The Realm

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

In your life you’ve probably heard, and even spoken, the sentiment that goes something like this: ignorance of the law doesn’t exempt you from its consequences.  There are lots of ways it is expressed.  When you’re pulled over for speeding and you share with the police that you didn’t realize you were in a school zone, or that the posted speed limit had decreased for whatever other reason, they may tell you to just slow down.  Or they may give you the ticket – because you still face the consequences for having sped, even though you didn’t know you were doing it.  It seems so unfair, in this case.  But it’s not.  And when your own children break the house rules and you’re dealing out some kind of disciplinary measure and they tell you they didn’t know the rule applied under those circumstances, you tell them that it always applies, and that they still have to face the consequences for breaking the rules even though they didn’t realize they were doing so.  And it’s fair.

When we admit that we’re sinners in need of the mercy of our lord, we are saying that we’ve broken the rules that govern us – whether we are fully aware of what that means or not, whether we are fully cognizant of the rules or not.  So the question is this: what realm does the Lord govern – where are we subject to God’s authority?  His Kingdom is not of this world, like those of other lords: there are no physical boundaries within which we are subject to Him and outside of which we are under the authority of another.

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Re 11:15b). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Those words may be familiar to you as the words of the voices in heaven at the sound of the seventh trumpet.  Or you may know them better from Handel’s Messiah.  The gist of this verse is that the Lord’s reign is over all of the earth, everywhere its people may go.  There are people who dodge the consequences for their actions by changing their addresses: they travel to another country, or even another state within their country, where the rules are different from their own.  By doing so, they are enabled to do what they want without breaking the law.  What the Bible says is that God’s dominion is everywhere.  You can’t plead that you were in Canada at the time, and so you weren’t under God’s authority.

We like the image of there being no place we can go that would set us apart from God’s love: no mountain too high, no ocean too deep or expansive that His love cannot reach us across.  Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39).  We trust that promise – we bank on that promise.  But at the same time we so often run the paradox of acting as though we are not under His lordship: Tush, He does not see… (Psalm 94, which also offers the rejoinder: He who planted the ear, does He not hear?  He who formed the eye, does He not see?).  And the truth of this is that even those who do not call Him Lord are under His lordship.  And ignorance of His rule does not spare one the consequences of His rule.  The consequences of living in His Kingdom of peace and love, where the sovereign can be appealed to for mercy – and because of His mercy, should be revered (Psalm 130).  And so His reign recognized, His way walked in.

Another fairly common expression is this: It’s just business.  I usually reflect on it with Charles Dickens.  In this case, however, let me just drop this here: nothing is just business because everything is within the realm of the sovereignty of the Lord of heaven and earth.  Jesus rightly pointed out that you cannot have two lords – nobody can.  You will love and serve one, and not the other (Matt. 6:24).  If you are serving “business” or “mammon” or yourself, you are serving the past ruler of this world – whose kingdom will not stand, because this kingdom has become God’s Kingdom, and He will reign for ever and ever.

When we serve others – those who are not the Lord God – we sin against His lordship, His Kingdom which is now, but not yet; which is come, yet is coming.  For this, we ask His mercy when we pray The Jesus Prayer.

Advertisements

…On Appealing to the Lord

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

Over the past couple days I hope you’ve been thinking about what a lord is, what it is that exercises lordship in your life, and hopefully what it means that you call Jesus your Lord – what that will continue to mean, as your life continues.  Where do we go from there?  I have only written to spark thoughts, and I hope that you’ve fleshed out your own considerations of lordship more, in your minds.  Where we go next is the point of considering lordship in the first place.  The Jesus Prayer makes an appeal to a lord – to the Lord.  So what kinds of things do people appeal to lords for?

I think we could spend a lot of time considering different scenarios of points-of-contention that citizens may have against one another, which could lead them to approach their feudal lord in an appeal for justice or settlement.  I don’t think that’s quite what we’re talking about.  I don’t think we’ll find what we’re looking for, really, by considering third-party interventions.  I’m interested in the appeal that is made to a lord that is just between the lord and the one making the appeal – and I think that these appeals would fall either of two ways.  First, you might make appeal to a lord for the sake of clemency: the lord has power/authority over you, and you have gotten yourself into trouble, and you are seeking relief from the consequences; second, you might make appeal to a lord for the sake of personal gain/benefit: the lord has power/authority over the circumstances of your life, and you are seeking the betterment of those circumstances.

If a lord grants you either, it is in mercy.  Because lords hold the cards.

So it is with the Lord.  The petition, the appeal, that we make when we pray The Jesus Prayer is for mercy – and it includes all of those things that go along with the power and prestige of lordship.  We appeal to the Lord for mercy because we are sinners: we have transgressed His authority over our lives; we have transgressed against the way we know He desires for us to go (we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts); we are sinners.  We appeal to the Lord for His beneficent action on our behalf: we are in trouble physically and emotionally; we are in pain psychologically and spiritually; we are in need of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and humility; we lack.  All of this is encompassed in the one petition, “Lord, have mercy.”  Have you ever prayed a prayer that lay outside of the scope of this one prayer?

Perhaps you have.

Has there ever been a moment when you stood outside of God’s mercy? or when you fell, outside of God’s mercy? or when you had a true need that was not this one thing?  May the Lord bless you, and teach you to live by, and be mindful of your utter dependence upon, His mercy.

Fr. Jonathan+

An Appeal to ‘the’ Lord

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

Yesterday I tried to put the idea of a lord into your minds.  What is a lord, its function, in our thought and action?  How do we appropriately think about, and act in relation to, lords?  I closed with the question: who/what is a lord in your life – that is, whom do you serve?  Well, that’s the question I hope you thought about, from what I wrote.  Today I want you to consider Jesus.  Who is He to you, and what role does He play in your life?

The Jesus Prayer begins by addressing Him as Lord.  Think of what a lord is, and of the expectations around lords.  Do you feel like you should cross your fingers when you call Jesus your lord?  One great term of address that might describe a lord in a very practical way (and which I didn’t mention yesterday) is master.  Is Jesus your master?  I don’t mean in the sense of ownership, like a pet (though there’s a sense and space for that discussion, too), but in the sense of actually carrying out what He asks.  Consider His words about Himself being the Lord.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 7:21–24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

or,

21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 8:21–22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

or,

61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 9:61–62). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

or,

13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 13:13–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Now, examples can always be multiplied.  The truth is, we should all just read the Bible, not just snapshots from it.  But the idea of lordship, when applied to Jesus (which it should be, if we are going to call Jesus our Lord), renders us some interesting ideas – particularly, that our actions are the way we work out Jesus’ lordship over our lives.  That is, our obedience.  Essentially, if we call Him Lord but do not do as He has asked, we have proven by our disobedience that He is not our Lord.

I have often heard men refer to their wives as “she who must be obeyed.”  My hope is that they mean that in their love for their wives it is against their nature to do otherwise than obey.  She must be obeyed.  But maybe they’ve just meant that there were dire repercussions if they didn’t obey.  I’m more interested in the former idea, when it comes to Jesus’ lordship in my life.  I believe that it furnishes far better motivation for people – to operate in obedience to Him because of love for Him, rather than in fear of negative consequence.

What about you?  Why do you obey Jesus?  Why don’t you?  I encourage you, today, to pray that God – who is love – would pour out that most excellent gift upon you, that you may increase in your love for Him.  And in loving, you may obey Him more deeply.

Fr. Jonathan+

An Appeal to a ‘Lord’

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

I live in Canada in the 21st Century.  We don’t have lords.  The word is foreign to my daily life in this world.  A lord is someone with authority, someone with influence – whose power is recognized by others (those subservient to the lord).  Generally there is a sphere of influence, some geographical area over which a lord would hold sway.  But there may also be multiple levels of lords over that area – a duke or king may hold authority/power/influence over the local lord.  That’s a simplification of feudalism, simply to make a point: lords are the ones in charge.

In a democracy, this authority is given to the elected officials by the people.  Well, in a constitutional monarchy we might rather say that this authority that the elected officials hold is given to them by the monarch (in Canada’s case, Queen Elizabeth II).  They establish the order of the realm – in a sense, they are lords (and there may be some equivalency in titles given, though I wouldn’t bank on it – and it’s somewhat beside the point).  Perhaps you belong to a group of people where the decisions made at the upper levels of government aren’t keenly felt.  Perhaps the lords of politics aren’t the ones whose influence you most deal with.

Who, then, holds power and influence in our day?  In the age of capitalism, where the dollar holds sway, and the value of a human life is too easily quantified in dollars and cents (life insurance payout, debt held, earning potential, etc.), we may most recognize the authority of our boss.  The boss tells us what to do, and we do it; the boss tells us where to go, and we go there; the boss sets the standard for performance, and we hold to it.  If we fail to meet these expectations then we lower our earning potential, we commit ourselves to a lower standard of living, we risk an increase in debt and deficit spending, in extreme cases we may even limit the options our children will have in life.

That’s the kind of authority that a lord holds: to make or break the lives of those who are within their sphere of influence.  In this case, you may not even see the boss at work as the lord, but simply as the power-broker, who metes out the authority of the real lord, under whose authority the boss sits also – the dollar itself, or the hollow promise of happiness that it makes to those who will serve it.  It is unlikely that an impersonal unit of currency will make a good lord over the lives of people.  Perhaps this is why so many are unhappy these days.

I want to invite you, today, to consider the general and functional definition of what a lord is.  I want to invite you, today, to consider who (or what) is lord in your life – and there may be multiple tiers of lordship for you to consider.  We all serve someone, or something.  Whom do you serve?

May God bless you with the fruit of His presence as you devote yourselves to Him more deeply this Lent.

Fr. Jonathan+

“Come unto me…”

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

Some years ago I had the opportunity to minister at a Cursillo (Short Course on the Christian Faith) weekend alongside Greg Kerr-Wilson on the spiritual team.  He can correct my memory of an anecdote he shared that weekend (he’s my Metropolitan, so he can correct me on anything and I will simply stand corrected), as necessary.  He had received his theological training at Nashotah House in Wisconsin, and while there, a part of the daily routine was that a bell would be rung at regular intervals throughout the day (hourly?).  Whenever members of the community heard the bell ring, their hearts and minds were to be reminded of their vocation – and they were, thus, to pray The Jesus Prayer (this, by the way, is a good start!).

Jesus beckons us to come to Him.  In the Book of Common Prayer we are reminded of our Lord’s words to us – those red letter words that speak comfort to our afflicted souls, peace to our disturb, mercy to our fault (our own fault; our own grievous fault): “Come unto me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Mt. 11:28); “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16).  He beckons us to come to Him, and to believe, and to have life in His Name.  So often we refuse His invitation – perhaps we respond in part, but miss it in its fullness – because we are occupied with our own wants and concerns.

I pray for so many specifics – so many things that I occupy my mind with, and that are all subsumed under the petition for His mercy.  There are circumstances that I want God to help me in, or to change.  Let these concerns be captured within the petition for His mercy.  There are gifts and privileges that I hope to avail myself of.  Let these hopes be held up in prayer for His mercy.  There are loved ones whom I would ask Him to watch over.  Let my intercessions for them be spoken in petitioning Him for mercy.  I don’t yet understand the great depths and full range of His mercy, and so I ask for things besides mercy.  None of them will be granted me apart from His mercy, and so I am learning that mercy is bigger than I once thought.

At that Cursillo weekend it fell to Greg and I to explain the sacraments to the men gathered.  It seemed then, and still does, to explain baptism and confirmation as two sides of the same coin: they involve the same vows, and simply change who makes those vows.  The baptism seems like the holy intent of the older generation; the confirmation seems like the owning of that intent by the believer.  And while this is not untrue, it is not the whole story.  On a short course, it is difficult to get into all of the minutiae of sacramental theology – but each is a full sacrament in itself, and something real and complete happens at either.  Sometimes it is easier to just go with the simple explanation.

We do this with mercy, sometimes.  We say that mercy and grace are two sides of the same coin: mercy is about God withholding from us the punishment we rightly deserve for sin, and grace is about God pouring forth blessings upon us that we do not rightly deserve.  This is a simple explanation, and it draws clear lines.  The truth, however, is that if they are on the same coin, then that whole coin is called mercy, and both sides of it are the mercy side, because grace is a function of mercy.  Just like forgiveness is a function of mercy.

Call to mind Gandalf’s words to Frodo… I can’t remember where, and I don’t have the book with me to find the reference just now… “Many that live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?”  In a world where the majority mentality seems to increasingly be, “an eye for an eye,” we are called to a different standard, and we are empowered to show mercy as we receive mercy.  And so, back to vocations – for if we are to mete out mercy, of the same ilk that we have received, then we need to do more than just be minded to ask for it every hour (on the hour).  We must learn to live under God’s mercy.  That the rhythms of our lives would be trust in the mercy of the One Whose property is always to have mercy.

And so the Orthodox mystics do not advise praying The Jesus Prayer at certain times of the day.  Instead, they take the rhythmic parts of our nature (heart beating, breathing, etc.) as the points of intersection between what we are and what we can be.  They challenge the disciples of Jesus, everywhere and for all time, to synchronize The Jesus Prayer, the desire to live by God’s mercy, with these bodily rhythms – that the whole self may be attuned to the rhythm of God’s mercy.  And so the disciple learns to pray.  Unceasingly.  Wherever.  Whatever.  Whoever.  To be formed and fashioned reliant on God’s mercy, shown to sinners.

While I served in Swift Current I became good friends with Roy.  Today I will leave you a link to one of his granddaughter’s songs.  Tracy is a woman who chases after God’s heart whom I only had the privilege to sing with once, on the occasion of her grandfather’s funeral.  Her album was affectionately known in our family as “The Pennant CD” because Adriana and I would listen to it weekly as we drove to and from the second point of the parish, which was in a town called Pennant.  All of these memories are of God’s mercy.

May Easter find you a different person than did Ash Wednesday, which is to say, may God have mercy upon you.

Fr. Jonathan+

The one who Seeks Mercy

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  It is not good title protocol to leave the subject un-capitalized.  But in our tradition, where we so often would give a capital to “one” even in the body of our text – if it was in reference to God Almighty – it seems particularly appropriate to leave that word without a capital, even in a title, when it is referencing someone who is not the Lord God.  Perhaps not always, in titles, but in this case, the “me” identified is the me who self-identifies with that deep truth that I wish I could hide: I am a sinner.

Think about that for a second or two.  Or more.  The Jesus Prayer could be shortened – it wouldn’t contain the whole Gospel (which it does, properly understood), but it could be shortened.  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it would still express the same petition sufficiently (though if the words we say form who we are, it would form us along somewhat different lines).  It could even be shortened further, to the more familiar kyrie: Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  As time or concern may constrain one of Christ’s disciples, these are certainly prayers full of pious devotion, expressing the petition for mercy quite adequately.

And yet, the full text of The Jesus Prayer includes this self-identification with the state of sin, the sinful nature.  Why?  Why would someone bought and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, set free from sin and death, free for righteousness, identify themselves as a sinner?

Because praying a prayer asking Jesus into your heart didn’t save you.  Because being born into a Christian family didn’t save you.  Because studying the Bible and “knowing all the answers” (as I have often said, being “that know-it-all kid” in Sunday School) didn’t save you.  Because gathering with some group of Christians every Sunday for congregational worship didn’t save you.  Because personal piety and private devotion didn’t save you.  Because being baptized and receiving the Eucharist didn’t save you.  You have not been saved from the power of sin and death by anything that you have done.  You have been saved by Jesus.  You are a sinner who used to run towards death and ruin, and now are a sinner who runs towards life.  The difference is not anything you have done, but what Jesus has done for you.  And it is all, all of it, mercy.

And this is the paradox: Jesus has so deemed that all of those things that you did do out of pious devotion to Him, out of obedience to His invitation, to His call, have saved you.  Not because praying some one-off prayer, however heartfelt, can save you (etc.), but because He has made it so.  And it is all, all of it, mercy.

For people who are, left to their own devices, so addicted to self, it becomes vital that we not detach ourselves from the One who gives life.  If there is life in our piety, it is because He gives it – not because our piety warrants it.  And so we are not trapped into thinking that we have earned life, or that we can increase our own life by “doing more” pious actions.  God is merciful, and that is all.  And that is enough.  It is, in fact, more than we can ask or imagine.

To Plead for Mercy

To pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” is to make a theological statement; but in that is this primary attitude, that one should plead for mercy.

Mercy is not an easy concept, but it is one we must visit.  When we come to the Lord in prayer (I am thinking, specifically, of The Jesus Prayer here – though you might apply this to any prayer you may offer up, whether it’s a prayer with a name (ie. the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father) or something offered extemporaneously) when we come to the Lord in prayer we come humbly.  We admit that we are not “all that.”  He is, and I am not Him.  We fall short of Him in so many ways, though I will refer to my previous post, from last Friday, which specifically called to mind how we fall short to love God as we ought.  And so we come to Him in humility, because we are not Him, and we seek His mercy.

Mercy is that quality which does not betray love even in the full realization of the sodden and misguided beloved.  There are many things that result from mercy.  Jars of Clay observed that mercy cuts deep, in their song here, which is a song about our need for mercy.  It is not an easy thing to receive mercy.  On the one hand, the responsible among us feel remorse for our actions, and see the justice of receiving the consequences; on the other hand, the less responsible among us do not count ourselves guilty of any fault, and so do not count ourselves in need of mercy.  Mercy is that quality which presents forgiveness to those blissfully unaware of their wrongdoing; that quality which presents grace to the guilty, in the form of time for amendment.

I think that we often view mercy along the same lines as charity.  We are slow to accept it, or to admit a need for it, because we do not consider ourselves impoverished; we like to keep up the illusion of self-sufficiency – of being self-made.  It certainly helps with our overall feelings of self-importance if we preserve this image.  And we do like to feel important.  We are addicted to self.  We are ego-maniacs.  And so our gut-reaction to the idea of mercy – of having it shown to us – is refusal.  Oh, in situations where we can come off as wealthy benefactors of merciful action towards others we are very amiable to the concept of mercy.  And we pander to the idea that there is no shame for those who receive mercy from us, though we don’t believe it ourselves.  We are too proud to receive such “charity.”  We are self-made.  We are self-supplying.

So one of the things that praying The Jesus Prayer does for us is this: it moves us to admit that we’ve been wrong: we are not self-made, but creatures of a loving Creator; not self-supplying, but beneficiaries of the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (and more!); not self-sufficient, but in need of a Saviour; not “all that.”  And so we come to Him in prayer humbly, and we admit our impoverished state.  We have need that we cannot meet for ourselves; we learn to self-empty.

I must decrease.  He must increase.  May your journey through Lent lead you to be a diminished you; may Jesus lead you through this Lenten season to the joys of the realization of His life in yours.

Fr. Jonathan+

On Loving God

I started, yesterday, what will be a series of reflections on The Jesus Prayer, the hallmark of Eastern Orthodox spirituality.  I pause, now, before continuing these reflections.  It seems appropriate that we would consider that thing which Christians profess often, but seriously give consideration to much less frequently.  It encapsulates a number of the Ten Commandments, though it is sometimes used as a scapegoat for observance of the Commandments.  It is, of course, loving God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength (Hear, O Israel! Dt. 6:4).

We often take for granted that we love God, but one devotional work that deals with the unceasing, interior prayer of the heart (The Pilgrim Continues His Way), offers this reflection.  The translation is by Helen Bacovcin, and I will provide the first reflection, which concerns love for God, in its entirety.  The piece it is drawn from is titled “The Confession of an Interior Man, Leading to Humility.”  I feel that this is important before further I provide further reflections on The Jesus Prayer because humility grounds all virtue in love for God, alone.  I have divided it by thought.

I do not love God.

For if I loved Him, then I would be constantly thinking of Him with heartfelt satisfaction; every thought of God would fill me with joy and delight.  On the contrary, I think more and with greater eagerness about worldly things, while thoughts of God present difficulty and aridity.

If I loved Him, then my prayerful communion with Him would nourish, delight, and lead me to uninterrupted union with Him.  But on the contrary, not only do I not find my delight in prayer but I find it difficult to pray; I struggle unwillingly, I am weakened by slothfulness and am most willing to do anything insignificant only to shorten or end my prayer.  In useless occupations I pay no attention to time; but when I am thinking about God, when I place myself in His presence, every hour seems like a year.

When a person loves another, he spends the entire day unceasingly thinking about his beloved, imagining being with him, and worrying about him; no matter what he is occupied with, the beloved does not leave his thoughts.  And I in the course of the day barely take one hour to immerse myself deeply in meditation about God and enkindle within myself love for Him, but for twenty-three hours with eagerness I bring fervent sacrifices to the idols of my passions!  I greatly enjoy conversations about vain subjects which degrade the spirit, but in conversations about God I am dry, bored, and lazy.  And if unwillingly I am drawn into a conversation about spiritual matters, I quickly change the subject to something which flatters my passions.  I have avid curiosity about secular news and political events; I seek satisfaction for my love of knowledge in worldly studies, in science, art, and methods of acquiring possessions.  But the study of the law of the Lord, knowledge of God, and religion does not impress me, does not nourish my soul.  I judge this to be an unessential activity of a Christian, a rather supplementary subject with which I should occupy myself in my leisure time.

In short, if love of God can be recognized by the keeping of His commandments–“If anyone loves me he will keep my word,” says the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:23), and I not only do not keep His commandments but I make no attempt to do so–then in very truth I should conclude that I do not love God.  St. Basil the Great confirms this when he says, “The evidence that man does not love God and His Christ is that he does not keep His commandments.1

Do not be self-condemning, in reading this, but honest.  Should your prayers have within them, among all of the concerns that you pray for (a good parking spot at the mall, a sale on your favourite product, miraculous knowledge for an exam you didn’t study for, etc.) shouldn’t your prayers, among all of the trivial things your remember, also include this vital thing: that God would enliven in your heart a true and abiding love for Him?

May God bless you, and grant to you true love of His Name.

Fr. Jonathan+

1Anonymous. The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way (H. Bacovcin, trans.). New York, NY: Doubleday.

The Jesus Prayer, from the West

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

This is the Jesus Prayer, in English.

Jesus never prayed it.

Jesus didn’t ask His followers to pray it, even when they asked Him how they should pray (which would have been the ideal time to unleash this beaut’ on ’em!).

Yet, praying this one prayer has been, and continues to be, the whole spiritual devotion, the full spiritual formation plan, of countless Christians – both those living and those who have already joined the great company of the witness cloud by which we are compassed about.  This short prayer has been said to contain the entire Gospel (God’s good news of salvation through the Son, Jesus Christ); it is said to encapsulate all prayers; it is held in prayer, by some, in place of Psalmody.

My first words on this prayer, today, are these: it is called the Jesus prayer, not because it is Jesus’ prayer; rather, because it is a prayer to Him.  It is as though we were speaking with Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, I pray you, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  You may have to imagine yourself at an earlier time in history to make that sentence work, but my hope is that you’ve seen medieval movies, or read Shakespeare, and it comes easily enough to you.

It is the cry of the blind men (Mt. 9:27; 20:30; Mk. 10:47) and of the lepers (Lk. 17:13).  Though these address Him in different ways (Lord, Master, Jesus, Son of David) their petition is the same: have mercy on me/us.  It is the cry of the penitent publican in Jesus’ parable, who humbly prayed in the Temple and was forgiven: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Lk. 18:13).

Consider what you have that you have not received from His hand.  Consider His great mercy to you.  Do not shun His mercy, but receive it.  Occasion will come to discuss just what mercy is, but that occasion is not now.  For now, rest securely and assuredly.  His mercy has upheld you this far, and He will not let you go.  But trust in, rely upon, His mercy – and not any scheme of man.

May your life be saturated with His mercy; may He teach you to rest in Him.  It is Lent; it is time to repent of self.

Psalm 130: of Penitence

I will post this link here, before I get started.  This is the psalm under discussion as set to music by the same Australian band, Sons of Korah, as I posted another psalm last week.  I encourage you to read the psalm.  I encourage you to listen to the psalm, both read and sung by others.  I encourage you to join in singing it.  Let the psalms of David get under your skin.

I haven’t been writing on this blog daily, though it has seen more activity since the start of Lent than it had for a time.  Lent is a time to simplify – a time to slow down.  Adding many things beyond the regular regime is odd, during Lent, unless those things are in place of others which have been given up.  For the last couple of weeks I have been daily reading John Cassian’s writings, as they relate to the seven deadly sins.  It has been more involved than this suggests, as Cassian’s schema of understanding didn’t involve seven deadly sins, but eight principal faults.  His material, as it relates to these, can be found throughout his Institutes and his Conferences.  I continue to read these each day, but the Lord has led me to write on something different, though related, today.

Penitence.  The attitude of being repentant: of turning away from sin and pursuing the righteousness that comes from God.  For familiarity’s sake I have challenged you to include one penitential psalm in your daily prayers (at three-hour intervals throughout the day), during Lent.  Rather than a different psalm at each interval of the day, and at the same time of each day, we grow familiar with these psalms in a fascinating way by doing so.  We start to feel, by the end of the day (when we pray the psalm for the seventh or eighth time) that we aren’t just reading the psalm, but that it is reading us.  That the attitudes and desires that the psalmist put to words millennia ago are our own attitudes and desires.  We enter into a new kind of prayerful devotion as the psalms enter us, permeating our own thought- and prayer-life.

Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord.  What depths have you fallen to?  Where do you find yourself, that you are crying out for the Lord’s mercy from?  Remember the son who fed pea pods to pigs before he remembered his father’s house.  What depths do you cry to the Lord from?

Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!  We have, vouchsafed to us in the mercy that God has shown to us in Jesus Christ, the promise that He will hear us when we cry out to Him.  Particularly when we call out for His mercy, let us be minded to the great mercy that He shows us even in this – that He does hear – and let us not take this merciful condescension for granted.  Who am I that my Lord should listen to me?

If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities – Lord, who could stand?  Let us revere Him.  It is not some despot who judges us, but the thrice holy God of heaven.  We do not placate His evil intention to us (for He has none), but rather we appeal to His love for us.  For He does not mark our iniquity against us.  If He did, who could stand?  Could I?  Could you?  If we do stand, then, it is by His mercy alone.  We often pretend as though we had no iniquity, as though we were already, in ourselves, perfected – but when we’re honest, and not just about ourselves but about what true righteousness is, we admit that we have no solid case to stand on, in this regard.

But there is forgiveness with You, so that You may be revered.  While this phrase used to puzzle me, I long ago came to understand that we do not really fear those who are unforgiving – though we may fear what they would do to us.  We do not fear them, but tend more towards hate.  God is forgiving; God is merciful.  He may be held in reverence, His name may be hallowed among us, because He is just.  Not fickle.  Not wishy-washy.  Receiving His merciful kindness in the forgiveness of our sin is not a thing to be taken lightly, but should inspire thankfulness and reverence in the hearts of the faithful.  What is it that you hold Him in high regard for?  What degree of thankfulness is inspired in you because of His great mercy?

I wait for the Lord (or do you run on ahead?), my soul waits (or do you push your predetermined agenda, or decide that He’s not coming or won’t speak or won’t reveal Himself?), and in His word I hope.  In a world so consumed by individualism, where personal plans and strategies are made so much of – or at least, having a plan and back-up plan in your back-pocket – what room is there left to any of us, to hope in God’s word instead of simply hoping in ourselves?  What would it look like, if we put our hope in Him, instead of in ourselves and our own schemes?

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  I don’t know if you’ve ever watched for the morning, through the darkness of night.  Many have spent an all-nighter here or there, under electric lights; fewer have spent that all-nighter in the dark.  There is a real anticipation, an almost tangible hope in that expectation, as the night lingers but the dawn draws so close.  What would it mean for my soul to wait for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning?  What hope, what expectation, what anticipation, what delectable delight when the Lord comes to those who wait – at the final realization of the One they have dreamed of!

O Israel, hope in the Lord!  You, people of God; you, who are called by His Name; you, who struggle even against His easy yoke and light burden; you, who work out your salvation in fear and trembling; you, hope in the Lord.  Not in yourself.  Not in the plans you’ve made.  Not in the devises and desires you’ve hatched.  Not in the amendment you might make, or the “getting it right” you might do next time.  In Him.  The Lord.  What false hopes do you hold on to?  Hope, rather, in the Lord!

For with the Lord there is steadfast love.  It is not some passing fancy that moves us to hope in Him, that moves us to trust in Him.  It is His steadfast character, in which is guaranteed His attitude toward us, and dealing with us, is love.  If He could not be relied upon, the faithful would consider themselves the poorest of all, and fools.  Yet because He can be, they instead encourage others to trust in Him also.  Do you believe the Lord to be steadfast in His love?  Do you consider Him to be reliable, trustworthy, steadfast?  Do you live in such a way that is in accord with your beliefs?

And with Him is great power to redeem.  It is one thing for someone to love, and it is another thing for that one to be capable of carrying actions out that are based on that love.  It is our witness that He does not just love us, but is powerful to act in love to us-ward.  If you trust He is powerful to carry out what He has said, do not be hesitant in placing your hope in Him and abandoning those various things that we have given His place in our hearts to, instead.

It is He who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.  Though we look for redemption in many quarters.  The penitential question before us is this: will we abandon our hopes to be our own redeemers, to save ourselves, to enact our self-driven and self-glorifying ways of living, and trust in Him?

God be with you, this Lent.