing room, the chance to see and resist temptation.[4] Should we fall into temptation anyway, we can still pray the Jesus Prayer and seek God’s grace and mercy, and learn from our failures.

God doesn’t need us to remind him to be merciful; he is merciful all the time, even when we don’t ask.[5] But unless we make a habit of asking for mercy, we forget that we need it.[6] The Jesus Prayer trains us in the habit of always asking for Jesus’ mercy.

The Jesus Prayer gives us a way to pray constantly with the goal of helping us always keep in touch with the presence of God:

pray continually” 1 Thess 5:17

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Rom 12:12

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Col 4:2

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” John 16:23

Practice

The Jesus Prayer has two parts: you call on the name of the Lord and then you ask him for mercy.[7] It can be shortened to “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

The prayer can be said slowly meditating on each phrase. Emphasis can be placed on different words of the prayer each time it is repeated, for instance “Lord” then “Jesus” and so on.

Some recommend tying the words of the prayer to your breathing, for instance “Lord Jesus Christ” as you inhale, and “Have mercy on me” as you exhale. However, if this proves to be a distraction from the words of the prayer then simply recite the words how you feel comfortable.

The Jesus Prayer can be done for a set period of time, like 10-15 minutes. This might be called the "formal" use of the prayer. The second form of the Jesus Prayer is the "free" use of the prayer. This involves saying the Jesus Prayer at any time during the day as you go about your daily activities. The Jesus Prayer is notably useful in times of anxiety or distress as a way of turning the attention to the Lord.

Remember

But what if I don’t feel awe—what if I don’t feel anything? We don’t have any control over how and when God makes himself known to us. But we do have some say about how we regard him.—Frederica Mathewes-Green[8]

Additional resources

Frederica Mathewes-Green. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God.

 


[1] Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God. (Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2009), 4.

[2] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 5.

[3] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 6.

[4] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 10.

[5] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 9.

[6] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 9.

[7] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 76.

[8] Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer, 84.

 
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