I have practiced the Jesus prayer off and on for several decades and it has not stuck as a practice for me. Some of my friends have it running as a “working” prayer in their subconscious all day long. In times of desperation and fear, however, it moves into the position of my primary go-to prayer. It will bring you into the heart of Jesus instantly.
In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and come to grips with St. Paul’s challenge to pray unceasingly, consider the Jesus Prayer, sometimes called the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer offers us a means of concentration, a focal point for our inner life. Though both longer and shorter versions exist, below you will find its most frequently used form:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This prayer, in its simplicity and clarity, is rooted in the Scriptures and the new life granted by the Holy Spirit. It is first and foremost a prayer of the Spirit because of the fact that the prayer addresses Jesus as Lord, Christ and Son of God; and as St. Paul tells us, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
[source of the above introduction to the prayer: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. www.goarch.org]
THE SCRIPTURAL ROOTS OF THE JESUS PRAYER
The Scriptures give the Jesus Prayer both its concrete form and its theological content.
In its brevity and simplicity, this prayer fulfills Jesus’ command that “in praying” we are “not to heap up empty phrases as the heathen do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them . . .” (Matt. 6:7-8).
This prayer roots itself in Scripture in four ways:
The Jesus Prayer root itself in the Name of the Lord. In the Scriptures, the power and glory of God reside in his Name. In the Old Testament to deliberately and attentively invoke God’s Name placed oneself in his Presence. Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means God saves, is the living Word addressed to humanity.
1. Jesus is the final Name of God, “the Name which is above all other names” and it is written that “all beings should bend the knee at the Name of Jesus” (Phil. 2:9-10).
2. In this Name devils are cast out (Luke 10:17),
3. prayers are answered (John 14:13 14),
4. and the lame healed (Acts 3:6-7).
The Name of Jesus is unbridled spiritual power.
- The words of the Jesus Prayer are themselves based on Scriptural texts: the cry of the blind man sitting at the side of the road near Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18:38); the ten lepers who “called to him, ‘Jesus, Master, take pity on us’ ” (Luke 17:13); and the cry for mercy of the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:14).
- It is a prayer in which the first step of the spiritual journey is taken: the recognition of our own sinfulness, our essential estrangement from God and the people around us. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which we admit our desperate need of a Savior. For “if we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth” (1 John 1:8).
How to Make the Prayer a Habit
“To make it a habit we must say the words slowly, mindfully, and with respect for their meaning. We do this repetition at specific times with a certain number in mind, somewhat like repeating the prayers of the rosary, fifty times in five sets. Then we rest and repeat it another fifty times in five sets. We do this morning and evening for two weeks. Then we increase it, repeating the words one hundred times in two sets, morning and night.
A Working Prayer
“The Jesus Prayer is a ‘working’ prayer done as we do other things. It is not a meditation practice like centering prayer. We concentrate on making it happen while we are doing our ordinary tasks of walking, driving, cleaning, cooking, managing children, or teaching a class. We keep increasing our repetitions gradually until we start to feel the prayer rising automatically in the in-between times. If for some reason we stop our practice, we start it again with three sets of fifty repetitions. After about two months, this ceaseless Jesus Prayer will be self-acting all the time.”
Now when I read about all those repetitions the first time, I thought no way. You might share the same thought. However you use this prayer, as an active working prayer that takes a little work and then continues unceasingly within you the rest of your life, or simply to aid you in moments of fear or stress, the prayer speeds you into the heart of Jesus. Safe and sound. Use it. Spiritual tools do matter.
Memorize it. Keep it in the back pocket of your heart. It will come in handy. Trust me. Correction: trust in Jesus.