Book Review: The Jesus Prayer

I was introduced to a book many years ago by Henri J.M. Nouwen called The Way of the Heart. In that book he talks about a group of Christians who practiced a very simple but transformational prayer called "the Jesus prayer." It is a memorable, one line prayer:

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

These ancient Christians would coordinate the words of the prayer with their breathing:

(Inhale) "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God..." (Exhale) "...have mercy on me, a sinner." 

They would repeat the prayer until it became a natural, routine, and easy thought that continued throughout the day with them. A portable sanctuary.

JesusPrayer_lo-resIn his new book The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal author, monk and musician John Michael Talbot brings freshness and life to the prayer by examining each word at length. He has a pastoral heart, looking not only at the historical and theological insights but also how each word addresses the situations we find ourselves facing today.

The first chapter on the word "Lord" caused me to slow down my reading and I will likely read that section again and again. It is worth the whole book to hear his "bread" analogy for the word "Lord." The analogy leads to a great insight:

When we let go of all that we are, then Jesus can turn us into someone completely new and use all that we are for God. (30)

The rest of the book is insightful, challenging and above all it brings new weight to the simple words of the prayer if we choose to practice it.

In the way of drawbacks or weaknesses, Talbot speaks from a heavily Orthodox/Roman Catholic background and so there are several theological moves that may be difficult for someone reading from a conservative evangelical background. I have trouble calling this a weakness, so let me simply say that it provides an opportunity to ask questions and learn a new viewpoint on who God is and what He is doing.

I heavily recommend this book, especially if you are in a place of dryness or frustration as it relates to the practice of prayer. Sometimes moving into a simpler prayer can help to untangle the cobwebs and messes our hearts and souls can create over time.