Behold, I have learned something new. And now I’m going to teach it to you.

Except some of you are going to fall off your chairs laughing at me, because it’s nothing new and you’ve known it since you were a tiny wee thing in church, your grandma knows it, and Christians for hundreds of years have known it.

The Jesus Prayer. It’s nothing new, but it’s new to me.

Our particular brand of Protestantism wrinkles up our nose at recited prayers. We feel they’re canned, they’re impersonal, and they often don’t make room for the Holy Spirit to break through into our hard thoughts.

This is what we tell ourselves anyway, and I do remember a running theme of Godisgood, Godisgreat, Nowwethankhimforourfood, Amen at the Morgan dinner table from 1981 to, oh, this last Christmas. Our parents tried to teach us to pray and instead we found a rhyme we could throw in God’s general direction before we dug into the food.

Of course spontaneous, heartfelt prayers are often the best way to connect with God, but let’s be honest. Our prayers often turn into this: God, here are the things I want you to do for me. Safe travel, comfortable finances, a good future, and healthy loved ones.

Me, me, me. I, I, I. We shoot up a to-do list to the Almighty and expect him to hop to it.

(Insert awkward pause where everyone, including this writer, remembers exactly what we’ve told God to do for us lately…)

I’ve been reading a book called Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess. Chapter by chapter she’s been going through some of the classic approaches to faith and then she reports how miserably she fails at them.

I love it. I love the book, and I love Jana Riess. In the chapter on Centering Prayer she stumbled across the Jesus Prayer, which is this:

The Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Riess says this about the Jesus Prayer:

That’s it, the whole enchilada. Four wee clauses packed with gospel truths: Christ’s lordship, his relationship to God, our need for forgiveness, our propensity to sin. It’s a prayer that Christians have been saying since about the fourth century. It’s a prayer I might even have a chance of living out. (p. 75)

This is exactly what I’ve been trying to do lately– find God for who he really is and then spend time in his presence. No demands. No begging. No manipulating. Just a simple search for him, then resting quietly with him. This tiny little ancient prayer takes the focus off myself and puts it directly on him. Perfect.

Lord Jesus Christ,

…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Galatians 2:10-11, NLT)

Son of God, 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NLT)

have mercy on me,

For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. (Romans 9:15-16, NLT)

a sinner.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with underserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (Romans 3:23-24, NLT)

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