Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Prayer That Sustains!

On Monday I’d decided to write this week’s AMEN Corner on the Jesus Prayer but because I’ve written and preached on it many times, I realized that I had nothing to say that would be fresh and original. Then Tuesday happened. I was out walking that morning when my foot struck an metal pipe sticking up out of the ground next to the sidewalk. The old adage of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” became instantly true for me. 

I was walking fast and the momentum threw me forward onto the concrete but fortunately, my knees, hips and back were okay because my upper body and face broke the fall. I got up and my first thought was praise to God that I wasn’t badly injured and I could walk. I walked the two blocks back to the house praying that God would bring me safely back and He did. One side of my face was numb and I hadn’t realized what had happened until I took off my mask and saw it filled with blood. Now that I was inside, my body started to go into shock from the impact trauma and the exertion of immediately standing up and walking two blocks. I know how serious systemic shock can be and lay down with my feet elevated. I automatically started to pray the Jesus Prayer continuously, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me..Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy upon me..Lord Jesus...” 

As I prayed, I also continued to thank God that I was not seriously injured. I thanked God that He had protected me from breaking a hip (my dad broke his falling on concrete when he was about my age). I thanked Him for the coldness of the morning that required an old heavy leather jacket which cushioned the fall for my upper body. I started to curse the mask I was wearing. It prevents me from seeing the ground unless I look straight down at my feet and that was why I didn’t see the pipe. No..wait..“Thank You LORD!” That heavy cotton mask prevented more serious damage to my face! Praying the Jesus Prayer kept me from becoming anxious and worsening the effects of systemic shock and after twenty minutes the symptoms were gone. Praise God that in His grace and mercy, I was able to walk back and into the house before the shock hit or it would have been paramedics transporting me to a hospital. Whenever I’d stop praying, my focus turned from Him to me and the pain, and I’d become angry, emotional and feel sorry for myself. As soon as I’d start praying the Jesus Prayer again I’d feel His peace and knew that I was in His hands and everything would be okay. 

I texted a gruesome picture of the hole in my lip to my dentist and he told me to immediately see an oral surgeon. After calling over a dozen surgeons, Rhianna found one nearby who just had a cancellation and was able to see me immediately. Thank You Jesus! The oral surgeon stitched up the inside of my lip and then stitched up a large hole on my chin under my lip. Novocaine numbed my lip but not my chin and I could feel the needle and thread with every stitch. Throughout this procedure, I’d been praying the Jesus Prayer all along and thanking God that He had brought us to this doctor. In the middle of feeling so enormously grateful to God for how the day was turning out, the needle poked through my skin again and I felt such an intense joy in my spirit that I had to restrain myself from laughing out loud. My body slightly convulsed as I kept the laugh from escaping and the doctor asked if I was okay. “Uh huh.” How do you explain a Holy moment when you are lifted up, embraced by God and flooded with His joy in the middle of a painful surgical procedure? 

I found even more things to be thankful to God for in the following days. My doctor had a cancellation so I was able to see him and get a tetanus shot. He confirmed my belief that I had a “greenstick” fracture of a rib and told me it would heal on its own in three weeks – thank You Jesus! Only five stitches and a broken rib are insignificant minor injuries. “Thank You for protecting me as I fell, Lord!”

“For He shall give His angels charge over you, 
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up, 
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.” 
(or a metal pipe)
Psalm 91:11-12

I had recently recommitted myself to a spiritual discipline that had brought me closer to God and so I have no doubt that the devil himself arranged for the fall – that’s how he typically meddles in the life of a Christian. Satan’s goal is to alienate us from God so the Enemy scores victories when he can create events that make us angry at God for becoming hurt, sick, unemployed, divorced, experiencing a loss etc. We blame God, but God does not bring evil into our lives to cause hurts and painful situations, and when life does bring misfortune, “..we know that all things work together for God to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 

Bad things happen. That’s life. And, it’s our constant prayers and expressions of gratitude that bring good things even when you fall on your face. Paul writes, “in all things give thanks.” Not for all things, but in every situation we can find things for which we can be thankful to God. Gratitude always changes our perspective. I had only one thing to complain about – I fell. There were dozens of things about that fall that I was grateful to God about and thanked Him many times that day.

The “life-verse” that God gave me many decades ago is “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in all things give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 As I prayed that day without ceasing and constantly gave God thanks, His response was to bring joy to my heart. That’s how it works. 

My default response to pain, blood, systemic body shock and a painful surgical procedure was the Jesus Prayer, but that was my automatic response only because I had embedded that prayer into my soul many decades ago. I am drawn toward Orthodox holiness and their prayer practices because they predate “Roman Catholicism” by hundreds of years and “Protestantism” by thousands. I pray the Orthodox Jesus Prayer when I go to sleep at night and when I wake up in the morning. I pray the Jesus Prayer so often during the day that it’s the foundation of all my other prayers. I’ll wake up in the night and as I’m coming back into consciousness, I hear myself praying it in my sleep – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me. Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, 

“When (the Jesus Prayer) is recited regularly, it comes to our mind and lips spontaneously without any deliberate effort on our part – it becomes ‘self-acting.’ So it gradually pervades every part of our daily life, enabling each activity and each personal encounter to be Spirit-filled.” 

I have personally found that when the Jesus Prayer is prayed throughout our day, it becomes intrinsic to our faith and the background music of our life.

The Jesus Prayer is one of our earliest prayers from the ancient days of Christianity. In order to “pray without ceasing,” desert monks in the fourth century frequently prayed the early versions of the Jesus Prayer throughout their day and it has been prayed by Orthodox believers since that time. Obviously, it is impossible to literally pray every wakeful moment “without ceasing” and prayer was understood by the early Christians to be not just the verbal enunciation of words but a continual sense of God’s presence. Bishop Ware writes, that the use of the Jesus Prayer establishes within us a sense of His presence which will continue to exist at a deep level of our being even after we have stopped repeating the actual words of the Prayer.

I’ve been told by Protestant friends that it sounds “too Catholic,” but today, both Protestants and Catholics have joined their Orthodox brothers to pray this ancient prayer. You can’t get more “Protestant” than Southern Baptist, megachurch pastor Rick Warren who said that “God wants us to connect with Him on a moment-to-moment basis.” Warren said we should “use ‘breath prayers’ throughout our day as many Christians have done for centuries.” Another objection to the Jesus Prayer by some Protestants is that Jesus said, “When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.” Matthew 6:7 But continuously praying the name of Jesus is not a vain (futile, useless, worthless) repetition. There is power and glory and healing and salvation in the name of Jesus Christ!

When we breathe the Jesus Prayer in and out, our thoughts slow down and any sense of separateness from God disappears. We come into a unitive experience with God. We have not abandoned our discerning thoughts nor taken leave of our senses. But our mind is clear of the clutter. In the silence, the solitude, the stillness, we are enveloped in His love and peace. 

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy upon me. 1

Oh..and just one more thing: “Thank You Lord for giving me the absolutely perfect illustration this week for why we need to develop a lifestyle of praying without ceasing and giving thanks to You in all things! But if the next AMEN Corner illustration doesn’t include broken bones and surgical procedures, I would most sincerely appreciate it...”

✝   ✝   ✝   ✝   ✝   ✝


1. The traditional Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me.” Approximately 1,000 years later, in the 14th century, a more penitential version was preferred by monks and other religious: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” Both versions are prayed today and you may choose one or the other or both.

Go Further:

If you’re interested in knowing more about the Jesus Prayer, I’d highly recommend this ten minute video presentation given by a young, engaging Orthodox Priest. You can watch it HERE

THE JESUS PRAYER by A Monk Of The Eastern Church. A most thorough book on this short prayer. Very detailed. Theological. Very Orthodox. AMAZON

THE POWER OF THE NAME: THE JESUS PRAYER IN ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY by Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware. AMAZON or you can read it in a PDF HERE.

THE JESUS PRAYER: A WAY TO CONTEMPLATION by Simon Barrington-Ward. An easy to read book written from a Protestant perspective by an Anglican Bishop.  AMAZON

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