This ancient prayer is still effective today.
Some call it the “breath prayer”. The Desert Fathers called it the Jesus Prayer. No matter what you call this simple prayer, when applied, it can be a source of deep transformation of the soul.
My New Testament professor at Trinity School for Ministry was Dr Rod Whitacre. While many revered him most for his biblical knowledge, I was captivated by his contemplative demeanor. He was a man of God whose life was marked by prayer. Dr. Whitacre first introduced this prayer to me. Each semester he would lead the Contemplative Prayer group on campus. As we tried to center in on being present to God, we would focus on relaxing our breathing. As we breathed in we would repeat, "Jesus Christ, Son of God"….and out… "have mercy on me". I tried it immediately. Throughout the next days, in my quite times with God as well as every time I caught my mind wandering, I would return to this simple prayer. As I focused on Jesus Christ, with this simple prayer, peace came.
I wish I could tell you that I kept it up. But no, I did not. As is all too often the story of my personal journey, I left the good thing behind and failed to REALLY incorporate it into my way of life. This is, until recently, when I returned.
As I go through routine tasks of the day, I am once again learning to meditate on this prayer. Over and over, as I cook, clean, write, walk; whatever I do, I return to “Jesus Christ, Son Of God"...breath out... "have mercy on me a sinner". As I do, I notice that my mind refocuses from the things of this world and onto the Son of God. If only for a few moments at a time, Colossians 3:2 is a reality to me:
“Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.”
When I do this, the things of this earth…. such as the anger of another toward me, the wound received from a bitter one, tasks to undertake so that mission connections will flourish and the church start will be sustainable…they all begin to fade into the background of my mind. I begin to ponder the wonder of God who, time after time, DOES grant this sinner mercy. I become more aware of my own sin and the unfathomable unconditional love of my Father. Peace comes again. Clarity of focus is given for each thought or word spoken. As my mind begins to drift again to this world and its concerns, I bring it back to Jesus Christ, Son of God, the One who has mercy on me, a sinner.
I enjoy learning to pray without ceasing which we are encouraged to do in Scriptures. (See Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Yes, this ancient prayer is still effective today.
Why not give it a try?
Whether this will be your first time to try or a returning sojourner like me, the authors of Unseen Warfare give some guidelines that might prove helpful. Here are a few:
- Begin and end your current practice of prayer with the Jesus Prayer.
- Increase the number of repetitions gradually as your enjoyment of the prayer grows.
- Recite the prayer slowly and recite it as though you were standing before the Lord himself.
- Make certain the prayer comes from the heart and not merely from the lips.
- Repeat the prayer whenever you have free time, doing so at intervals of your occupations and even in your talking.
May you continue to grow in union with Christ.