A Lent course – for St John the Evangelist, Roslyn
Praying in the Name of Jesus
‘The Jesus Prayer’
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.”
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4 vs 8-12
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”
First – a song 🙂
(‘Lord, I want to be a Christian’ The Proclaimers. Coincidentally, the video link contains pictures of New Zealand)
I was out praying and walking the other morning when it came to me that this song connects so well with the Jesus prayer. For the one who desires to Love God in and through everything, this prayer is the journey we make . . . and to pray the Jesus Prayer is to make a journey. We might say that it is the prayer of the Disciple. ‘Lord, I want to be a Christian, in my heart’
- A very simple prayer
- A very ancient prayer
- Not ‘just another prayer’ . . . although it may be treated as such.
- Used by millions of Christians every day, and often all day
- A prayer which takes us into the deep roots of our faith and our existence
- A prayer which by Grace we may learn to ‘pray without ceasing’, Constant prayer is an essential aspect of a lively faith. Four times Paul exhorts us to this
- ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer’ (Romans 12:12)
- ‘Pray at all times in the Spirit’ Eph 6:18
- ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer’ Col 4:2
- ‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ 1 Thess 5:17-18
- And with Jesus ‘Stay alert! Watch and Pray that you do not enter into temptation’
But first, CONTEXT.
Whenever we dare to speak of prayer we make many assumptions. When we think about Context we may think of our own lives and culture, but to Pray is to enter a far larger world, a far greater context and leaves us with many questions.
How do we Orient ourselves within such a world?? (The verb comes from the practise of lining churches up to face East, towards Jerusalem – Orienting them)
What does it mean to pray?
Why do we pray?
To whom do we pray?
Who is it that prays?
Who am I?
What does it mean to ‘be saved’?
What is the goal of our faith?
Prayer, Faith, Salvation are words which do not belong to our everyday existence, yet we assume we know what they mean. Our answers to these questions will profoundly shape whether we merely Say the Jesus Prayer, or come to Pray the Jesus prayer.
We live in an age of disconnection and technique. We no longer think ‘everything has its place’ even in the world we can see, let alone that which is only revealed in faith, so we might think that we can just ‘use’ this prayer – without any understanding of its context. If we are alert to these things then at least a rudimentary understanding of the significance of context is necessary is we are to pray in this way . . .
It would be very easy to teach ‘The Jesus Prayer’ as a simple ‘prayer technique’. Rather like I could teach you to sing this song . . . ‘My Young Man’ Sung by Kate Rusby (Pure Records)
But truly to pray is to enter far deeper than simply ‘practising a technique . . .’ one may speak, indeed pray with the tongues of men and angels, but utterly miss the goal. This goal we may perhaps slightly better understand through considering how we approach a song like the one we have just heard
From Words to Language
From Admiration to Identification
From Repetition to Resonance
This is a song Kate wrote in memory of her Grandparents. The ‘young man’ of the title is her maternal grandfather whom she never knew, and it is as it were ‘sung by her grandmother’. Her Grandfather was a coal miner in the Yorkshire coalfields, and coal dust gave him emphysema which turned him from a strong man, to one who is in his later years cradled on the lap of his wife. Just the story itself is touching and indeed there may well be themes in it which turn it from being ‘just another song’.
For me, undoubtedly its sad beauty lies in my identification with Yorkshire, a county where I lived many years, and the sound of the Brass ensemble which Kate asked to accompany her singing. The accent of her voice, and the meek mournfulness of the Brass goes deep. (Although, we were a bit posher than that where I grew up in the country away from the coal and manufacturing culture which generated the great Brass Bands. Our village band was a Silver band J)
But of course, for all but Kate, we will all be in one degree or another mere observers – we may Admire, but our level of identification will never be total. You and I are not Kate 🙂
But the Jesus Prayer is given precisely that we might enter into ever deeper Identification with Jesus. Our Life is in Him – and as strings resonate, so every fibre of our existence is given to thrill to and resonate with the Life of God made known to us in Jesus Christ – As St Paul puts it in the letter to the Colossians – ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.’
We might express ‘being a Christian in my heart’ as being perfectly in tune with Christ Jesus.
If we are to pray this prayer, indeed in a sense if we are to pray meaningfully at all we need to understand at some level the roots of the deep longing which that desire to ‘be a Christian’ in my heart – why is it there? Why for example do I find that song resonates, if not because I want to be a Christian, in my heart 🙂
St Augustine says these familiar words ‘You have made us for yourself, O lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’
Some of us have been unhelpfully trained in ‘instant Salvation’ – but from the first this has no place in The Tradition. Paul, again.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
Sadly, too many Christians have gone astray, because they substitute a ‘Christian’ form of Paul’s confidence before meeting Jesus for Paul’s. The outcome is that their ongoing need of Christ becomes very vague. Something happened to me in the past. I might ask him for guidance on some life decision, but . . . Jesus is seen as central to the faith in some doctrinal manner, but not the living beating heart of all we say and do and are as Christians. And tragically this culture has produced Christians who are hesitant to name God, let alone Jesus. And many false Spiritualities grow up in which Christ is not central. Put simply this is a question of ‘When Peter stand up and full of the Holy Spirit says “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” What does he mean by ‘saved’?’
Unless we understand this, we cannot lay hold of the medicine of the Jesus Prayer. As one well educated Christian said to me recently ‘praying to Jesus that he might have mercy on us – well it sounds so negative – surely we’ve moved past that?’
But for all our ‘confidence’ still that song ‘I want to be a Christian, in my heart’ may well resonate. We hear the Great Command – the Word which brings us Life ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And feel the gap between that and the reality expressed by that disarmingly honest Saint, Theresa
‘Lord I do not Love you, I do not even want to love you, but I do want to want to love you’ Theresa of Avilla
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”
This week, set aside say five minutes a day – find a quiet place and say the prayer over and again – with attention. Attention to Jesus, Attention to yourself.
Whilst this is a prayer one can pray all the time, if we are going to Resonate, we need to start gently and attentively. A ‘space’ in which to do this is helpful.
It is not recommended to go beyond this for now, especially if we are starting out
Next Week: Jesus and healing. Sin and Salvation. We do not know what we are doing
Recommended Reading : The Jesus Prayer. Frederica Mathewes-Green