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Experience The Jesus Prayer

Are you looking for a way to feel God’s presence more fully in your life? The best way to do this is through prayer. The problem is that most of the time prayer is a one-way street.

Prayer time might consist of nothing more than giving God a to do list. We name what we want, and often when we want it, and how we want it done. There is nothing wrong with sharing our deepest desires with God. However, giving God a list of problems is not all there is to prayer.

Which of us would treat a friend the way we treat God? We wouldn’t call a friend on the phone and then dump all our demands on them only to hang up once we were done telling them our needs. But that is exactly what we can do to God when our prayers are nothing more than a laundry list of ours needs.

Prayer can and should include thanksgiving, praise, and more. But, I sometimes find it hard to settle my mind down for a lengthy time of listening prayer. I have found the centuries old Jesus Prayer to be helpful. The prayer is used in an ancient pattern of contemplative prayer. The Jesus Prayer is part of a meditative practice that is decidedly Christian.

The prayer is extremely simple. In it’s fullest form, The Jesus Prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That simple prayer was inspired by the story in Luke 18:10-14, in which Jesus’ compares a self-righteous prayer with a humble prayer similar to The Jesus Prayer.

In praying The Jesus Prayer, you simply repeat the short prayer in your mind for about 15 minutes. I have found it most helpful to use a long-popular shortened version of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

I control my breathing to match the prayer. So that while breathing in slowly I think “Lord Jesus Christ.” Then while exhaling I think, “Have mercy on me.” I find it easier to settle my mind if my breathing keeps pace with the prayer and I can only accomplish that with the shorter form of the prayer. Even a few minutes of the slow, rhythmic breathing while praying the prayer can help me detach from the constant demands of the world and reconnect to God.

While this form of prayer, which is a type of meditation, may at first sound like some unchristian, New Age concoction, The Jesus Prayer has nourished Christians for centuries. The oldest reference to the full form of the prayer is the sixth-century writings of a minister named Philemon. There are also earlier references in the 400s, by a Christian church leader named Diadochus, which speak of praying Jesus’ name and may be The Jesus Prayer.

I have found this form of prayer to be extremely useful. The Jesus Prayer can be prayed at a set time each day, of course, but I find it most helpful to fit the prayer into my life as time permits. In fact, the more stressful and busy I get, the more I find The Jesus Prayer useful.

For example, if you find yourself tense while dodging among the cars and trucks on I-95, you can loosen your grip on the wheel and begin to repeat this simple prayer in your mind. I have prayed the prayer in all sorts of settings as I find that I can make the time and want to feel God’s presence.

In the final analysis, The Jesus Prayer is not a stress reduction technique, immune system booster, or anything done for a specific benefit. The Jesus Prayer flows from a desire to draw closer to God through the person of Jesus Christ. God honors that prayer with the felt presence of the Holy Spirit. Of course, this manner of prayer does not replace other forms of prayer, but  can add to the ways in which you can enter in to God’s presence.

The power of this simple prayer is that it finds its beginning and end, not in us and our needs, but in God and God’s presence in our hectic lives. I don’t know about you, but I find that is something I need.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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