Lesson 15: Praying with a prayer-sentence
This is the final lesson in this part of six chapters about the Jesus prayer. I will pause and shine a light on a number of aspects of the Jesus prayer (or another prayer sentence).
15.1 Have mercy on me?
Some participants of this course indicated earlier: I find it quite difficult to keep praying those words ‘Have mercy on me’. Two reasons for this were: 1) I have already received such mercy, why do I have to pray for it over and over again? 2) These words keep making me feel like a failing and sinful human being, yet I am redeemed and free? In the following I will try to formulate the trajectory to an answer to these questions.
‘Have mercy on me’. The word mercy is about compassion and indeed evokes the reality of our vulnerable humanness, which is often characterized by failures and mistakes. In the tradition of the Jesus prayer the words ‘a sinner’ were often chosen to be added on to the prayer. This will result in twelve words. I have been told that this happened centuries ago to teach novices in the monastery, young men who embarked on monastic life with a lot of self-assurance, not to think too big of themselves. I do not use that addition myself, because I recognize that repeating ‘a sinner’ over and over does not make me more cheerful, also it does not do enough justice to the truth being born again through the Spirit of Jesus. The words ‘have mercy on me’ feel right to me because in these words I hear above all that, as a vulnerable human being, I am utterly dependent on God’s grace, on God’s help, on God’s compassion for me. The underlying strength of the first half of the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”) creates a valuable and fruitful link to the weakness that resounds in the second half (“Have mercy on me”). Thus the Jesus prayer reminds me of the meeting between the Lord and Paul the Apostle, where Jesus says: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness and where Paul responds with: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses (…)For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
15.2 Can it be different?
By praying the Jesus prayer you become more aware of the powerful presence of the Lord in your life and you also become more aware of your own vulnerable existence as a human being. In my own experience the Jesus prayer is therefore not primarily a request, but the expression of an awareness. It is about being present in God’s presence, and the words help to come and stay in His presence. By the bye, we now are busy contemplating the meaning and impact of the words we pray, when the words are specifically not intended to prompt us to weigh and ponder but to bring us into the presence of the Lord. In truth, that is not necessarily a contradiction. To me, the beauty of the Jesus prayer is the wealth of biblical thoughts behind it in which you can wander endlessly and discover new things again and again. And at the same time there is the simplicity of these ten words that bring calm and help to be less busy deliberating, and to simply be present.
Furthermore, the Jesus prayer is one specific form of ‘praying with a prayer sentence’. So no one is obliged to pray exactly these words. In previous lessons it has also become clear you can choose other phrases and you can alter the words of the Jesus prayer, in particular in the second part. Some examples:
- Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, I worship you.
- Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, I trust you.
- Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, give me peace.
- Lord Jesus, here I am.
- Lord Jesus, You are love.
I quote this text again: where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17) If a certain prayer phrase begins to feel constraining, change it up. And keep in mind what praying with a prayer sentence is all about: using just a few words that are always the same (or at least for a longer period of time), to seek and experience in silence God’s presence.
15.3 Radiating Jesus
The first time I wrote about the Jesus prayer was in a book I wrote in the year 2005. I’d like to conclude this lesson with a couple more paragraphs from this book.
When we reverently and lovingly mention the name of Jesus, the name that is beyond any name, we are on the path of praying without ceasing. And it will become a path of joy and gratitude no matter what. For in prosperity and adversity, in health and sickness, in wealth and poverty, the loving and reverent incessant mentioning of the name of Jesus is a tremendous power. It is a way of praying that so simple and so direct, it makes clear that we want to completely depend on the God who revealed Himself in Christ, His Beloved Son. Where the holy name of Jesus is mentioned in a heart that prays, there is protection and love and comfort and mercy and strength and acceptance.
We can pray the name Jesus anywhere and at any time: on the street, on the train, in bed, on a walk, when we are in conversation, when we are in need and when we are happy. The name of Jesus brings light to every situation. To practice this Jesus prayer, it may be good to also set aside a certain time for the invocation of this name. Then try to find calm and quiet and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Then say in your heart or out loud, the name of Jesus, and let that name and its meaning and power get through to you. Call the name full of love and think only of him. Let the name penetrate your soul like a drop of oil spreads in a garment and penetrates it.
Learn to pray the name Jesus and to be fulfilled increasingly with his Spirit. Then the name will find a home in your heart and will become the breath of your life. Then the name will be the resting point you can always return to. Because in that one name you will always find everything you need.
1. What thoughts and feelings do the words “Have mercy on me” evoke in you?
2. How do you think praying the Jesus prayer can help you radiate Jesus’ love?
In this lesson again, take time to practice praying the Jesus prayer (or another prayer phrase). Determine how much time you want to spend on this using the silence timer.
Choose your ’timer’:
When you want to do a lextio divina exercise, you could choose this time for Psalm 51: 10-12.
Create in me a clean heart,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away
from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Anterior you also can listen with your full attention to a song written at Psalm 51:10-12, Create in Me a Clean Heart.
A statement by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
The power of man