The Lord moves in mysterious ways. As a good evangelical, I never thought I would be using prayer beads and saying the Jesus Prayer. It started when an old friend decided he wanted to make me a set of beads. It surprised me, but I said, “Why not?”
In my thinking, I laid down a single stipulation, I wasn’t open to a Catholic rosary, and wanted nothing to do with devotion to Mary. So, he scrounged up his materials and fashioned me an Orthodox, or Anglican chaplet of 33 beads. And they are beautiful. I have other friends who are Orthodox and I’ve always had an affinity for their faith and practice.
Of course, I didn’t know how to blend them in my prayer times. It seemed to be a tad peculiar for this “evangelical-charismatic” pastor to be using them. I felt like a grown man getting caught trying to ride his toddler’s tricycle. But since I was already familiar with the “Jesus Prayer”, and since I knew God wasn’t going to strike me down with lightning, I forged on ahead.
For many, the “prayer of the heart” or the “Jesus prayer” is understood as a practice of personal devotion, a response to Paul’s admonition to “pray unceasingly,” a prayer said with the lips which descends from the head into the heart. Our prayer is to become eventually so much a part of us that our very breathing, our very living becomes prayer. At least that was the theory. But, since I was unhappy with my prayer life on my own, I decided I had nothing to lose and so I gave it the green light.
The Jesus Prayer is this, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” It is based on Mark’s account of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. I certainly could relate to the tax collector, especially with my battles with depression and bipolar disorder nipping at my heels.
I began praying, using the beads and the Jesus prayer. Instinctively, I knew that I was about to learn something valuable. But at first it was awkward. I did not want it to become formal or religious. I was wary of praying religiously. I did not want to parrot a phrase to get some kind of “religious buzz”. I was really cautious, with a somewhat skeptical eye on the whole affair.
What I found was a considerable breakthrough! Using the prayer beads and focusing on just talking to the Lord began to be something I really, really wanted to do. I found, improvising, I could adapt it to what was right for me. I found that rather then being repetitive, it infused my time with insight and blessing. The whole thing was like a track, a train track, that for the first time gave my prayer time structure and continuity.
As depressed and mentally ill Christians, we can be a bit unstructured and vague when it comes to praying and meditating on the Word. For the most part, we can be pretty undisciplined people. We require something a little different to help us in a relationship with the Lord. I guess I want to challenge you, to experiment with this.
Grace, they say, is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. I don’t remember when I first heard that nifty mnemonic acrostic, but I know it’s just a hook to hang some teaching on, and it’s a fine, sturdy hook. But I have studied some more theology since then, and have learned that we can argue about anything, including definitions of grace. So here are some alternative acrostics; something for everybody.
For the Truly Reformed: God Rejects And Conversely Elects
For dispensationalists: Getting Raptured After Charting Endtimes
For pietists: Good Religion = Affective Christian Experiences
For Barthians: God-centered Redemption Allows Christocentric Eschatologizing
For the Christian existentialist: Genuine, Real, Authentic Christian Existence
For the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians: Go Re-enact All Christ’s Example
For fundamentalists: Gotta Really Agressively Confront Ecumaniacs
For the Roman Catholics: Gazing Raptly At Consecrated Eucharist (or) Getting Right Archbishop Catholicizes Everything
For the Thomists working the Nature-Grace Boundary: God Reaching Across Creation’s Expanse
For Dante, especially in his Purgatorio: Getting Rendered Acceptable, Climbing Eagerly
For Anglo-Catholics: Getting Ritualistic After Cranmer’s Execution
For the Eastern Orthodox: Greek, Russian, Antiochene Cultural Expectations
For the other Eastern Orthodox excluded from that list: Giddily Receiving Apophatic Creationless Energies
For Open Theists: God Reconsiders, And Cooperates Exquisitely
For feminist theologians: Gender Revolution Anticipates Church Evolution
For the cessationists: Generally Renouncing All Charismatic Experiences
For evidentialist apologists: General Revelation And Convincing Explanations
For presuppositional apologists: Gospel Repentance Accomplished, Circularity Ensues
For sojourners: Government Redistribution Allows Communal Economics
For pentecostals: Glossolalia Received After Conversion Experience
For charismatics: Gombala Ramazoody Alleluia Chombalahombala Essanahanashanahana
For theonomists: Gospel Requires Absolutely Crushing Enemies
For the emergents: Generational Resentment Against Conservative Evangelicals