“Fashion this invocation into a sword, and put all the strength of your love into it, for it will pierce the cloud of unknowing that stands between us and God.” (The Cloud of Unknowing)
As I grow ‘fuller of years’ I am increasingly experiencing the blessing and the power of harnessing a practice beloved of millions: the so-called “Jesus Prayer”. Originally, this was just a continual repeating of the name “Jesus.” Later it developed into, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
If this appeal to Jesus to have mercy may sounds at first somewhat naïve, as we shall be seeing it is neither an insult to our intelligence, nor meaningless repetition. This simple yet profound prayer enables us to centre our hearts on Jesus, lean on His mercy and call on His power.
Whether we are feeling up, down or somewhere in between, this prayer of the heart can be a simple and liberating way not only to keep the soul from distractions and anxieties but to unstop the gushing waters of prayer – rather as removing a small stopper can release a mighty spring.
Isn’t that a lovely thought? So many take the name of the Lord in vain. The hurt this causes reaches right up into the Heavens. How precious by contrast when the Lord hears His beloved children uttering His name in love.
Such prayer is as much a sweet fragrance to Him as it is a stench to the powers of darkness, who become confused and disgusted by its gentle insistence. This is all the more important in a world where materialists are ever in search of their own pleasure and self-advancement, whilst wizards druids and other religious powers are equally as intent as we are on claiming people and lands for their own cause.
Since ninety-nine point nine per cent of our life lies ahead of us in eternity, let’s make sure we are using our time on Earth as essential preparation for being with Him forever. This requires many repeated choices and decisions – and many find praying the ‘Jesus prayer’ a powerful aid to this.
After many years of inner struggle, Brother Lawrence reached a place where he could claim that, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
How much better to call on the name of the Lord than just to entertain a host of empty churning thoughts!
When negative thoughts are knocking on the door of our heart, and the spiritual ping pong plays itself out in our minds, take hold of this prayer as a shield of faith. “This is so annoying . . . I just can’t face this . . . It’s too much . . . I’m useless!” – “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!”
The variations are almost infinite. For example, you might find it helpful to have the refrain ‘Lord Jesus Christ, send Your power’ running through your hearts on some days. Or, “Lord Jesus, send Your deliverance into this situation.”
In such ways it is easy to turn the prayer “outwards” on behalf of others and to pray “Lord Jesus, have mercy on them.”
It is at this point that we find the Jesus prayer becoming more akin to an almost gut wrenching cry of the heart than the gentle contemplative prayer we may have assumed it to be. This is when we experience something of the intensity of Gethsemane, and qualify for the great promise that it is those who seek the Lord with all their heart who find Him (Jer. 29:13, cf Deut 4:29, Luke 22:44).
If you find the rhythm of this prayer of the heart helpful, (and the only way to find out is to practise!) the blessing can hardly fail to radiate out to bless others.
Why not practice using the Jesus prayer for a few weeks? Even though it may well take a great deal longer for it to become more deeply ‘embedded’, this will give the chance for it to begin to become a hidden rhythm of prayer woven into the fabric of our being.