Spiritual Practice

Three Simple Prayers

Sarah Arthur

The Scent of Water, by British novelist Elizabeth Goudge, includes the journal of a teenager who struggles with mental illness. Her high-society mother finds the situation embarrassing, and the whole family hides the girl’s illness like a terrible secret. One day an old pastor comes to tea. He seems as out of place at the tea party as she feels most of the time. Eventually, they talk; and the girl tells him everything, including her fear that one day she will lose her mind altogether. After listening patiently and asking some questions, the pastor promises to pray for her every day. As he is leaving, he tells her, “There are three necessary prayers, and they have three words each. They are these, ‘Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.’ Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these, you will do well.” Shortly after this scene, the girl overhears some women gossiping about the old pastor, who had been in and out of mental hospitals his whole life.


Hold to These

The pastor had been through some rough times; he knew what it was like to struggle with mental illness. But his illness had taught him that prayer isn’t something we do in our free time; it’s the life preserver we cling to when life threatens to drown us.

Often we think that praying means crafting long, eloquent prose or detailed lists of concerns and requests. But the pastor’s prayers were simple, three words each. So where did he find these prayers?

Lord, have mercy, in some Christian circles, is called “The Jesus Prayer.” The longer version says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The original phrase comes from Luke 18:10–14, a parable that contrasts two men in prayer. One, a religious leader, expresses thanks that he’s not as bad as other men. The second, a tax collector, prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (NIV). Jesus says that the second man went home in a right relationship with God. The sinner didn’t need to babble on about his guilt. He needed God’s mercy. So do we.

Thee I adore is an old-fashioned way of saying, “I adore you” or “I love you.” Ancient and modern Christian prayers include this phrase, often as part of a song. It is an intimate statement, like words spoken in a family, and indicates the closeness of our relationship with God. We don’t always need to go on and on about how awesome God is; we can simply say, “I love you.”

Into Thy hands are Jesus’ last words from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46, NIV). In fact, Jesus is quoting Psalm 31:5 (NIV): “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.” The psalm acknowledges that God holds and upholds all things, even the core of who we are. Is your family situation difficult? Put it in God’s hands. Are you struggling with friendships? a tough class? mental illness? “Into Thy hands.” When your strength fails, God will carry you.

These three prayers aren’t a magic formula for making our situation better; but in difficult times, they can help us focus our hearts and minds on God.


devozine Reflective Guy TS 80467216


Write down the three simple prayers and put them where you will see them. Try memorizing one prayer each day until you know all three by heart. (If the old-fashioned language trips you up, try saying, “Lord, have mercy.” “I adore you.” “Into your hands.”) If you say the prayers on a regular basis, they will come to mind quickly in times of distress.



Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of a number of devotionals, including The One Year Coffee with God.

—from devozine (September/October 2012). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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