Do you ever feel like it’s challenging to fit prayer in amid life’s hectic demands? I sure do, and that makes 1 Thessalonians 5:17’s call to “pray without ceasing” especially overwhelming. Between work, school, friendships, and other commitments, it’s hard enough to fit in time for prayer as it is.
At least, that’s what I thought — until I was introduced to ‘The Jesus Prayer.’
What is The Jesus Prayer?
It’s a short and powerful, usually repeated prayer: Κύριε Ιησού Χριστέ, Υιέ του Θεού, ελέησόν με, translated, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me.”
A slightly longer version, which is what I learned to pray, is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Sound familiar? That may be because it strongly echoes the words of the tax collector in Luke 18:13, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
When did this become a prayer?
While the origins of The Jesus Prayer are unknown, the roots of the prayer are often traced to the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the fifth century in Egypt. Among the early iterations of this prayer, the version I like to pray is found in the Discourse on Abba Philimon from The Philokalia, dating back to around 600 AD. It’s a common prayer in the Eastern Church, often recited using a prayer rope (think: somewhat like a rosary).
The Jesus Prayer is short, sweet, and to the point.
How does it help me “pray without ceasing?”
In some monasteries throughout the world, The Jesus Prayer is prayed alongside every breath that is taken.
Words are recited in rhythm with inhaling and exhaling: (inhaling) Lord Jesus Christ / (exhaling) Son of the Living God / (inhaling) Have Mercy on Me / (exhaling) A Sinner. (Repeat.)
This verbal repetition is antecedent by a conscious internal reality of who God is, who we are, and His overflowing mercy He offers to us.
The idea of intentional prayer becoming part of my every breath sounded pretty neat, so I began reciting the Jesus Prayer in the “between” parts of my day, such as while in the car, brushing my teeth, walking into a building, or doing dishes.
It took me a while to form the habit of this type of prayer, but, over time, it has changed my life.
A new perspective
We all make mistakes. Deep down, to some extent or another, I’m usually not okay, and I imagine you may feel that way sometimes, too. For me, this is anteceded by the reality that, because of my sin, I’ve distanced myself from God, a distance that manifests itself in very real, human ways in my life.
Yet, through The Jesus Prayer, I frequently encounter God in my weaknesses and in my sin, reminding myself that the “living God” is there amidst this. Sure, it doesn’t change Him: His enduring mercy is ever-present. But it has changed me.
While I started with The Jesus Prayer, I’ve since realized that there are lots of parts of me that need to, individually, encounter God. “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” “Lord, grant me the grace to let my heart beat where my feet stand.” “Lord, help me to know and to follow my vocation.” The list could go on.
In the past year, this habit of repeated, in-between prayer has most commonly taken the form of “Your Will, Lord.” After marrying young and choosing to wait before trying to begin a family, I was at a place of desperately longing to welcome a new life into our world.
After feeling so in-control of our fertility, I felt lost amid the realization that we were now called to trust God’s plan for our family. This three-word prayer — ”Your will, Lord” — was as much a plea to my heart to accept the Father’s will as it was a plea to the Father to take control of our life and our family.
Once again, it doesn’t change Him, but it has changed me.
Jesus wants us to encounter Him where we are. Praying without ceasing is an overwhelming thought, but praying in the in-between times? Well, I figured that was a good place to start.
Over time, it’s changed my life. It may just change yours, too.