discipleship

4. Using the Jesus Prayer

http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/

Posted: 14 Dec 2015 03:00 AM PST

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

This prayer has the potential to transform your consciousness and bring you closer to God. It is a prayer rooted deeply in the tradition of the Church. It is a prayer to be repeated over and over, many times. You can begin to develop the use of this prayer by incorporating a number of repetitions in your daily prayer rule. It is a simple prayer and you can learn to say it everywhere and at any time. In fact, your aim should be to make it an unending prayer. In this way your whole life becomes a life of prayer.

Recognize, however, that this prayer is incredibly difficult to practice even though it seems to be very simple. In its practice, you continually recite it so that it permeates your heart and focuses your mind, predisposing you to follow God’s will instead of your own ego-directed will.

Start by repeating it for ten minutes in the morning or evening. Begin by saying it out loud or at least by moving your lips. Eventually you will repeat it mentally, but start with a verbal prayer. Add more repetitions, slowly building up the time you are able to concentrate on the prayer. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the prayer. Concentrate, but do not be harsh on yourself. This is not something you will master with your self-will. Ask God to help you conquer the restlessness of your mind. With persistence, humility and patience, the practice of this prayer will prepare you for God’s grace to work actively within you.

Along with saying this prayer as part of your prayer rule, try to say it whenever you can. You can do this while walking, while waiting in the doctor’s office, in line at the post office, or while waiting to board a plane. You can say it when doing dishes or yard work. You can say it when you are stressed, afraid, or nervous. When you become angry, repeat this prayer over and over until your anger subsides. Do this whenever your mind is agitated, and you will find that it will calm your mind. When you do say it, be sure to think of God and His endless love and seek His mercy.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer is different than Far-Eastern Buddhist, Hindu or Sufi practice. In Buddhism, a common practice is to constantly repeat a mantra such as “Om mani padme hum.” The aim of Buddhism is to free oneself from all suffering and attain what the Buddha called “Nirvana” or the perfect peace of mind. This peace of mind is achieved through various meditation techniques. The Buddha never taught about any form of God. Many practice this form of meditation to gain calmness in their lives. Sufism is a branch of Islam that also employs forms of meditation. Sufi scholars define Sufism as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.” In meditation they aim to reach an awareness of their oneness with the universe, believing that in doing so they can attain fundamental truths that are within us, but often remain hidden. They do not believe that Jesus is God, but view Him as only a prophet. In Hinduism the chief aim is to gain release from the cycle of reincarnation caused by karma – the consequences of past actions, in this or in previous lives! This is achieved though meditation techniques. This release leads to some kind of absolute Truth. Many of these approaches have been adapted by our modern culture to serve as means of relaxation or ways to lessen the stress of our over-active lives. They form the basis of the “New Age” spiritual movement. They are taught without any specific aim of repentance, nor the purpose of doing the will of God, nor of seeking union with Christ.

The use of the Jesus Prayer is done with an attitude of repentance and humility seeking an encounter with the living Christian God, Jesus Christ. We may gain benefits of relaxation or reduced stress, but this is not the aim of our effort. Union with God is. It is NOT a mantra to simply quiet the mind. You will also gain this benefit if you learn to repeat it hundreds of times, but it is important that you truly feel contrition for your sinfulness and seek God’s mercy as you repeat it. All prayer is about a personal relationship with God.

Many Orthodox Christians use a prayer rope to aid them in concentration as they repeat the Jesus Prayer. Prayer Ropes come in a great variety of forms and sizes. Most prayer ropes have a cross woven into them or attached to mark the “end,” and also have some kind of marker after each 10, 25, or 50 knots or beads. There are many forms of prayer ropes, some knotted of wool or silk, or other more elegant or simpler materials. At the time of our regular prayer, when you pray following your rule of prayer, hold the prayer rope with your hand between the thumb and the index finger and move from knot to knot each time you say the prayer. Do this until the number of repetitions in your rule have been completed.

“Just as it is impossible to fight battles without weapons, or to swim a great sea with clothes on, or to live without breathing, so without humility and the constant prayer to Christ it is impossible to master the art of inward spiritual warfare or to set about it and pursue it skillfully.” Saint Hesychios

More on the Jesus Prayer

Articles and Books on the Jesus Prayer

When the Bible speaks of following Jesus, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogmas, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which afflicts the conscience. If they follow Jesus, men escape from the hard yoke of their own laws, and submit to the kindly yoke of Jesus Christ
—  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. 
His main idea in the first part of the book is that we are anemic at producing disciples because we ignore our loves. We lost the wisdom of Augustine (that we are what we love) and went with Descartes (I think therefore I am). For the past few hundred years, we’ve believed that humans are basically brains on a stick. That we are, at our core, empty idea receptacles that need to be filled with knowledge will operate solely on the information that they hold.
Depression and guilt

One of the problems with this blog, is that you aren’t reading the kind of back-and-forth conversations that I normally have when I’m counseling someone. So occasionally I like to show you more extended conversations…

Anonymous asked: Hey uncle, I started a new job, and I’m helping in leading youth ministry, but I’m struggling with certain sins and life in general, and I’m the only Christian in my family. I guess I lack discipline, and the usual guy stuff, along with pride. It has made me really depressed. I cannot thank you enough. God bless your big heart, uncle.

Unka Glen answered: Happy to help. But now, forgive me for being direct, because I’m old, and Jesus could come back any day now, and I have stuff to do, so when you say you have “usual guy stuff”, and you “lack discipline” I’m getting a prophetic vision that you look at porn on the internet, and then you feel huge guilt about it afterwards. Am I right?

Anonymous: Yes.

Unka Glen: How ‘bout that. Well, anyway, imagine a list of all the things wrong with you, and then imagine that each thing is sorted, most urgent to least urgent, according to God. Now, tell me where porn/masturbation is on that list (at the top, in the middle, at the bottom, etc.).

Anonymous: I’d say pretty high; literally no one talks about it, and it’s been a continual struggle in my Christian walk.

Unka Glen: Uh huh, well, wanna know how I was able to work out that your problem was porn? Because about 85% of my counseling conversations are about porn. It’s all day, every day my man. I’m not trying to downplay anything, but I’m wondering, do you think it’s really bad because you never hear anyone admit it (unless it’s in the past tense, and part of a weepy testimony)?

See, when you say that this problem ranks “pretty high”, I’m wondering if that’s from God, or if it has something to do with the level of guilt that you feel? If it’s the guilt, then I’m wondering why the guilt itself isn’t at the top of the list?

Look at what the emotion of guilt does. It makes you feel unworthy, flawed, and ugly. Guilt drives you AWAY from God, and anything that makes you feel like you can’t go to God needs to be pulled out by the roots! After all, you desperately need God to give you the strength to fix what you messed up in the first place!

And all this guilt leads to depression, and you know what happens when you get depressed? You go look at porn on the internet. The guilt is the very thing that keeps you on the merry-go-round! So why isn’t guilt the first thing on that list, and I mean first by a mile?

Not only is it not at the top of your list of things to get rid of and never do again, I get the feeling, given how deep you are in your negative self image, that you may actually be trying to use guilt as a motivation for being a better Christian! Sounds a little backwards when I lay it out like that, right?

Anonymous: It is, haha. The irony is that I kept thinking I’m not one of these people, that I’m smarter. I guess I was wrong. So what’s next? I don’t know what to do, and I feel like I’m just stuck in this cycle.

Unka Glen: So we have this list of things the Lord wants us to change, right? Well, for one thing, the list goes on forever (or the rest of your earthly life anyway). That is, there will always be something to fix …unless you’re planning on achieving perfection this side of the grave.

Thus, if we feel bad every time we have something to fix, we’ll never feel good again! If you’re like most Christians, you tell yourself that you’ve only got a few obvious “big” sins in your lifestyle, and some “small” bad habits, and then you’re most of the way to being a “good” Christian, after that, you can hit a high plateau and coast.

Again, sounds silly when I say it out loud, huh?

Anyway, the point is, imperfect as we are, there’s always going to be something for us to work on, and we have to make peace with that, instead of forming a prideful image of ourselves as basically good people clearing off the last couple of sins hanging around.

Next, it makes sense to tackle these things on your list one at a time. If I try to fix twenty things at once, I’m gonna overload myself, and end up falling back. And besides, when I get those twenty things fixed, I’ll still have more stuff to fix, so why not give each item my full attention?

We tend to move obvious lifestyle sins to the top of the list because they keep reminding us that we’re sinners. But, ya know, you’ll still be a sinner when you fix this thing, so why let your bruised ego set your priorities?

In fact, we can pencil in “get rid of ego” as item number two after we deal with guilt. This list is really shaping up! But for now, focus everything on guilt. There’s plenty of time for the rest. God is not in a hurry.

Anonymous: Thank you. And you’re right, God isn’t in a hurry, I think I’ve forgotten that. 

father (figures)

mentor wanted:
male
mixed
(black)
queer
handsome
over 40
hasn’t died
or lost hope
or trusted today’s journalism

strong gentle caring kind
freely giving
freely living
changing
growing
knowing
(or humble if none of the above fits)

creative preferred
spiritual preferred
won’t want to sleep with me preferred
(some sexual tension okay)

Tonight was the first official night of discipling with this young girl from my church community. I’ve discipled people before but more in a low-key, mentoring kind of way. But we grabbed coffee together Sunday before service, and at the end she said, “Okay, I’m just gonna come out and ask you-will you disciple me? And teach me? You’re just cool and bold and I see a lot of me in you? So….??” It was so precious and humbling. Of course I said yes. I’m in a season right now where I have the time to give and the heart to teach. 

We will meet once a week and be very intentional about life. Sharing in the hard things and the good. Talking about the things that aren’t easy. I told her I will disciple her, but she has to be open and honest even when it’s hard. I won’t do things half way and she will be held accountable to the things that I hear in her and she shares. Discipleship is hard. The lives of the apostles prove that. Yet, how deep was their love and faith in the Son and Father? How driven were their lives by the Spirit? The same should be said of our discipleship. 

We are both taking the week to pray and encounter the Lord to hear about the first steps to take in this journey. Will we study a book of the bible, a certain doctrine or word? Perhaps we will walk through a book and take topics from there? Either way, we are getting messy and diving in deep. I am so excited. 

This is going to be hard and push me just as much as her. I am introverted and can back out of things easily because I get anxious and overwhelmed. But when it comes to ministry, I want my yes to be yes, and be accountable for the things that I agree to. Especially when it is ministry of people’s hearts and journey with the Lord. 

HOMILY for the 14th Fri per annum (I)
Gen 46:1-7. 28-30; Ps 36; Matt 10:16-23

It is said that every year approximately 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world. Truly, Christ’s prophecy that “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mt 10:22) is a reality. So, for us Christians, the “people of the Cross” as the Islamic State calls us, there is no avoiding this. We will be persecuted, or at least opposed if we wish to remain faithful to the Gospel; we Christians will find ourselves in conflict with the world and its values if we hold to true Christian values.

Jesus doesn’t quite explain why this is so, although Chesterton explains it like this. He said: “The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need”. The implication is that because the Christian believes and lives according to that which is opposed and unwanted by the rest of the world, so he is gotten rid of; he is martyred just as Christ was killed on the Cross.

And I think this brings us closer to the reason why Christians can expect to be persecuted: because Christ was. For, as Rowan Williams says: “in a world of blocked choices, wrong turnings and drastically false accounts of who and what we are, [Christ-like love] is not going to look obvious or natural. It will seem to be against the grain. Worse still, the person who is free to give comes to be seen as an outsider, an enemy… The only fully human person is seen as the enemy of humanity… “. It is curious this, especially given all our talk about love, but in a world skewed by sin, true love and its demands are opposed and hated. This is the experience of Christ and of his saints. Hence, we Christians are like sheep because we’re likened to the Lamb of God; lamb for the slaughter. Like Christ who loved the world and so offered his life for its salvation, so too the Christian is called to love the world enough to be a witness, a martyr, who is prepared to offer even his life for its salvation.

So, in the light of this promise of persecution, how should we behave? Not like sheep who follow blindly, but as serpents and doves says Our Lord. So, we Christians are called to live in the world knowingly, with full knowledge that we will find ourselves in conflict with the others. We’re not spoiling for a fight but rather, we should be wise enough to know that opposition and persecution will come so we should be prepared.  

But the wisdom of the serpent, it is said, is that it knows how to evade being captured. But I don’t think this is quite right. Rather, the serpent is a symbol of healing, and so as Chesterton said, we’re called to be a medicine, an antidote to the ills of our time. We do this by applying the wisdom of the Gospel, of the saints, to our contemporary situation. And we’re to be as innocent as doves. This is often taken to mean that we speak and behave in an inoffensive or harmless way. However, more pertinently, the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So, I think we’re called to be filled with the Spirit, and so, we witness to the Gospel without arrogance or a sense of moral superiority, but with the humility and innocence that comes from being an instrument of God’s love in the world. Thus Jesus calls us to follow him, to become like him, to share in his Cross. The result, if we do, is that we also share in his glory, in the triumph of love which overcomes the world (cf Jn 16:33).

You can give great advice!

Given that I answer questions on my blog, I get lots of questions about questions, that is, people want to know how to give good advice on their own, to their own friends.

Godly advice isn’t telling people what to do, it’s telling them how to do it. It’s a bit odd and maybe even a little arrogant to assume that people do wrong stuff just because they haven’t heard some smartypants tell them to do otherwise.

Hungry people know they need to eat, thirsty people know they need something to drink, and sinners like you and I know we need to repent. Let’s face it, you and I and everyone out there in the world has a sense of right and wrong. We may try to justify certain actions, but the harder we work to justify them, the more we know those actions aren’t really justifiable.  

A local pastor called me up and invited me over to his house, and he asked for a little coaching on his sermons. It went like this:

Me : What’s your sermon about?
Him: Reconciliation.
Me: Let me guess, you’re in favor of it.
Him: …Yeah.
Me: Let me guess again, you have a Bible verse that says that it’s good be reconciled, and another verse about bitterness, and then you’ll say that bitterness and holding grudges is bad.
Him: That’s right.
Me: The problem with your sermon is that it’s not a sermon. I’m not getting out of bed if I already know what you’re gong to say, and if you think I’m too dumb to know that reconciliation is good, and holding grudges is bad, then I don’t even want to know you.
Him: But in seminary…
Me: Seminary schmeminary, let’s say you preached this sermon just like they taught you, and it worked, and the whole congregation rose as one and told you they all wanted to be reconciled to all the people they have conflicts with, what part of your sermon deals with how to actually accomplish that?
Him: Okay, now I see my problem.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I don’t know how to do something, I YouTube it. Of course there’s always one or two of those videos that are no help whatsoever, with bad audio and rambling voice-overs. But there’s nothing like that one awesome video that explains it simply and directly.

Often the key to those good how-to videos, is a little tip on how to overcome a huge potential problem. You might hear something like “don’t make the mistake of doing it like this, you’ll mess things up and have to start over again, remember to do it this way, and you’ll find it works way easier.”

Really good spiritual advice works the same way. Good spiritual advice helps me avoid traps, and overcome obstacles, and navigate to the goal, just me and God. Good spiritual advice takes into account that I know right from wrong, and that deep down I want to do the right thing, but I need to know how to get there from where I am.

Burning out or playing favorites

Anonymous asked: Hi Unka! I’ve been serving at church, but I find myself burning out recently, perhaps out of wanting to invest myself equally in as many relationships as possible. I could use better time management, but I also wonder if it’s wise/biblical/loving to allow myself only a handful of deep relationships (as a ‘disciplee’ as well as a discipler), and maintain the rest at friendly arms’ length. I’d hate to close doors where God wants them open.

Unka Glen answered: One of the oldest sayings among ministry professionals: “if the devil can’t pull you out, he’ll push you in.” The idea is simple, if he can’t bog you down in the day-to-day business of a busy modern lifestyle, he’ll get you so overloaded with church stuff that you get overwhelmed and burn out.

By contrast, ya ever notice how the Bible has almost no record of sermon material from Jesus, but tons of one-on-one conversations? He spent all his time in the middle of nowhere. With no sound systems, no lighting rigs, no concert venues, no fog machine. Just desert, and twelve dudes a long way from home.

Not only did Jesus seem content to interact mostly with his own apostles, but He spent a lot of time investing in in just one guy (Peter). So how did Christianity spread all over the world? No advertising budget, no social media blitz, just a few Jews rejected by their own leaders, and the entire frickin’ Roman Empire (you may have heard of them) hunting them to the far corners of the Earth.

Christianity spread far and wide because is was first planted deep. Jesus spent time investing in deep discipleship with his apostles. He reproduced himself through them, and they were able to go out and reproduce others in turn.

Here’s another saying old missionaries use: “all real ministry is one-on-one”. Large group preaching has its place, but a good preacher uses it to set up his one-on-ones afterwards. The Biblical model is to recognize that when you have too many to reach, you reproduce yourself, and put your disciples out there to help. After all, the last command of Jesus was to “make disciples”.

It may sound right to treat everyone exactly the same, and to avoid playing favorites, but that’s not really a Biblical approach, and you’re learning that it’s not really physically possible either. When I walk onto a prison deck, the first thing I do is to look around for the one or two brothers on this deck that will help me reach the rest.

Often that may be the toughest guy on the deck, the guy who makes me work for it the hardest, asking challenging but respectful questions, and making me earn the right to be heard. But if the rest of the fellas see me spending more alone time with the toughest guy on the deck, they’ll soon get a sermon’s worth of insight into God’s heart for the most lost.

You may remember similar stories about a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4:4-26), or a guy named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9).