We know that Muslims observe formal prayer five times each day, and we know that Christian monks and nuns observe formal prayer seven times each day, and we know that ancient Christian tradition calls upon every Christian to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times each day (morning, midday and evening). However, few people might know that the Word of God within the biblical book of First Thessalonians invites Christians to “pray without ceasing” every single day, 365 days a year:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” – [The Holy Bible, First Thessalonians 5: 16-19]
Of course, this is not strictly referring to formal prayer time where we take a few quiet meditative minutes in our day to center ourselves in Christ, but it is mostly referring to the informal continual conversation with God that we practice throughout the day: at home, at work, behind the wheel of a car, doing chores, etc. Nevertheless, while maintaining this informal continual conversation with God, we should also not diminish the importance of formal prayer time each day.
Certainly, we are not expected to observe a time of formal prayer seven times each day as our monastic brothers and sisters in Christ observe. Monastic men and women of the Church do a great service to us by their practice of formal prayer seven times a day, by their deep contemplation, and by their mystical and devotional writings. However, for the vast majority of Christians this would be impractical to try to observe the level of formal prayer that monastic Christians practice. Be that as it may, there is (as I already mentioned) the ancient practice of praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. For me, I try to pray the Lord’s Prayer at least once per day. But there is another wonderful prayer that we can pray many times each day as a formal meditative prayer for the purpose of centering ourselves more deeply in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is called the Jesus Prayer.
But first, before I talk about the Jesus Prayer, I want to touch upon WHY we pray formulaic prayers (like the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer) in addition to our informal continual conversation with God. The answer to this is two-fold. First, it is because formal prayer time using meditative formulaic prayers has the power to clear the clutter of our minds and provide focus. Second, it empowers us to be much more like Christ in our daily lives than we could ever manage without such prayer practices. Like the popular “Keep Calm” memes floating around the Internet these days, both informal prayer and formal prayer every single day helps each one of us to “Keep Calm and Remember You Are a Christian.”
Keeping calm by remembering we are Christians is essential for us, especially in this age of polarization, suspicion and animosity. There is no doubt about it that we live in a very polarized time in history, marked by automatic suspicion, distrust and hurtfulness of all kinds. In fact, the Word of God within the pages of the Holy Bible addresses the eventual increase of such negativity:
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, unforgiving, slanderous, vulgar, brutish, haters of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of gratification rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.” – [The Holy Bible, Second Timothy 3: 2-5]
Consequently, it is all the more important that we seek God’s grace and guidance through daily prayer (both informal and formal means of prayer) in order to keep calm and remember our Christianity in daily life.
For this purpose, Christian tradition has provided us with a wonderful short prayer called the Jesus Prayer. It is as follows: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And it is a prayer that is often prayed together with slow, calming, meditative breathing. You breathe in with the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” and you breathe out with the words “have mercy on me a sinner.” Slowly and deeply breathing in and breathing out, this Jesus Prayer can be a helpful part of your formal prayer time each day, above and beyond your usual informal conversations with God throughout the day. And it is such a simple prayer practice that it could be used several times a day.
The Jesus Prayer is centered on the name of Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) because this is the name that we confess “is above every name” (Philippians 2:9-10, Ephesians 1:21, Hebrews 2:9). Furthermore, the fact that this prayer is addressed to Jesus as “Lord” and “Christ” and “Son of God” is because this is the center of our entire Christian faith. As the Apostle Peter declared to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Therefore, this small Jesus Prayer actually contains the whole immensity of the grace and truth of The Incarnation and The Holy Trinity.
Lastly, the words “have mercy on me a sinner” are a humble acknowledgement of our sinful human condition and of our need for salvation, redemption and new life. In some belief systems and philosophies, it is taught that we save ourselves by attaining mystical knowledge. But, regardless of the quality and usefulness of such knowledge and wisdom, the Christian faith confesses that we are all in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Even with an enlightened mind full of esoteric knowledge and wisdom, the reality is that sin saturates all that we do and don’t do, as well as all that we say and don’t say.
However, having made purification for sins, once and for all time, our Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior who redeems us for an everlastingly new life of faith, hope and love.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, and it is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonementby his blood, effective through faith.” – [The Holy Bible, Romans 3: 21-25]
May we practice continual prayer in our daily lives, utilizing both informal and formal means of prayer. Let us always pray without ceasing, give thanks, keep calm, and remember that we are Christians.
By God’s grace, Pastor Tim