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

Strength and Comfort from an Ancient Prayer

When Elisabeth Elliot’s second husband Addison Leitch was dying of cancer, he suffered intense physical pain. Even more devastating to both of them, though, was the crisis of faith that accompanied his final suffering. Elisabeth wrote that the weight of sorrow from witnessing his daily despair was one of the deepest trials of her life.

She, exhausted by grief, and he, paralyzed by terror and pain, found comfort in praying The Jesus Prayer together.

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

When other words failed them and when God’s unfailing presence seemed distant and doubtful, this ancient prayer bridged the abyss and connected them to God.

On the strength of that story, I have also borrowed those words during seasons of sleeplessness or pain, so I was eager to read John Michael Talbot’s unique perspective in The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal. He was raised in the Methodist tradition, but went astray, renewing his faith at the height of The Jesus Movement. When he became disillusioned with his career as a contemporary Christian musician, he embraced monasticism and Catholic spirituality. The Jesus Prayer is part of that contemplative and mystical tradition, but has also been embraced by evangelicalism.

No Magic Words

It goes without saying (and yet, I will say it anyway), that the particular words of The Jesus Prayer have no spiritual energy and are not powerful in themselves. Prayer is communication with God, and he responds to the believing heart that reaches out to him.

A common objection to the use of traditional prayers is that they can become vain repetition. Of course, it is also possible for our spontaneous prayers to become rote and meaningless. “Repetitive prayer is not the problem,” says Talbot. “Vain repetition is.” Right meaning wedded to right intention is the recipe for genuine prayer.

Breathing in with “Lord Jesus, Son of God,” and breathing out with “have mercy on me a sinner” unites the prayer with the rhythm of our bodies and slows the mind. Inhaling pictures the believer’s infilling with God; exhaling images our letting go of anything that stands in the way of full communion with God.

A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal

With word-by-word detail, The Jesus Prayer explores the content both theologically and personally, offering a prayer exercise at the end of each chapter. Talbot’s Catholic underpinnings find their way into his thoughts on Mary and the nature of the Eucharist, but do not detract from the message of the book. The reader is invited into a worshipful pondering of deep truth about the Son of God in relationship to the Trinity, the paradox of the incarnation, and Jesus’s transcendence over all as Lord of the universe.

What better preparation for true repentance than an acknowledgement of Jesus’s identity wrapped up in a cry for mercy and an understanding that we are deeply flawed? Thanks be to God, we are also deeply loved, and the ultimate cure for our brokenness is implicit in the words of The Jesus Prayer. Our cry for mercy sets us on the road to renewal, and we find that God meets us on the path of prayer, carrying grace and offering us the gift of himself.

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Grace and peace to you,

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal, simply click on the title or the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

 

26 thoughts on “Strength and Comfort from an Ancient Prayer”

  1. I’ve used this prayer often myself, revising the wording now and again to get more specific. Thanks for sharing about Michael Talbot’s book. I’ll be on the lookout for it.

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  2. Oh, Michele, I love the idea of coordinating our breathing with this very simple prayer as a meditation. I have many nights where I struggle with falling asleep. I am going to give this a try.

    I have to admit, I was confused by the word “vain”. Does this mean vain as in, conceited or vain as in futile?

    It sounds like the author of this book has lead an interesting life! I must check it out. Thank you for the recommendation.

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    1. Vain as in futile.
      Thanks for asking that. It needed to be clarified. Sometimes I forget the whole world is not fluent in King James English.
      You should check out some of his music on line. It’s lovely.

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  3. I didn’t know Elizabeth Elliot and her second husband had struggled through a crisis of faith as he died of cancer. If a tower of spiritual strength as she can struggle with faith, all of us needs to be prepared for the same possibility. No one is immune–not even the most godly among us. Praise God “our cry for mercy sets us on the road to renewal, and we find that God meets us on the path of prayer, carrying grace and offering us the gift of himself.” Thank you, Michele, for sharing hope today!

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    1. My understanding is that Addison was gripped by doubt and fear, and the conviction that his life had not measured up to the amount of grace he had received and it really shook him. I think Elisabeth’s own faith was unshaken, but she was caught in the splash of his despair, and the daily weight of caring for him and trying to encourage him must have been devastating.

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  4. I’m going to purchase the book through Amazon. I was raised Catholic and I find that the sound of the repetitive prayers bring me much comfort. To me they are similar to certain songs that are sung in church. It’s not the words it’s the faith behind them. I think this is true of any prayer.

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    1. I really appreciated the depth Talbot went into as he unpacked each individual word of the prayer. And I think this is the essence of contemplative prayer as we really think about what we are saying to God.

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  5. Surely goodness and mercy will pursue us all the days of our lives… Has been my meditation of late, as I’ve been learning it in Hebrew (my new Covid hobby) It seems so closely tied to this Jesus prayer. One a plea. The other a confident assertion. What a good Shepherd we have! His continual lifelong mercy toward me has really jumped out at me lately as I’ve gone through old paperwork and journals (another Covid opportunity). Thx for this, Michelle

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    1. I honor you for taking on a “hobby” as daunting as Hebrew! And it’s absolutely fascinating to go over old journals and re-discover (or maybe just plain discover because we can be so obtuse in the moment!) God’s faithfulness to us in the past. It certainly makes it a bit easier to trust for grace going forward.
      Always SO good to hear from you, Linda.

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  6. What a beautiful way to meditate on those words, as we cry out for God’s mercy, His unfailing love! To breathe in all that He wants us to receive and to let go of anything that is blocking our view! Powerful thought!

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  7. Michele, I was not familiar with The Jesus Prayer, so I appreciate the introduction. 🙂 I also appreciated your thoughtful review of John Michael Talbot’s book. There are certain prayers I pray every day (mostly scriptures) and I am thankful for the steadying consistency they provide to my prayer life.

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  8. I am intrigued by this book. I have heard of Michael Talbott and I’m thinking I have sung some of his songs before. You are given some of the best books to review. My son, Daniel, who is a pastor of a church, was just speaking about prayer and referenced The Jesus prayer in his sermon.

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  9. I love the Jesus Prayer. It’s funny that in the past few days this prayer has found me at least 3 times now. I think God is telling me something. Thank you for your beautiful insights as always. Xo

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  10. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

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