Breath Prayers :: The Classic Jesus Prayer


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

What God communicates to us through His servant Paul, ” to pray without ceasing,” is a daunting command to most. We already feel the challenge of staying focused on the Lord in a set aside time of focused prayer, and then God wants more; that we would be continually in prayer.

Famed author of contemplative works, Henri Nouwen, describes this command as continually resting in the awareness of God’s presence. Prayer is Friendship with God.

In reflection on the simplicity of prayer being an awareness of God’s presence, I wondered then; how are we to stay continually aware of His nearness? There are many great practices that are available to us through the works of fantastic saints and mystics throughout history. I will briefly expound upon one of these in this article.

“Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner”

Breath prayers have been a practice that has served the lives of christians for centuries. It is simply taking a verse from scripture, or perhaps a prayer inspired from scripture, though I personally recommend using a verse. It is helpful for it to be one sentence.

You relax your body; breath in the first phrase and breath out the second phrase. You can fix your mind on the scene of scripture that the phrase derives from, if that is helpful to engage with the words.

You can repeat this exercise throughout your day. Some have set timers on their phones, others try to do this at every hour. It is a great way to calm the mind when stressed or when laying down for sleep at night. You can use this when sitting down for prayer and don’t know what to pray. Often times it is helpful to steady the mind when thoughts are racing.

The goal is not to achieve some great revelation or high emotion. In fact the work of God’s word upon our hearts is internal and mysterious; it often takes time. God is not in a hurry. people have testified that, in time, they find their hearts tenderized and their thoughts more easily drawn to God.

It is also not necessary to be firm with saying the phrase over and over. Often times I am led by the spirit, from the phrase, into other prayers. I will generally go back to the breath prayer.

“Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy upon me.”

A classic breath prayer is referred to as “The Jesus Prayer.” It is my favorite.

It is first seen in Mark 10:47. Blind Bartmaeus stands by the roadside, crying out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Though the crowd tries to silence him, he yells out in desperation all the more. Out of His darkness Jesus heard his cry; Jesus came to him and gave him sight.

This prayer has been used with many moderations. You may use what ever feels best for you. I just recommend using God’s name in any variation. May simply just be “Jesus, Son of God.” I use multiple variations throughout the day. Saying God’s name draws my awareness near to Him. I have found comfort in saying His name, especially in times I feel stressed or alone.

In asking God for mercy, I have discovered, fits into any situation. I am always asking for the very thing that God delights in giving. In every moment I am in need of His mercy. Acknowledging this need, brings my heart into a posture of meekness.

This breath prayer can be used as devotional or even for intercession. If you know not what to pray for a friend, you can always pray for mercy.

It has been most popular in Monasteries of the Eastern Church. In modern times, it has become more widely known through a manuscript written by an unknown Russian, “The Way of the Pilgrim.” The author gives testimony of devoting himself to this prayer and experiencing transformation in his heart and mind. Throughout all of his activities he would say this prayer.

This prayer practice is not like a “magic word.” It seems that our culture is constantly looking for a quick fix to our problems and often times reaching for a fantasy of magic; like Harry Potter waving a wand. Breath prayer is simply a practice that helps us in our weakness to become aware of God. It is also not an instant fix to our weakness; rather it helps us to draw near the one who makes us whole.

Zack Roberts —
Prayer Director of Ember


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