The Jesus Prayer


In 1Jn 1:5-10, the beloved Apostle writes

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

In the above passage, John writes about “walking in the light.” While the meaning of this peculiar phrase is little obscure, I think the latter portions of the passage give us a few clues. To walk in the light, as John might write, is to walk in an ever-expanding knowledge of the truths of God’s holiness and trustworthiness; to grow in our consciousness of our set-apartness unto God; to recognize more acutely our fallenness and need for God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; to confess our specific sins to God and each other; and to receive the inherent cleansing, regeneration, and life-rethinking such responses create.

The intentional practice of walking in the light is something the monastics (i.e., monks, solitary ones, contemplatives, etc.) have striven to make an integral part of their daily worship of God. For centuries, they’ve been praying various versions of the words spoken by the tax collector in Lk 18:13 and the blind man in Lk 18:38-39. Monastic tradition calls this prayer "The Jesus Prayer," and an expanded version of it is as follows:

Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel, Son of the Living God—O Ruler, Redeemer, and Healer of my soul...Have mercy on me, the worst of all sinners.

Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel, Son of the Living God—O Ruler, Redeemer, and Healer of my soul...Have mercy on me, the worst of all sinners.

Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel, Son of the Living God—O Ruler, Redeemer, and Healer of my soul...Have mercy on me, the worst of all sinners.

Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel, Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world...Grant me Your peace.

For those who come from a more liturgical background, the above may feel very familiar. While I pray the above version several times each day, many of my monastic brethren have a shortened version they pray almost continually, and it reads as follows:

Lord, have mercy...

A few years ago, I began praying this shortened form, too. In fact, while I still pray the longer version daily, I pray the shortened one several hundred, if not several thousand, times each day. Why? Because it keeps me in a nearly perpetual state of contriteness before God. I do so also because I can pray it while going for a swim or concentrating intently on something at work. As you’re praying the prayer, think about your need for mercy, look for ways to agree with God over the sinfulness in your life, receive His mercy and cleansing, and then look for ways to be an extension of that very same mercy to those around you (see Mt 5:7 and 6:12, and 2Co 1:3-5).

God's peace...

 

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