Hello there Rosary lovers! I love the Jesus prayer! In this post, I will share how to pray the Jesus prayer.
What is the Jesus prayer?
The Jesus prayer is a very ancient, simple and powerful prayer, which has an enormous amount of testimony from the saints. An incalcuable number of Catholics and Orthodox Christians have become saints by praying this prayer.
The prayer is so simple even a small child could say it: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
There are many variations of these basic words. For instance, it could be just: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’
Or it could be: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me.’
Or one might pray: ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.’
You can also just pray: ‘Lord Jesus’, or even just: ‘My Jesus.’
The crucial element of the prayer is that it is a calling on the name of Jesus, which brings immediate and eternal salvation. ‘Those who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,’ say the Scriptures.
The traditional form of this prayer, and perhaps the one in widest use, is probably: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
Where does this prayer come from?
This version is a combination of a few elements. First we have the calling on the name of Jesus, and addressing him as Lord and Christ, that is, the promised Messiah.
Then we have his title as ‘Son of God’. This is a statement of belief, in accordance with the Scriptures: anyone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is saved (1 John 4:15).
Often in the Gospels, people would call out to Jesus, saying: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Luke 18:38). The Church’s tradition has changed this to: ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.’
There is also the famous parable Jesus told of two men who went into the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a sinful tax collector.
The Pharisee is so full of pride that he prays to himself and his prayer doesn’t get higher than the ceiling. But the tax collector is filled with remorse and humility, and feels he is totally unworthy of God. He simply says: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’
This is where we get the end of the Jesus prayer, but instead of praying directly to God, we call upon the name of Jesus.
Thus we have: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ To confess that one is a sinner is a statement of humility, and the Scriptures teach that humility attracts the grace of God (see James 4:6).
The central plea of the Jesus prayer is a plea for God’s mercy. St Faustina tells us through the Lord Jesus that God’s Mercy is his greatest attribute. God’s Mercy fills all his other attributes and characteristics.
God is Mercy. As Pope Francis says: ‘The name of God is mercy.’
Therefore, when we ask God to be merciful to us, we are asking him to present his entire Nature to us. We are asking God to meet with us in the deepest way he can.
How to Pray the Jesus Prayer
The Eastern Christian tradition has developed a very sophisticated way for praying the Jesus prayer. It is called Hesychasm. Many monks and nuns practice Hesychasm, and it has turned many into saints.
However, for most of us, we are not able to pray the Jesus prayer in the same way. Many of us are simply beginners with this prayer, and it is sufficient for us merely to attempt to pray the words with our lips, over and over again.
You can approach this Jesus prayer in all sorts of ways, but the basic way to pray it is simply to say it again and again. You do this with your lips and voice when you first start praying this prayer.
Or you can use a Prayer rope.
This way, you can set yourself a target to reach: for instance, you can seek to pray 33 Jesus prayers in one sitting, or 50 Jesus prayers in one sitting.
The number isn’t so important, but 100, 150 or 300 Jesus prayers in one sitting are common goals.
The idea is to pray this prayer until you find yourself stepping into the silence of divine love. You should seek to reach a state of contemplation, a state of inner peace and inner silence or quiet.
As you pray the prayer, you may find that your voice gets quieter and quieter, until you are simply moving your lips without any sound. This is good.
Over time, the prayer will be so familiar to you, you can start to internalise it and pray it in your mind. You don’t have to keep a count of how many times you say it. You just pray it at work, or in bed, or wherever really. It can become the constant call of your heart to God.
Sometimes, God gives us a truly tremendous gift, whereby we find ourselves praying the Jesus prayer in our hearts without thinking about it. Our heart has learned to pray the prayer on its own, without our direct involvement.
This is called Prayer of the Heart. It is rare, but a very sought after gift. Sometimes it is called self-activating prayer, because the prayer prays itself within us, even when we sleep.
The Way of a Pilgrim
I am currently reading ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ for a second time. It is a superb book, very addictive and hard to put down. The book tells the story (possibly autobiographical) of a lay Christian who wanders over Russia simply praying the Jesus prayer.
The book shows how God looks after him and how he meets with all sorts of characters who teach him about the way of grace and who are taught by him. There is much spiritual gold in this book, and it is beloved by Christians from all denominations.
The book especially promotes the spiritual Jewel of the Orthodox tradition, known as the Philokalia. The Philokalia is a huge collection of the greatest spiritual writings in Eastern Orthodox Christian history.
One of the foremost aspects of the Philokalia is the Jesus prayer and Prayer of the Heart.
I hope you have enjoyed learned about the Jesus prayer and how to pray it. I recommend you try praying it and let me know how you get on with it!