The Jesus Prayer is also referred to as The Prayer of the Heart, and The Silent Breath Prayer. It is the prayer of the publican found in Luke 18:10-17.
For some of us it may seem that the words of this prayer “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” put too much focus on how “bad” we are. “What about our self esteem” some might say. Is it really healthy to go around repeating this prayer over and over? Would it not be better to repeat a prayer thanking God for how wonderful we are?
I had some of those same thoughts when I was first introduced to the Jesus Prayer. It is so much easier to want to be like the proud Pharisees and feel good about ourselves. Acknowledging that we are sinners is humiliating, and no one likes to be humiliated.
It is a strange paradox, however, that in acknowledging that we are a sinner can actually make us feel better about ourselves. The knowledge that we are never good enough and asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness frees us from the guilt and shame that bog us down. So, it is in that prayer “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” that we feel a thankfulness to God unlike no other.
The experiences I have had above did not come right away when I started using the Jesus Prayer. I believe I have to really live with the prayer for a time before I understood the mystery of this beautiful prayer.
By acknowledging we are sinners and asking for God’s mercy, we are praising God for his love and thanking God for creating us. When we are carrying around the burden of guilt and shame, we cannot even really see the beauty around us.
For me, The Jesus Prayer has become a way that I can truly give thanks to God, that despite my failures, the God’s love and mercy makes the beauty of the world new every morning. It gives me an opportunity to start fresh.
Along with using The Jesus Prayer with prayer beads (one of which is the Chotki as shown above) this simple prayer has also been used through the ages as a way to pray continuously.
When you breathe in “Lord” – breathe out “have mercy” – breathe in “on me” – breathe out “a sinner” – your every breath can become a prayer. If you uses meditation or yoga as tools in your prayer practices, The Jesus Prayer can be a wonderful way to focus your mind on Christ.
Have you had experience using The Jesus Prayer? What does this prayer mean to you?