The Jesus PrayerAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Discipleship, Jesus, Prayer, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship
In the nineteenth century a Russian peasant traveled around his country seeking spiritual wisdom. The peasant does not even tell us his name because that was unimportant to him. What mattered was learning how to pray. He traveled from village to village and monastery to monastery to be taught how to pray without ceasing. Thankfully he left his journey for posterity in the classic of Russian spirituality called “The Way of a Pilgrim.”
One day the Pilgrim met a monk who introduced him to some insightful words from Symeon the New Theologian (AD 949-1022):
“Sit down alone and in silence. Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind (thoughts) from your head to your heart.As you breathe out say: ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.’ Say it moving your lips gently … Try to put all other thoughts aside.Be calm, be patient and repeat the process very frequently.”
Our nameless Russian Pilgrim did just as Symeon suggested. He found that he was praying this prayer hundreds of times a day. Under its guidance he found that he could pray without ceasing to Jesus and discovered shalom filling his life and soul. Soon the prayer was even invading his dreams! As he met people on his journey they became “as dear to me as if they had been my nearest relations.”
The Jesus Prayer transformed the Pilgrim’s relationship with the world around him. Every thing became instruments of God’s presence in his life. Even those who sought to do harm to the Pilgrim the prayer transformed his way of looking at them. “If anyone harms me I have only to think, “How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus’ and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all.”
I discovered the Jesus Prayer not long after a tumultuous time in my life or about 2001. I had many reasons, I thought, to be angry and vengeful. But the beauty of the Jesus Prayer is it refocuses my anger into a plea for mercy for my own gaffs. The Prayer helped bring a measure of healing and grace to my heart and mind … something I desperately needed. The Jesus Prayer expresses peace and joy as well for I am comforted with the knowledge that indeed Jesus is merciful to me. The prayer invokes the presence of Jesus into the mundane moments of my life. Like the Pilgrim, I have taken Symeon’s words to heart because they have been helpful.
Now the Jesus Prayer is like breathing. If breath is like the “spirit” (same word in both Greek and Hebrew), I breath in that wondrous spirit by saying “Jesus Christ, Son of God” and then breath out “have mercy on me.” Some how it seems I am more in tune with the Spirit as I pray than when I do not. Prayer and holding on to the mercies of the Lord have become the essence of life.
The Jesus Prayer is not all there is to prayer. However, it is one spiritual discipline that can be practiced anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance. It is an invitation to pray without ceasing and in constant awareness that if God, in his Christ, ceased even for a single moment to merciful to me … I would cease to be!
Thank you nameless Pilgrim for your journey that continues to bless those who follow you on the same path. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”