Years ago, when I first began my ministry, I was introduced to a simple prayer. It was called the Jesus Prayer or the Breath prayer and the version I was taught was this, “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” I discovered that when I used this prayer, I found a sense of peace in my soul. I began to teach others the prayer. It was a wonderful prayer to teach to people in the hospital. I would tell them, “As you take a breath in say to yourself, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God,’ and as you breathe out say, ‘Have mercy on Me.” As people would begin to pray this prayer you could almost see the peace that surpasses all understanding begin to help with whatever burden the person was dealing with. This Jesus Prayer was taken from Luke 18:13, and the prayer of the blind men in Luke 18:38-39, and made popular in two books, The Way of the Pilgrim and the Pilgrim, by the Anonymous Pilgrim.
I have been using repetend prayer as a spiritual discipline for many years now. Repetend prayer is a phrase prayer repeated over and over. The prayer Jesus
prayed in the Garden, “Not my will but thine.” This is prayer before the cross. A prayer of pain, uncertainty, and yet, full surrender. In the following passages, we find the account of this simple prayer used in the most intense, anxiety-producing, and faith-challenging experiences a person could face.
Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. “He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matt. 26:38-44 NIV)
The event is also captured in Luke, “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Lk. 22:41-46 NIV) And while it does not explicitly say Jesus prayed the same prayer as it does in Matthew, it does verify where Jesus’s mind was and how committed Jesus was to what the Father wanted, and how it was his choice. (Choice is one of those key actions of life that needs continuing reflection and discernment if we are to avoid being manipulated, deceived, and/or used by evil intent.)
In the Anglican tradition, there is a phrase I have come to deeply respect. Lex orandi lex credenda, loosely translated from the Latin, “the law of prayer is the law of belief,”…….“Praying shapes believing,” is another way to put it. In a few words, this Latin phrase manages to capture the spirit of traditional Anglican worship; in other words, the idea that how we pray is important to our spirituality and our development as Christians. In times of stress, I believe the simplest, sincerest, honest, emotional prayer we can pray is the best tool we can use for immediate spiritual soul care.
By using a repetend prayer such as the one Jesus used in the garden, “Not my will but thy will,” we can focus attention on a need to believe which has the ability to strengthen our souls during times of potential doubt and fear. It is a way to pray in which we declare our choice to stand firm no matter what comes our way. Not a lot of thought, reasoning, or strategic planning is needed or useful. By following the example of Jesus and repeating a prayer like, “Not my will but Thine,” we are stating a desire. Desire shapes choices. Discernment is always seeking the best choice God allows to come our way.
A man once said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24 NIV) I know this is the type of strength and desire I have needed many times in my life. This man’s very words to Jesus could be used as a repetend prayer. A repeated phrase is spoken as a prayer of faith when we face a situation in which we may feel hopeless or frightened. This prayer is the ground of faith upon which we stand.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, help me overcome my unbelief.
Do, repeat, do, repeat, do, this is the way of using Repetend praying.