Do you ever wish there was a short, succinct prayer that not only put you in the proper frame of mind to approach God but also summed up why we need Christ as our Savior? There is, and it’s even helpfully named. It’s called the Jesus Prayer:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The prayer is based on a verse from Luke’s Gospel. Here is the entire passage in context:
[Jesus] then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
While this is the passage that most aligns with the Jesus prayer, we see examples of the truth it expresses in other places in the New Testament. After the miraculous catch of fish soon after meeting Jesus, Peter says to him “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). When the centurion sends messengers to Jesus asking him to heal his servant, he recognizes his sinful state when he says “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).
The tax collector, Peter, and the centurion all acknowledged what we know but too often refuse to admit. We do not just commit sins; we are sinners. Only when we face this truth and go to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy can we be restored to a right relationship with God.
The Jesus Prayer is most often associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church, where it has been prayed since the 4th century. Priests, monks, and laymen typically recite it using a knotted prayer rope (much like a Rosary), repeating the prayer as a means of meditation and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Many in the West were introduced to the prayer through the book “The Way of the Pilgrim,” a 19th century tale recounting an unnamed narrator’s pilgrimage across Russia reciting the Jesus Prayer.
While better known in the East, the Jesus Prayer is certainly not confined to our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically mentions the prayer and its benefits (CCC 2667-2668). Any and all Christians can benefit from this brief but powerful prayer. Try incorporating it into your own prayer life; these may be the most transformative 14 words you’ve ever said.