The Power of Short Prayers

circumstance help mercy prayer May 13, 2020

Some fun news! Alan and I just signed contracts for our next book projects. Alan’s book will be about anxiety, or rather, non-anxiety (better known as peace). And I will be writing a book for women about the voices in our heads and how to deal with them.


One of the first things I do when writing a book or other large content piece is raid my own journal. I believe it is our own lives that inform our leadership and even our content development. What I have lived and learned is the fodder for what I share with others. My life and my message aren’t two separate things.


As I was perusing my journal I stumbled upon this nugget from Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart:

"Abba Macarius was asked 'How should one pray?' The old man said, 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one's hand and say, "Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy."  And if the conflict grows fiercer say: "Lord, help."  He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.'"


This was such a refreshing reminder about the simplicity of making requests of God.


In my earlier days I pictured God being far, far away in some distant land. And in my prayers I was somehow begging him to come near and see what was going on. Then it was my job to describe the situation and give a complete rundown of how I thought everything should go. I’m exhausted just describing this to you.


Notice the simplicity of Abba Macarius’s words:
"Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy."


This about covers it, doesn’t it? This sentence deftly echoes Jesus’ phrase from the Lord’s Prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


God already knows what is happening. God already knows what to do about it. And God is always merciful. Plus, God is always near. God is never elsewhere.


So I can take a breather from my long list and simply rest in God’s presence with my request, stating, "Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy."


I was talking with some friends a while back and one of them was facing something tragic in their life. I shared this prayer phrase and it became a beautiful landing place for the aching in our hearts. There was no need or desire to fill the air with words. This prayer covered it all.


Abba Macarius goes one step further. When things get really tough, the prayer shortens to “Lord, help.” When we are really struggling (“when the conflict grows fiercer”) the energy to pray can sometimes decrease. “Lord, help” is a complete prayer, perfect for those situations in which you have no words.



If you are in a fierce conflict or a low place right now, I encourage you to try out these two prayers. Allow your circumstance and your trust in God be in the same place at the same time. The trouble may not disappear, but it is possible to rest in the truth that God is with you in it.


"Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy."
“Lord, help.”


These prayers are enough.


Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash