Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Jesus Prayer

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The Jesus Prayer is a very simple prayer that dates back centuries. Used by many Christian traditions, the Jesus Prayer comes to us as an older practice that was formalized by the Orthodox Church in the 5th Century but really stems from Biblical roots. In Matthew 20:31 we find the two blind men begging Jesus for mercy and in Luke 18:13 we see the tax collector crying out to God. This is the same kind of prayer we try to achieve with the Jesus Prayer. When we look at these passages in accordance with 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we see the reasoning behind the repetition of this prayer.

The Prayer is simple, it is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." This simple phrase is repeated multiple times during a prayer time. 

Praying the prayer itself can be a learned process, because although it is simple, we really should not mindlessly repeat the phrase. It requires a humble and honest approach for it to be useful. Just as we see in the scriptures listed, we need to approach prayer with a sense of need for the real presence and life changing power of Jesus in our hearts.  The prayer is meant to be spoken on the lips, not just within our thoughts. If whispered quietly, the first part of the the prayer can be spoken while breathing in and the last part can be spoken while breathing out so that we can visualize ourselves breathing in Christ and exhaling ourselves as sinners. This is just a variation and is not a requirement to the prayer.
A Prayer Rope can be very useful for concentration during the prayer as well as setting a goal for yourself regarding how many times or how long you will say the prayer in a day. In the Orthodox tradition the use of knotted prayer ropes is an integral part of the Jesus Prayer. Orthodox prayer ropes (Chotki in Russian) can be purchased or made , but a simpler beaded version can be tied as well using wooden beads and hemp. Our youth ministry recently practiced making these at a prayer retreat and most of the students made them with little to no problems. The Prayer rope that I like to use has 50 beads and a fringe and cross at the end. When I have prayed all the way around the rope, I take a minute while holding the cross to speak my worries and cares to Christ. After having said the prayer at least 50 times I find that those prayers while holding the cross are much more heartfelt and meaningful. If you are interested in learning how to make the simplified version, you can contact me and I can give you instructions.

Miniature Creed
The Jesus Prayer is simply put, a statement of faith or a creed. The words themselves speak to what a Christian believes and what his attitude should be. 
Lord -we give Jesus the Lordship of our life; Jesus-we invoke and call on His name; Christ-we call him the Messiah (that's what Christ means); Son of God-we recognize His place as the only begotten; have mercy-we plea just as the tax collector or the blind men did; on me a sinner-we recognize our state and need for Him.
When we look at the prayer this way, it seems a powerful statement of faith, worthy of writing in our hearts.

Personal Practice
When I first tried this prayer as an experiment, it seemed wrote and repetitive to me. In a word, I called it dumb. Only after having repeated it for a time did I find a sense of peace and connectedness to God. When I had repeated the prayer for about a half hour I felt more at peace than I had in a while during personal prayer times and I finally realized that this would be of great use to me. The longer I have practiced it the more and more I have become fond of it and it has grown to be an integral part of my private prayer times. During some recent months of increased stress in my ministry I have relied on this prayer heavily to give me the strength, peace, and patience to make it through the day. 

I hope that you give this prayer a try. I almost didn't but because of a book that I was reading I decided to give it a try and it proved a lifeline to me during a difficult stage of ministry. I hope and pray the Jesus Prayer is as meaningful and useful to you as it was and is to me.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lectio Divina

For the first post on Prayer practices I thought it best fitting to share the practice of Lectio Divina first. This is an ancient form of prayer that is still widely used today. Although this site is to be first practical, I think it is best to explain what it means first and where it came from.

Lectio Divina (pronounced Lehxio Diveena) is not something that was recently invented or is just a fad. Lectio Divina (from the latin: Lectio-reading, Divina-sacred) can be traced in Church history back to St.Anthony of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Lectio has been a church tradition held onto mostly by Catholics but the form of prayer has found growing popularity recently by all denominations. The idea that is so powerful behind the Lectio practice is that we engage in the living word of God trusting that it can and will speak to us. Before I lead Lectio in groups I always remind the pray-ers that God's word is as alive as ever and God can use it to speak to their particular situation in life. This is always a fresh reminder for me that the Bible is more than informative, more than a document to be studied, pulled apart and examined which is quite contrary to the way that many of us have learned to study the Bible. In no means is Lectio a replacement for careful study, but it is an addition to our Bible study.
Lectio has four main parts: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio.

Before the first stage of the prayer is started, you must find an appropriate scripture to meditate on. Short passages work well, if they are too lengthy, it is harder to concentrate on finding a single phrase or word that stands out. Once a suitable passage has been found, it is a good idea to spend a few moments in silence to settle your thoughts and clear your mind. I often spend about two minutes simply noticing my breathing, which helps to settle me quickly.

Lectio: simply read the passage paying careful attention to notice a single word or phrase that the Spirit may point out. Typically the passage is read through at least twice until you have noticed a particular word or phrase. 
Meditatio:  this step of the prayer is simply repeating the word or phrase that stood out to you. While meditating on that word or phrase you can often find (with the help of the Spirit) that this word or phrase may have a specific meaning in your life, or that God is showing you something very specific that may or may not be related to the passage. Meditate on what feelings, emotions, or images come to mind when you hear that word.
Oratio: This part of the prayer is quite simple. We pray ourselves empty. We offer up all of our thoughts that have come to us so far in the prayer of before the prayer. Speak whatever is on your mind and whatever has come to your mind to God. This is your turn to talk.
Contemplatio: During this last phase of the prayer exercise, we simply rest in God's presence, feeling neither the need nor obligation to think or say anything specific. We simply soak up God's presence. My wife often uses the visual imagery of a child who has just finished crying, simply curled up in their parent's lap. Allow God to do this for you. Allow him to hold on to you just for another moment. 

Often times other steps have been added to this prayer, but this is simply Lectio with no additions. In a group setting it is nice to share what came to mind during the prayer time so that others can also benefit from the knowledge that God is working in other peoples prayers, but in private it may be wise to journal your thoughts for your own benefit.

As with all prayer practices, they are just that: practice. The best way to enter into these prayers is without any grandiose expectations of revelation, but simply the desire to be with God and His word. I hope that you find this useful and if you have questions, simply comment on this blog or email me at

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