The Jesus Prayer

John ArmstrongPrayer

The apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonian Christians that they should they should: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). I ponder this text a great deal. I am sure I fail the first more than once a day, more likely a few times every day. I also fail the last more times than I care to admit. But the middle imperative is even more difficult, or so it seems to me. How do I "pray without ceasing?"

Most Christians I know try something like this to explain this injunction: "God knows we cannot pray all the time since we must do many things throughout a day that are not prayer so this has to mean something else than what it appears to mean." I cannot agree. Nor did the ancient fathers of the Christian Church. They believed that all three of these Pauline injunctions were to be literally obeyed every single day, all day long, and even in the night when we awake from our sleep.

One of the problems of this age is that we have settled for making things way too easy. We think the impossible is not meant for us so we find ways to avoid it. But these commands are not impossible, at least not with the Spirit's presence and constant help. The problem is in our will, our flesh, our weakness, not in the commands of God.

From the second or third century on Christians used what was called "The Jesus Prayer" in order to fulfill this seemingly impossible command to "Pray without ceasing." The Jesus prayer can be prayed at all times and under all circumstances by all people. To pray it faithfully is to pray unceasingly from the heart. It follows the clear teaching of Scripture and thus says: "O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Have you ever prayed the Jesus Prayer? We have a "sinner's prayer" but we very often teach someone to say it "once" and the whole is done. Invite Jesus into your heart and you do not have to pray this prayer again, at least if you have faith. Or so I was told. But the Jesus Prayer is for all people at all times in all circumstances. It is a true way to "pray without ceasing." By it you can stoke the flame of love for God. By it you confess you are nothing more than a sinner who needs grace, every moment of every day. By it you confess that Jesus alone is Lord! Try praying it, maybe a few hundred times, and then see what happens. Pray it now. Pray it again in the next moment. Pray it as you are falling asleep tonight. Pray it when you wake up. Pray it when you face trials. Pray it when you are driving. Pray it at meals. Pray it when you cannot seem to find the means to rejoice or give thanks. You will be amazed if you develop this spiritual discipline of prayer with this ancient practice. It has changed my life.