Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner — The Jesus Prayer
Dr. Nicole Roccas has been researching and writing about time from both a historical and theological perspective for nearly ten years. In addition to being a writer and editor, she lectures at the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College (Toronto).
On a recent edition of Hank Unplugged, Hank had a conversation with Dr. Roccas about her book Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life. During their conversation, they talked about the biblical roots of The Jesus Prayer and how it can be practiced to develop a spirit of humility. The following is adapted from that conversation.
Hank Hanegraaff: I want you to talk a little bit about The Jesus Prayer. It has become part of my DNA. It is rooted in biblical prayers, such as the feeble prayer of the tax collector:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 NIV84)
In The Jesus Prayer, we are praying for God to be merciful to us as sinners. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, for Thou alone are worthy, now and forever, to the ages of ages.” We pray that typically by saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is a stepping stone in your view toward humility?
Nicole Roccas: Yeah. When you think of the parable of the publican and the Pharisee, it is really out of humility that the publican was able to pray that prayer. You see the Pharisee who is “praying,” but really he is sort of just pointing out to God all the good things about himself — all the worthy things about himself.
Then you look at the publican, and all he can really say is, “Lord have mercy,” because he knows he is a sinner. He is in touch with the truth. It was he who was truly praying. It was he who was truly communing with God in that moment.
I think that this is a model for us as well. It is really in our brokenness and in our feebleness that we can turn to Christ. When we turn to Christ in those moments, that is really where true fellowship comes from. The Jesus Prayer is also really important to remember in times of despondency.
When you are despondent, I have said before, it is described as a slackness of the soul, a lack of effort, a spiritual or acedical1 life, you do not have a lot of endurance to spend hours in prayer, or to spend hours in the Word, or to spend hours practicing Christian virtues. You just often do not have that kind of endurance, and a prayer like The Jesus Prayer is something anybody can do. Anybody can do it at any moment. You can pray it when you are sick. You can pray it when you are driving. It does not require this huge level of spiritual endurance; yet, it invites Christ into your life where you are and in the midst of your infirmity. This is just what we see with the publican.
Hank: We do not pray it as a magic coin, but it is efficacious.
Nicole: No. We do not pray it in a superstitious way. Just to give an illustration: my husband and I, early in our marriage — I think marriage is interesting in the early phase because you are trying to figure out what routines you are going to follow and trying to figure out all the rituals you want follow as a couple in building your life together — at one point, we kind of realized that the afternoon was a tough time for us. He would come home from work. We just did not have anything that would make that time of day special, where it made us feel that we were really connected. So, we decided every time someone comes through the door from work, shopping or something, the other person is to get up from whatever they are doing, and come and say, “Hello.” It does not have to be a big emotional moment; it is just a point of contact. We started doing that, and it was huge. It was huge. Just that small gesture allows you to kind of invest these moments in the relationship with meaning. I think that something similar is at work in The Jesus Prayer. Aside from it being sort of sacramental, of timeless spiritual importance, at the end of the day, it is a moment of connection, a bid for connection with God. It is turning toward God in these moments. That is really the stuff of relationship.
To listen to the full conversation on Time and Despondency, click here. To receive Time and Despondency as our thanks for your gift in support of the ongoing work of the Christian Research Institute, click here.
- Acedia is a Greek word denoting a lack of care or concern.