The Jesus Prayer

The apostle Paul commands believers, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, to "Pray without ceasing (continually, TNIV). It seems apparent that we cannot be in the continual posture of prayer, or in the place of prayer, at all times. But can we live a life of prayer that keeps us in the continual practice of prayer while we do a hundred other things throughout a busy day?

The Eastern Church developed a monastic practice that was rooted in the Greek word hesychia, which meant silence or leisure. This practice developed whereby the monks learned to pray monological prayers in order to experience elements of the mystery of the Christian faith deep within. Aspects of mysticism followed, some good and some a bit removed from what seems to be biblical spirituality. Hesychast practice focused on the concentration of attention within, first verbally, and then in the depth of one’s being, using what was called The Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Variations exist, with some forms omitting the last two words, but this is the most common way it is used.

The living tradition of the Jesus Prayer follows an unbroken line back to the sixth century Egyptian desert in Eastern Orthodoxy. The tradition tells us that the power of this prayer lies not only in the words, which are plainly biblical, but in the model of the praying itself. This prayer is not for use just once or twice a day, but can be used hundreds of times during the day, letting the words burrow deeply into your life, attaching them to the very breath that keeps you alive. Just as we breathe in, and breathe out, we pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

This simple, but powerful, prayer can take over your mind. When repeated ceaselessly, in a gentle and loving manner, it gradually transforms the heart. It fosters an intimate dialogue and a song of love between Christ and the human soul. It overwhelms human suffering and thus has even been called "the prayer of the heart."

Since prayer is not a rigid form, and this one may not be useful for everyone, The Jesus Prayer has never been universally used. But I have personally put it to use for several years now and find that it helps me sort out the world around me and my soul within me. When fears come into my heart I pray this prayer. When I feel overwhelmed by life’s events I pray it too. It keeps the truth about Jesus and, and about me as a sinner, plainly before me night and day. By this little prayer the love of Christ, and my own weakness, are kept at the center of my thoughts, which I have found to be a wonderful way to practice true biblical spirituality.