By Hal Green
The most significant prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is called “The Jesus Prayer” or “The Prayer of the Heart.” The full form of this early prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The most commonly used and shortened form of this prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
The Scriptural basis for this ancient prayer, which goes back to at least 600 CE, is likely this parable of Jesus:
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
Treating this as a breath prayer, breathe in the first half: “Lord Jesus Christ;” and breathe out the second half: “Have mercy on me.” As you breathe in “Lord Jesus Christ,” let the words sink into your heart. As you breathe out, “have mercy on me,” yield yourself in trust before the mercy seat of God. Imagine Jesus standing before you in his gentle, humble beauty; let him into your heart. Breathe in his love, goodwill and mercy. When you exhale, imagine Christ’s mercy flowing over all that you are, washing away whatever wounds, obstacles and impurities you offer up, as you yield yourself to the merciful Lord of your life.
Silently repeat these words with every breath you take. After a time, these words and your heart will meld and you will find yourself in a better spiritual place. Over time and practice, you will not have to think about praying the prayer; the words will have become a rhythmic part of your breathing. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can almost hear yourself quietly reciting these words. The effect can be significant, even mystical, bringing you the sense of presence of Jesus Christ, who not only has mercy but, above all, love for you.
(Hal Green, Ph.D., is author of Pray This Way to Connect with God. You can contact him at email@example.com.)