A Simple Guide for the Jesus Prayer

I recently read the post below on praying the Jesus Prayer and felt compelled to share it. May you be built up in faith to pray.

“A simple way for ceaseless prayer, if you want to you can use it too, which probably helps simple people who cannot get the true meaning of the neptic Holy Fathers, and run the risk of delusion.

Some (unfortunately) do not set the goal of putting off the old man (repentance, humility, and asceticism as a way of helping the sanctification of the soul) with a deep sense of their sinfulness. Then, they would naturally feel the need for God’s mercy, saying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” often. This with pain in their heart and then the feeling of the sweetness of divine comfort of the most Sweet Christ within their heart.

But unfortunately some people (as I mentioned) start off with a dry ascetic practice and seek after divine pleasure and lights and continually multiply their prayer-ropes and are sanctified by their calculation, reaching that conclusion (about their sanctity) from the mathematical reckoning of the greater amount of prayer-ropes they say.

They also (naturally) make footstools to the exact inch and all the other things, the bending of the head towards the heart. They regulate their breath and whatever else the watchful Saint Kallistuses and Gregorys of the Philokalia say. Then they create the false sensation that they are somewhere near the measure of those Saints.

From the moment they believe that thought, the tangalaki (the demon) immediately appears and sets up a television for them (with their fantasies) and devilish prophecies etc. of delusion follow.

For this reason, only certainty is repentance and let every spiritual edifice be built upon it and let us continually seek repentance from God and nothing else except that.

We should not ask for lights or miracles, or prophecies, or gifts of the Spirit, only for repentance. Repentance brings humility; humility will bring grace from God, because grace always goes to the humble, of necessity. Therefore, repentance is necessary for our salvation and when we have it, the grace of God will come and it will teach us what we need to do for salvation even of our fellows too, if it is necessary.

In this way, which I mentioned (feeling the great need for God’s mercy), we will say the Jesus Prayer many times with our whole heart and we will feel, as I mentioned, the sweetness of divine comfort of the most sweet Jesus within our heart. The heart will (then) have our nous in tight embrace, as well as our whole being.

Then, and only then, will prayer not be tiring, but rather it will give rest, because we have grasped the true meaning of it. Only then do we pray without putting pressure on ourselves, but we are pressurised by our sense of honour and dignity (philotimo) , which gives rise to all our spiritual upstanding generosity (leventia) . This produces the fluttering of the heart. Then the heart (however stony it may be) breaks and tears burst forth from their ducts (without an effort being made to weep during the time of prayer).

You feel the need for this prayer like a hungry baby who opens its little mouth and runs into the arms of its mother to be suckled and at the same time feels very secure in its mother’s loving care.

Nobody doubts that the enemy will try to war against us and to disperse our thoughts. However, when preceded by a little bit of Patristic study (e.g. The Sayings of the Fathers) a lid is put on all our cares, great and small, and on the day’s temptations. So, it is transformed into another atmosphere, a spiritual one and you pray with concentration.

If the enemy wages war with blasphemous thoughts (from his usual wickedness and envy) do not get upset. Instead, use the demon as your worker in the following way, by not getting upset, but by saying to the enemy: “It’s a good thing that you brought me those thoughts so that I can say the Jesus Prayer, because otherwise I forget to pray without ceasing.” The enemy will then depart immediately, because he is only used to doing evil. I mentioned that because the enemy brings blasphemous thoughts to sensitive people (usually) to make them even more sensitive, to upset them and to cut them down.

The same applies to some that struggle in vigil over and above their strength, and with pride. When they slacken, and they do not have the strength to banish the thoughts of the enemy. They think that those blasphemous thoughts are their own, and so they suffer without reason, while the thoughts are not their own, but those of the enemy.

That is why young people should struggle in the matter of prayer with humility and discernment. They should prepare for the night. This, by not being distracted, by study and through moderate and simple food, which helps. As far as possible it should not be savoury, to avoid drinking plenty of water, because that, too, is an obstacle, with the bloating that it causes. In this way, the person is helped with prayer.

It helps a great deal if the light evening meal, however light it may be, takes place at around 4 o’clock (European time), after study, fathers and so on, or else 3 hours after the main meal. Small and great prostrations beforehand, and in between each prayer-rope, help a great deal, unfreezing the machine’s oil. Later, after getting quite tired, he should sit down and say the Jesus Prayer, since he brings to mind his wretchedness and the great favours of God that our good God has done for him.

Then the nous is collected (as I mentioned, in the heart, on its own) and seeks God’s mercy with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his mind, without making a great effort.

The three hours after sunset help a lot (having read patristic books before sunset), as well as after midnight until sunrise. For young people it is good for them to sleep one hour after sunset, with less prayer, and to get up after midnight, in order to avoid scandalous sleep of the morning.

Naturally, discernment is required and guidance from their spiritual father, who is a requirement.”

St. Paisios

http://agapienxristou.blogspot.ca/2015/06/simple-guide-for-jesus-prayer-st-paisios.html

 

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #5 (Psalms of Thanksgiving)

Of all people, Jesus followers should be (and often are) people who are filled with thanksgiving – and we have every reason to be so. Let me explain.

As I consider my life I have to admit, I once was lost, in the darkness of self centeredness, in the consequence of evil things done to me, of my own evil done to others and to the personal evil passions and attitudes that my own sinful nature bred; and before a holy God, I was fully worthy of judgement, of punishment, of God’s real wrath on my life. I can safely say I was a rebel to God’s will. AND, left on my own, I had no interest in seeking God, and I had no interest in knowing God. I didn’t want God to rule over my life. I was a slave to sinful passions – just like every other person who is born a descendent of Adam.

BUT, while I was in that state, God was at work in my life – and through a series of providential events, my life somehow intersected with the good news that Jesus Christ had come to save people from themselves and from their sins, and that he had actually given His life as a sacrifice to ransom sinners. I also learned that the forgiveness and the salvation he offered was free of charge – not because it didn’t cost anything, but because Jesus had paid the price for what it cost, Himself. And this meant what He had to offer was a free gift.

So, through a series of events I don’t have time to relate, I came to a place where I realized I WAS separated from God AND had offended Him greatly – and I saw that, admitted that, and one night, confessed my sins to God and asked Him to forgive me and to save me. Now, after that, something very interesting began to take place. I started discovering that I had come to the place where I cried out to Him, seeking forgiveness, because He, in the most gracious way, had opened my blind spiritual eyes, had given my dead soul life, and had done this so I could understand my need and HIs remedy, to the end that I believed – which reconciled me to God the Father, making me His child.

On the one hand, every person who belongs to Christ has a different story about how becoming God’s child happened in their life. But every person belonging to Christ passed through a similar process as I did, on the other hand. The detail differs from person to person but the result is always the same – new life, in Jesus Christ., by God’s gracious activity, through faith. And this alone, is enough to fill us with thanksgiving.

In addition to this though, there follows grace upon grace and blessing upon blessing – many of which are spiritual, but many of which are physical/temporal. I began to follow Christ Jesus ‘sort of’, in 1970 – 45 years ago; but after straying from Him for five years (1972 to 1977), came back to Him for real, 38 years ago – and as I look back over my life, there are SO many reasons to be thankful!!

We are great sinners, but Christ is a GREAT Savior – and through Him we have forgiveness, but we also come to know the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

On this backdrop – the backdrop of God, who He is, the benefits He extends to those who love Him, the scripture teaches us that thanksgiving is both fitting, and a proper attitude of Christ’s followers – and we learn about this in many ways from the Word of God.

1) Some offerings during the OT era, for example, were offered as Thank Offerings – or, Offerings of Thanksgiving (Lv. 7: 11ff; 22: 29;
2) Thanksgiving was an attitude Jesus commended (Lk. 17: 15);
3) In several places in the NT letters, the apostles instruct us to do things with Thanksgiving (Phil 4: 6; Col. 2: 7, 4: 2);
4) We learn from other places that Thanksgiving should be an integral part of our praying (1 Tim. 2: 1-2) and that even our food should be received with Thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4: 3-4)
5) And in Revelation 7: 12, we learn how Thanksgiving is an integral part of the worship that takes place before the throne of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

It seems safe to say that in the same way that God is Love and love characterizes Him, so Jesus’s followers are children of God and members of Christ’s kingdom and thanksgiving should characterize us, toward God and others. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the book pf Psalms, we have a number of Psalms that fall into the category of Psalms of Thanksgiving.
I. Thanksgiving Psalms: How would you define a thanksgiving Psalm?

By definition, a Psalm of Thanksgiving is a psalm where the psalmist expresses a deep gratitude and appreciation for God’s grace, love, blessing – sometimes to himself, and sometimes to God’s covenant people.

Many of the Psalms identify as Psalms of Thanksgiving: Psalm 8, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32-34, 36 and 40 are Psalms of Thanksgiving, as are Psalm 40, 41, 60 103-106, 111, 113, 117, 124, 129, 135, 136, 138, 139, 146-148 and 150.

Psalms of Thanksgiving have a few unmistakeable characteristics. They will sometimes start with an exclamation – “Praise the Lord!” (see Psalm 149); Or, the refrain will be a call to praise or thank God for a certain benefit or other (see Psalm 107: 1, 8, 15, 21, 31-32, 43).

Sometimes, a Psalm of Thanksgiving will be FILLED with related calls to praise the Lord (see Psalm 150); and sometimes, they simply list out a number of blessings and benefits which come from God and which he bestows upon those who trust Him (see Psalm 40).

And so, in various forms, Psalms of Thanksgiving offer up praise and thanks to God for Himself, for His benefits and deliverances, for HIs salvation, for HIs blessing.

II. Thanksgiving Psalm considered: I have several personal favorites in this category of Psalm – but tops on my list is Psalm 103. Let’s take some time to consider Psalm 103.

Structure and Focus: Psalm 103 is a medium length Psalm, having 22 verses – and the Psalm follows a clear structure.

1st, the opening and closing verses of the Psalm (vs. 1-5; 20-22) form a crescendo of Blessing of the Lord;

2nd, vs. 6-14 name many of the Lord’s acts and qualities;

3rd, vs. 15 to 19 are a comparison – between man, who is temporary at best, and the Lord and his covenant faithfulness. So, breaking Psalm 103 down, I could outline it like this:

a) Introductory Praise Offering (vs. 1-5)

b) Praiseworthy works and benefits of the Lord (vs. 6-14)

c) Man’s Fading, God’s Abiding (vs. 15-19);

d) Exhortation to Praise the Lord (vs. 20-22)

Analysis: That’s how the Psalm breaks down. In light of this, it is helpful to read the psalm slowly, and then take some time – perhaps ten to fifteen minutes, to list out as many SPECIFIC benefits the Lord extends, specific works the Lord does or acts the Lord performs, or promises the Lord makes, to His people.

For those who take the time to do this exercise, one will find over twenty benefits, and a few promises to believers, in this psalm.

III. Praying the Thanksgiving Psalms: How would one go about praying this or any other Thanksgiving Psalm?

A Challenge to Devotion (from the life of Charles Simeon)

I’ve been reading an interesting biography by Handley Moule and a biographical sketch (which I’ve read once before) by John Piper on the life of a pastor of old, Charles Simeon (1759-1836). Simeon served Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge and Cambridge University for 54 years, and had a long a fruitful ministry. His years there were not without trial however.

John Piper, writing of Simeon’s life and ministry in a mini-bio titled Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering, observes how, when Simeon began his tenure at Holy Trinity Church, “…the parishioners did not want Simeon. They wanted the assistant curate Mr. Hammond. Simeon was willing to step out, but then the Bishop told him that even if he did decline the appointment he would not appoint Hammond. So Simeon stayed…” 

His choice to remain despite not being wanted set into motion open opposition, of a significant kind. Piper continues, ” The first thing the congregation did in rebellion against Simeon was to refuse to let him be the Sunday afternoon lecturer. This was in their charge. It was like a second Sunday service. For five years they assigned the lecture to Mr. Hammond. Then when he left, instead of turning it over to their pastor of five years they gave it to another independent man for seven more years! Finally, in 1794, Simeon was chosen lecturer.”  This initial resistance had lasted 12 years.

In the midst of this long trial, “Simeon tried to start a later Sunday evening service and many townspeople came. But the churchwardens locked the doors while the people stood waiting in the street. Once Simeon had the doors opened by a locksmith, but when it happened again he pulled back and dropped the service. This was not all, however. “The second thing the church did was to lock the pew doors on Sunday mornings. The pew holders refused to come and refused to let others sit in their personal pews. Simeon set up seats in the aisles and nooks and corners at his own expense. But the churchwardens took them out and threw them in the churchyard. When he tried to visit from house to house, hardly a door would open to him. This situation lasted at least ten years (emphasis mine).

Eventually, Simeon over came the opposition. How did he do it? Again, Piper writes, “The records show that in 1792 Simeon got a legal decision that the pewholders could not lock their pews and stay away indefinitely. But he didn’t use it. He let his steady, relentless ministry of the word and prayer and community witness gradually overcome the resistance.” 

As I considered this amazing story of persistent, significant and focused resistance to Simeon’s preaching and pastoral ministry, met with persistent, significant and focused perseverance in ministry, I asked myself what Simeon’s secret for bearing up under these trials was. How did he keep on keeping on, in the face of such open and unfeigned hostility? Moule provides insight:

Behind all that was busy and public in his life he had striven from the first to ‘labour in secret prayer’…..Simeon invariably arose every morning, even though it was the winter season, at four o’clock; and after lighting his fire, he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures. He would then ring his bell and calling his friend with his servant, engage with them in what he termed his family prayer. Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength. Deriving instruction from such a source, and seeking it with such diligence, he was comforted in all his trials and prepared for every duty.” (emphasis added)

Considering these things, I’m challenged to devotion in several ways. First, though all pastoral ministry has it’s difficulties (and my time of service is no exception) the type difficulty I have faced is almost unworthy of mention compared to the trials Simeon faced-not for a few months only but for years on end. Reflecting on this aspect of Simeon’s life, I’m forced to shut my mouth, repent of the many times I’ve complained about my own light afflictions and how difficult it is to continue in ministry, and rejoice in the ease by which my own pastoral labors have unfolded.

Second, I’m challenged toward more purposed diligence in secret prayer. Now, my focus here is not so much on the time Simeon arose each day. That in itself is quite the challenge. Rather, the way he spent the first four hours of his days in secret prayer and devotional study of the Scriptures is greatly convicting. This man learned to live upon God-and his devotional practice reveals how he didn’t just preach Jesus as Lord, but actually lived as though Jesus was Lord in his private life. Knowing Jesus-being with God-praying in the Spirit-shaped his life, as he subordinated even sleep to his pursuit of the trinitarian God. It is no wonder he was empowered to persevere; and no wonder my small trials seem so large and tend to undo me. Frankly, I barely pray and I play at devotional study, compared to this man’s daily practice-and the results positively in his life and negatively in mine bear out our devotional differences.

Now, some might say that Simeon practiced this level of devotion because he was a cut above the average pastor or Christian. But to this, I must object. Simeon didn’t practice this level of devotion because he was some super saint as compared to all of us. Rather, Moule observes, “This early rising did not come naturally to him; it was a habit resolutely fought for and acquired.”  It was battle for him, a battle he fought with his comfort desiring flesh and won. And as he was enabled to win this battle, so might we be, by the same resolve and in the same grace, for the same cause-of knowing God, dwelling with Him and beholding His beauty, even here on earth, in the secret place.

To Charles Simeon, secret prayer for protracted periods per day, and the best hours of the day, was obviously not considered lost time. For many of us, the opposite is true. Is it any wonder that history attests to the power and long lasting impact of his life and ministry, while our impact is often so small?

Rilke’s Jewel

I came across a word of wisdom-a jewel of sorts- in my reading this morning, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet-a nugget that is so insightful I wish I had learned it early in life. The topic Rilke was discussing was literary criticism and creativity. Here’s the nugget:

“In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force it’s sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything ! 

This idea….this principle…this jewel is so simple, so obvious, but so easy to miss, in the face of the ‘want it now’ world where we live. And yet, how important for the writer, the student, the teacher, the pastor, the mom, the dad to know. In my own writing, and in my own public speaking, I’ve learned that to create takes time. One must think, observe, reflect, and wait-until thoughts, ideas, inspiration congeals, making it possible to put onto paper one’s insights or verbally communicate them to a congregation.

So I resonate with Rilke. Patience! Patience is everything, for all things come in it’s time!

How free from frustration we would be if we could only grasp this principle. Many a young person would do well to learn it; and many old men would benefit recovering it. I’ll think on this today…and tomorrow….and beyond, and probably memorize it, for looking back on life I see it’s truth in my writing self, my speaking self, my growing self. I’ve seen it, lived it, benefited from it, but could never express it as Rilke does here.

G’day!!!

On Owning Christ and Suffering Well: Samuel Rutherford

I don’t usually write letters to those who hold public office. They live in their world and I live in mine and I’m content with that. But this was not the case in the past. Pastors often wrote magistrates, governors, kings and presidents; and often, the content of their letters called their recipients to serious reflection on their responsibility before God. One such letter was written by Samuel Rutherford to a Mr. John Osburn, Provost of Ayr, on March 14, 1637.

The letter speaks to me, not so much that I should be more involved in the political system, but that I should be involved with those holding public office when possible in order to influence them for Christ. May God grant grace to be more proactive in this, for the good of the nation, state or city, that Jesus might be glorified.

But it speaks to me in another way too. Samuel Rutherford’s was banished from preaching in his church in Anwoth in September, 1636 and forced to live, against his will, in the primarily Roman Catholic town of Aberdeen until sometime in 1638; and as appears in this letter, he suffered well. He states in this letter how he kisses and embraces Christ’s cross, and this same theme is found in many of the letters written to friends during this time.

What was the key to Rutherford’s suffering well? It was Christ~intimacy with and dependence upon Christ as the source of his joy and strength. He was truly a man who could say, as John Bunyan said, that he learned to “live upon God, who is invisible”. His sustenance during this trial was supernatural~and communion with Christ saw him through until he was finally set at liberty.

Rutherford’s letter is below. He wrote:

Much honored Sir~Grace, mercy and peace be to you—Upon our small acquaintance and the good report I hear of you, I could not but write to you. I have nothing to say but that Christ, in that honorable place He has put you in, has entrusted you with a dear pledge, which is his glory; and has armed you with His sword to keep the pledge, and make a good account of it to God.

Be not afraid of men. Your Master can mow down His enemies and make withered hay of fair flowers. Your time will not be long; after your afternoon will come your evening and after evening night. Serve Christ. Back Him; let His cause be your cause; give not a hair-breadth of truth away; for it is not yours but God’s. Then, since you are going, take Christ’s testimony with you out of this life–“Well done, good and faithful servant!” His ‘well done’ is worth a ship full of “good-days”,  and earthly honors.

I have cause to say this because I find Him truth itself. In my sad days, Christ laughs cheerfully and says “All will be well”. Would to God that all this kingdom [speaking of Scotland] and all that know God, knew what is between Christ and me in this prison–what kisses, embracements and love communion! I take His cross in my arms with joy; I bless it, I rejoice in it. Suffering for Christ is my garland. I would not exchange Christ for ten thousand worlds ! No, if the comparison could stand, I would not exchange Christ with heaven.

Sir, pray for me, and the prayers and blessing of  prisoner of Christ meet you in all your straits. Grace be with you.

The Cross and the need for Soul Preparation: Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish pastor who lived in the 17th century (1600-1661) is one of my favorite Puritan divines and his letters, available through Banner of Truth Trust, are rich in insights and encouragement. One of Rutherford’s letters, dated March 13, 1637, and written to his friend John Ewart, Bailie of Kirkudbright, was of particular interest to me recently. Rutherford wrote to encourage his friend to bears the cross and to lay a sure foundation for his salvation. I was motivated and challenged by this letter because it is fitting for Christians of our day to contemplate. Of particular note is Rutherford’s comparison of the cross to a birds wings or a ships sails, as well as his cal to work out our salvation with an eye on the day of Judgment. If more people were to take Rutherford’s advise there would be less people ashamed on that great and terrible day. May you be encouraged by this letter, written 372 years ago, to run with patience the race set before you, looking to Jesus all the way.

To John Ewart:

“MY VERY WORTHY AND DEAR FRIEND,—I cannot but most kindly thank you for the expressions of your love. Your love and respect to me is a great comfort to me.

I bless His high and glorious name that the terrors of great men have not frightened me from openly affirming the Son of God. No, His cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bare; it is such a burden as wings to a bird or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbor. I have much cause to fall in love with the world; but rather to wish that He who sits upon the floods would bring my broken ship to land, and keep my conscience safe in these dangerous times; for wrath from the Lord is coming on this sinful land.

It were good that we prisoners of hope know of our stronghold to run to, before the storm come on; therefore, Sir, I beseech you by the mercies of God and comforts of His Spirit, by the blood of your Savior, and by your future appearance before the sin avenging Judge of the world, keep your garments clean, and stand for the truth of Christ which you profess. When the time shall come that your eye strings shall break, your face grow pale, your breath grow cold and this house of clay shall totter, and your one foot shall be over the border, in eternity, it will be your comfort and joy that you gave your name to Christ. The greatest part of the world think heaven at the next door, and that Christianity is an easy task; but they will be misled by craft. Worthy Sir, I beseech you, make sure work of your salvation. I have found my experience, that all I could do has much difficulty in the day of my trial; and therefore lay up a sure foundation for the time to come.

I cannot repay you for your undeserved favors to me and my afflicted brother. But I trust to remember you to God. Remember me heartily to your kind wife.

Yours in his only Lord Jesus,

Samuel Rutherford

This letter may be found on page 262 of Letters of Samuel Rutherford, printed by Banner of Truth Trust, first published 1664, reprinted 1984 and 2006.