In the article, Breath Prayer, we explored the concept of a type of prayer that can become as much a part of us as breathing. Now, let’s examine how to cultivate the path to a quiet spirit, using The Jesus Prayer as our example. To get us started, here are the words of the prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
To use the Jesus Prayer very purposefully to quiet your spirit, you must pay attention to your breathing while you are praying the words. There is no exact formula for this, so feel free to experiment until you find what feels most comfortable for you. Speaking of comfort, to begin your prayer, it is best to find a place where you can sit comfortably and have a measure of privacy. Perhaps you might spend a few minutes thanking God for his many blessings and spilling out the worries that concern you. Then, begin to breath The Jesus Prayer.
Perhaps the most common method to breath the prayer is to inhale at the same time you are saying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Then, exhale while saying, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Another possibility is to inhale on the words, “Lord Jesus Christ,” then exhale on “Son of God,” pausing for a moment between the inhale and the exhale. Pause again after exhaling “Son of God.” Repeat the process again with (inhale) “Have mercy on me,” (pause) then exhale while saying “a sinner.” Pause again.
Those who have done any kind of breathing work for physical training or pain control may know that holding ones breath for a few seconds after inhaling increases the oxygen content of the blood, thus is energizing. To hold the lungs empty for a few seconds (perhaps 4 seconds) after exhaling decreases the oxygen content of the blood and is supposed to be relaxing or possibly even make one drowsy. If you have done this type of breathing before, you can keep that in mind as you choose your breathing pattern. However, in the example above, notice that I have equally balanced the pausing between the inhaling and the exhaling so as not to overly energize or create drowsiness.
To those who find this explanation too technical, keep in mind that the entire purpose of this type of praying is to clear your head of the busy thoughts that make it difficult to pray and create a quiet space within your mind so that you can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. Simply breathing in and out, and perhaps pausing between the breaths or phrases of the prayer has been used by many people throughout history as a discipline to present their quieted mind before Our Father, in an effort to cultivate a listening heart.
As you practice this kind of praying awhile and have found the quiet place, you may find other thoughts and words will begin to fill the quiet spaces. These will not be the busy, distracting, demanding ideas of your own mind, but will perhaps be quiet praise and thanksgiving, guidance and a clearer perspective, or the Holy Spirit interceding for your concerns with a wisdom beyond what you yourself possess.
Whenever your busy thoughts or worries begin to crowd back in, return to the pattern of praying and breathing until you find the quiet place again.
Do not feel discouraged if you do not immediately experience a sense of God’s Spirit the very first time you practice The Jesus Prayer. It is a discipline that takes concentration and effort. It is not “work” in the sense that you are doing it to earn God’s approval or spiritual merit. It is a purposeful effort to still your senses and present your open mind and heart for communion with God.
While this type of prayer is not an effort to earn brownie points with God for good behavior, Our Father is so very merciful. He meets us way more than halfway in our efforts to reach out to him. Even if you have a very difficult time quieting your mind during these times of prayer, God may surprise you by responding to you in some other unexpected moment, while you are awakening from sleep, showering, or driving a monotonous stretch of road on the way to work. So, do not become weary in your efforts, because in due time, you will reap the benefits of this discipline if you do not give up.
My prayer: Father, encourage us in our efforts to “be still and know that you are God.” May you be glorified in our lives and in all the earth.