16 Aug 2007

The Jesus Prayer

Author: 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.

Bobby Valentine

19 Responses to “The Jesus Prayer”

  1. Steve Says:

    I read that book in the early 90’s. It is one of many examples of a specie of christian devotion and practice that is not well known amongst us Protestants.

  2. Bobby Cohoon Says:

    And many thanks for the pilgrim our in Arizona who passed this on to us! 🙂

    Great job Bobby,


  3. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post brother.
    Imagine what the Church would be like if we prayed this prayer daily in our lives. After reading this post I am going to strive to pray it in my life and try to experience more of God’s Shalom in every aspect of my life. May we all learn to pray without ceasing and become more like Christ each day.
    God bless your bother.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  4. Niki Says:

    I was introduced to this prayer by a musician at Youth Specialties several years ago. Through out the conference he led an early morning series on different kinds of prayers. I’m not a morning person, but the one morning I decided to get up for it, this was the prayer he was teaching…well, singing. It was beautiful and it captivated me with its simplicity. I can’t say that it’s a discipline, but I often find myself humming that tune and eventually bursting into song singing those wonderful words…Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me!

    Great story Bobby! Thanks!

  5. lisa Says:

    Excellent idea, I’m going to try it. Thanks for sharing, Bobby!

  6. john dobbs Says:

    Thank you, Bobby. As you know I am teaching a class on the Disciplines … I will be sharing this with our church.

  7. Falantedios Says:

    One of my favorite parts of Christian spirituality is its immense practicality.

    The Psalmist said, “Taste and see…”

    The Master himself said, Do what I say and you will know whether I am from God.

    Father, help me overcome my spiritual pride and inertia and DO the simple practical things that will open me to your life, your love.

    in HIS love,

  8. James Says:

    Thanks. Great post, Bobby. As you know, some of our Orthodox friends add yet another dynamic through this addition…

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me…a sinner.”

    Again, thanks for the reminder of a great practice in prayer.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    us pilgrims get around…

    – Dan Ellwein

  10. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    Since reading this post the other day, Bobby, I’ve been saying this prayer. It helps a lot.

    Sometimes I just say, “help” or the last words of Jesus (in a slightly different context, of course), “Father, into Thy hands, I commend my spirit.” I like saying that one to try to turn everything over to God and that’s what I want my final words and thoughts on earth to be when I leave this life.


    of Finding Direction: The Wind Vane Chronicles

  11. pilgrimdan Says:

    okay… lets see if this works…

  12. Adam Gonnerman Says:

    Thanks for the background on that prayer. I first heard of it at least 12 years ago while attending a Presbyterian church. Personally, I prefer the Prayer of the Trinity, though it takes longer to learn and probably requires more concentration.

    Here’s a link to more info on the Prayer of the Trinity:


  13. Anonymous Says:

    When I was baptized in 2000 I remember praying the Lord’s Prayer…Our Father…….
    In the middle of the prayer I stopped and asked, “but who is this Jesus?”

    It became a question that I continue to ask of Him all the time. Whether in sorrow, joy, reverence, or praise it’s, Lord Jesus????? I call it the working man’s prayer because it gives me a sense of identity and guidance no matter what I am doing.

  14. ben overby Says:


    As I’m sure you know, the prayer predates Symeon by hundreds of years; it can be traced back to the the desert fathers.

    Though there was a time when I practiced the prayer as a discipline, I find that the original Jesus prayer has a greater effect in the ordering of my inner furniture. “Lord Jesus, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

    A plea for personal mercy is fine, but as Jesus seems to indicate, sin is corporate. It’s a “we” thing, not “me,” thing. And my appeal for mercy must remain contextualized; I’m constantly compelled to forgive the other person even as I appeal for “our” transgressions. Jesus’ prayer doesn’t allow this reality to escape us.

    The eastern orthodox version which (as indicated) grew out of the experience of monks, works fine for a person who lives on top of a platform suspended above the desert floor for decades. He doesn’t have to forgive anyone anything in such rigid isolation. But for any of us who live in community, I’d encourage the practice of prayer as you described it (without ceasing) but with Jesus’ twist.

    Breathe in: Lord Jesus, forgive us our sins . . .
    Breathe out: as we forive those who sin against us.

    Or, you could exhange “mercy” for “forgive.” Lord Jesus, have mercy on us, as we are merciful to each other.

    Obviously, there’s a need for personal pleas (as per Ps. 51, et.al.). But if we make a prayer part of the air we breathe and it doesn’t overtly include the communal reality, then for many practictioners, this can become another privatized expression of an already over-individualized, privatized religion.

    Perhaps your could give it a shot, mix it in with eastern practice. If so, I’d be interested in any fruit it bears.

    I hope the heat has subsided in your desert. It’s going to be smoking up here in Rochester today–topping out somewhere in the mid 70’s. : )

    Ben Overby

  15. Falantedios Says:


    How do you get 18 syllables out in the context of an average breath cycle, without cramming the words together like an auctioneer? Deep breathing prayer helps me when I have time set aside for such, but during the course of my work-day, I don’t generally take breaths that deep.

    The way I taught the prayer last, I used a simple hierarchy.

    We need food to live.
    More than food, we need water.
    More than water, we need air.
    More than air, we need mercy.
    Thus, every time we take care of our need for air, we also recognize our even greater need for moment-to-moment mercy.

    I think, for most beginners anyway, you’ve got to start simple.

    in HIS love,

  16. Danny Says:

    I am wishing you shalom in your life Bobby- and praying that for you and your family.

    As always your posts open up new avenues of thought for me.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Nick, I like what you said about being simple. We are all so unique and yet, called by the same God. It certainly calls for creativity.

    I was looking at something I wrote as a new christian. Too many words confuse,,,,”Lean only on Christ For He is Love.”

    I was still a babe in diapers without the even the ability to crawl. Now, that I AM who I AM, so much wiser, I’ve actually returned to that simple prayer. Isn’t it awesome how God desire’s to speak to us all day in so many different ways?!

  18. Zack Says:

    Excellent thoughts here brother! I will start practicing that in my own life. Thank you for your insights! Blessings!

  19. Phil Says:

    Thank you for this message.

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