“Oh… Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” I whispered within my heart as the sound of both my kids crying woke me from sleep.
The ‘Jesus Prayer’ is a combination of the blind man’s cry (“Son of David, have mercy on me!”), the repentant publican’s plea (“God, have mercy on me, a sinner”), and great theological truth about who Jesus is: He is Jesus (the Savior), He is the Christ (the preminant prophet annointed fully with the Spirit of God), He is God (as Son, he is everything the Father is, coeternal and ‘consubstantial’ with Him), and He is Lord (the rightful ruler and director of my all). The “mercy” sought is not deliverance from punishment (although it includes that), but the healing that the blind man cried for. ‘Mercy’ in Greek can convey the meaning of a healing balm. As “a sinner” or even “the sinner,” this is what my soul needs from Jesus: to be healed of the addictions to <sloth, lust, self-pity, and pride that I sometimes turn to (and that I fear may be taken away from me, and protect with anger) instead of the love, peace, and joy of God’s presence. Even if I have no present sin, I am a man who has sinned and I know my need of God’s empowering grace. The Jesus Prayer can be shortened or modified as desired: “Lord Jesus, have mercy!” “Son of God, save!”
Although they are two and four years old, it’s still very common for my kids to wake up in the middle of the night – occassionally three or more times in a night. Since I have learned my wife is a much more energetic person when she gets uninterrupted sleep, I try to help out. And when I wake, God has taught me to see their interruption as the invitation to a quick “prayer vigil” – literally a moment of wakeful ‘watching after’ of spiritual matters.
It wasn’t always this way. Until several months ago, I simply viewed the wakefulness of the children as something to be borne with patience and kindness. They were needy – I would provide, and be glad that I could. It was an opportunity to minister to them, as they called out for their father, to choose (most of the time) to embrace their beautiful childlike dependance on their father – something I could learn to do better with my heavenly Father. But now, I see it as an opportunity to call out to Him, knowing that He will come even more swiftly to my aid than I do for my children.
This shift in mindset happened several months ago. I was reading a booklet on prayer written by an older woman. In the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox church, she rose more than once during the night to pray the Jesus prayer with heartfelt meaning, meditating on each word, worshipping God, listening for His prompting. “Waking up at midnight to pray!” I thought to myself. “That seems valuable – to seek to make even one’s sleep infused with prayer – but goodness…” I filed it away as an interesting idea. But I do love my sleep.
Later that night I was awoken by a small voice – “Dad! Daddy dad!” – plaintively echoing. And as I half-stumbled down the hall, I realized that this was my call to midnight prayer. The familiar pattern of the ancient Jesus Prayer was ready. And as I silently called out to the man-who-is-God, I intentionally opened my heart for Jesus to apply His healing Spirit to my soul.
To be a truly good father, I need to be like my heavenly Father. And to be like Him, I must be yielded to Jesus, who is the “overflowing radiance and exact image” of the Father (Heb. 1:3). It is in Him and in His name that we approach and know the Father. It is only by the light of His face, shining into my heart by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18), that I can be transformed.
And I surely need that transformation. Those midnight prayers help me to receive the Person who will bring it about.