The Jesus Prayer
Soon after he got in our car, he said to me, “I haven’t talked to God so much as I have in the last few hours. These were the words of our young man on the 1500 mile PAYH Bicycling Challenge who had been missing for four and a half hours, and who had us extremely worried for his safety. (See SFTD, “We Have Him! from 7/21/11) We had been in fervent prayer the whole time he was missing. Severity of circumstances will always drive the believer to prayer; to a greater intensity of communication with God that rises above the norm of common everyday life. Yet the Apostle Paul wrote in four of his epistles that there ought not be greater and lesser frequency of prayer in the believer’s life. He wrote to four different churches, “Pray at all times in the Spirit….Continue steadfastly in prayer….Pray constantly…Be constant in prayer.
Is that possible? Is it useful? How do I do it? All those questions come to mind, if indeed, this command concerning prayer even enters your mind. In the course of my pastoral and chaplain ministry I have counseled many couples prior to and after marriage that they ought to pray regularly with one another; yet, frequently find that they are very reticent to do so, and frequently do not. Now that does not even rise to the level of constant prayer, but still proves to be a difficult and ill-practiced event in their lives. Paul’s instruction goes so much further in living out the discipline of genuine faith.
I have written a book for parents on praying for and with their children (available on our website). In it I write that there are no greater prayer warriors to cover these children than their own parents, especially when you take God at His word when he tells you that their enemy is stalking them as a lion stalks his prey to devour it. A serious parent has all the incentive they need to be constantly in prayer when they consider the world, the flesh, and the devil in conjunction with the children they have received from God. But one of the reasons our faith is so faint and tired is that we have not learned the joy or the discipline of constant prayer, nor do you pray for yourself enough.
Recently, I have been reading a book titled The Jesus Prayer (Frederica Mathews-Green), a prayer that arose in the early church to practice continuous prayer and in some church communities has been passed on from one serious believer to another down through the centuries. It is on the surface a simple prayer, yet it is packed with truth; the truth of who He is and the truth of who you are, and it speaks to exactly what you need in every moment and circumstance of life, not just when you feel your situation is precarious or severe. This biblical prayer is found in today’s Scripture above: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me. This is not telling God the Father, or His Son Jesus anything they do not already know, but it is consistently and constantly acknowledging to ourselves in His presence that we are sinners who need mercy in every moment of life, and constantly reminds us of our previous commitments to be imitators of the One who saves us, helps us, and walks with us. You know as well as I, we are always forgetting who we are and whose we are. At least, our words, actions, and thoughts are testimony to such forgetfulness.
This is a prayer that can be thought (prayed) in your mind even when you are in conversation with others. Very possibly such a thought-prayer will sanctify your part of the conversation to bring blessing and truth into another’s life. And it also guards you from saying something at intense moments which you later regret, even in those situations when God is your only witness. The prayer focuses the need where it belongs; on you! It makes you less the critic who sees the splinters in everyone else, and misses the log in your own eye.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me!
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