The Jesus Prayer Has Two Functions
The Jesus prayer is very powerful in its simplicity. But it is not a method of meditation or simply a method to discipline the mind. It is much more. It enables us to participate in the life of Christ. It allows us to call Him into our thoughts and feelings continually, to make Him a part of our minds and hearts in a living way. This prayer brings Christ into every aspect of our life. It is with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. It eventually becomes a living part of us and is continually repeated in our heart. Remember, its aim is union with Christ and not some kind of spiritual experience or peaceful state.
There are two functions of the Jesus Prayer. The first is worship with repentance like all prayer. In this regard it must be repeated with total sincerity. It must be coupled with an attitude of repentance coupled with humility. We must also have a feeling of awe when calling on God’s name, recognizing His perfect love and His awesome power. At the same time we must be fully aware of our limitations in being able to live the way He intended for us at our Creation. We know from the story of our creation in Genesis, He made us in His “image and likeness”. So we have an incredible potential to live up to. If we honor this and recognize how far we miss the mark, we will approach Him with a contrite heart and along with a sincere desire to be helped and transformed so we can live up to this beautiful potential He gave to each of us.
The second purpose of this prayer is to help us concentrate our inner life, calming it, so we can focus our attention totally on God and his teachings. We may refer to this as a form of spiritual purification. If we study human behavior we know that our brain is very active and easily distracts our mind as it continually reacts to various stimulus through our five senses based on hidden assumptions programmed in its inner workings. This is not all bad, because it is through these programmed responses that we are able to survive in this physical world. Think of the infinite inputs that our brain continually receives. By its inner structure we are able to respond in ways that allow us to survive. But we are created as higher creatures than mere animals, and we need to make sure to control these instinctual responses and direct them appropriately according to God’s direction. We should not try and eliminate them but transform them. In our brain there or an uncountable number of connections between the neurons that make up our brain. Based on our genetic program and our environmental conditioning, some of these connections are very firm. It is not easy to change them, let alone counteract the responses they imply. One thing the Jesus Prayer can help us with is reprogramming our brain and freeing us from animal like behavior, allowing our minds to regain control and focus on God’s will for us. The repetition of this prayer is an ascetic discipline to help us focus the attention of our mind on God rather on the endless stimulation of our senses and our biased orientation to seek pleasure and avoid pain.