Jesus Prayer 2.0
About halfway through the Lenten season it happened without warning. I was sitting quietly in my living room when suddenly I was knocked off my feet by a rogue wave of desolation. Not only did this rogue way knock me off my feet I could feel it dragging me in to a tumultuous sea of despair. I felt helpless to do anything. The strength of the wave was beyond my ability to withstand – it was overwhelming me! I am not one to quickly attribute such things to the Enemy, but this was like nothing I had ever experienced. I immediately knew that I was in a battle, not for my soul, for my life is hidden in Christ, but a battle seeking to dissuade me from my current pilgrimage through the Lenten season.
As I reached out to steady myself, the first thing I grabbed hold of was the idea to forego my Lenten spiritual disciplines. This idea was strangely inviting, seeming logical, wise and somehow even stabilizing even though I knew that I had prayerfully chosen these disciplines sensing God’s leading in the process. As I considered the wisdom of deviating from my current course I heard a voice arising within me: it was the historical voice of St Ignatius echoing through the hallways of time – “Do not change a decision made in a time of consolation (consolation = having one’s eyes on God/Jesus) during a time of desolation (desolation = not having one’s eyes on God/Jesus).” This truth helped me to get some semblance of steadiness but I was still staggering. I could feel my strength draining, like Peter I was sinking, sinking into a sea of desolation, the dark waters of despondency were rising and I was helpless, seeking to tread water but without success, the inevitable was clear, I was going to drown.
It was then I could sense something beginning to take shape deep within my mind. I recognized it as the Jesus Prayer, a time tested, tried and true prayer that has served Christians well, in the East and the West, for centuries (dating back to the 5th Century). It is a beautiful prayer drawn from the Gospels, the Story of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). This prayer would rescue me. I was sure of it.
I endeavored to grab hold of this prayer, intentionally forming each word : “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” – but as I reached the end of the prayer, before uttering the final two words “a sinner,” I recoiled. Something was wrong. This prayer troubled my soul. This prayer that I had prayed on numerous occasions, this wonderful life giving prayer seemed strangely different, even ominous. I sensed that it was not the lifesaver I needed but rather a millstone that would sink me even deeper into the sea of despair. Although desperate, I resisted the temptation to grab hold of this ancient spiritual lifesaver intuitively knowing that in this moment it would do me more harm than good. As I quickly examined all this I knew it was the ending of the prayer, those last two words, “a sinner” that would lead to my undoing. The last thing for me to hold on to was my identity as a sinner – that I was well aware of!
All this left me perplexed. I did not really know where to turn, there seemed to be nothing left to grab on to, I was flailing. It was in this moment that Jesus Prayer 2.0 erupted within me, like a gray whale breeching the surface of the ocean, this prayer was emerging out of my heart: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” but instead of the familiar ending words of “a sinner”, two new words took their place – “your friend”. These two words buoyed my spirit. This new form of this ancient prayer, which I call the Jesus Prayer 2.0, was neither millstone, nor lifesaver, but an inflatable raft, spacious, inviting, something I could climb into and find rest. I prayed this prayer over and over again, lingering with those final two words – “your friend.” The wind and waves of desolation did not immediately cease but as I climbed into the life raft of these two words I could sense the worst was over. I was not going to drown, I was going to make it. Jesus, my friend, was with me, stronger than the forces I was dealing with and together we would make it.
During this time I needed to know, be reminded of, who I most truly am in Christ. I needed to know and embrace that I was friend, not sinner. This is my identity: though momentarily shaken, it is a reality based on who Jesus was/is and what Jesus accomplished through His life, death and resurrection. This means my identity as the friend of Jesus, the friend of God is an unchangeable reality, no matter my current experience or feelings. God used the Jesus Prayer 2.0 to gradually help me to escape the oppressive tentacles of despair that seized me without warning as I was quietly sitting in my living room. I was now safe with Jesus, no longer drowning but in the cozy confines of friendship with God.
The Jesus Prayer 2.0 is not a magical incantation, but rather a prayerful reminder of who we are at our core, the friend of God, the friend of Jesus. This prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, your friend”, serves to help us recall to mind this life- grounding truth. I encourage you to give it a go. But do not wait until you are in a battle-- seek to become familiar with it now, so when the time comes you may draw upon it.
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