Friday, February 12, 2010

Practicing the Jesus Prayer

I wrote last Saturday about reading the book The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Matthewes-Green.

The "Jesus Prayer" refers to the practice from the Eastern Orthodox tradition of repeating a specific short prayer over and over. The goal is to learn to pray without ceasing ( Eph. 6:18, 1 Thess. 5:16-18) It is used by not only monastics, but by ordinary believers also. The short version of the Jesus Prayer goes like this:

Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy on me.

There is also a slightly longer version:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.

You may wonder how this squares with Jesus' words about "vain repetitions" (Matthew 6:7)? Practitioners would answer that the repetitions are not vain, but packed with meaning. The first three words addressing the Lord are packed with the full meaning of the humanity and divinity of Christ, and the triune nature of the Godhead. The cry for mercy is not just a request for forgiveness for sins, although it certainly is that, but also a cry for healing and deliverance, echoing the cries of those who sought His aid during His earthly ministry (Mt 15:22, Mt. 17:14-15, Mark 10:46-48,Luke 17:11-19).

Those of us from Western Christian spiritual traditions should not be afraid of learning from our eastern brethren, any more than they should be afraid of learning from us. And don't give me any claim that you have no traditions but just read and follow the Bible. Of course you have traditions, no matter how charismatic you are or how Baptist you are, or how non-denominational you are. The way to overcome the blinders of one tradition is not to deny tradition, not to pretend you have no tradition, but to be exposed to multiple traditions.

I have been practicing this prayer form (using the longer version) in my prayer and devotions, and have found it helpful. Anyone else out there having any success using this in your devotional life?