Perhaps you've heard that the 20 seconds recommended for the adequate washing of hands is perfectly suited to recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Maybe you think such a practice borders on vain repetition. After all, the Lord's Prayer is a guideline for our prayers -- after all, Jesus says "Pray like this" (Matt. 6:9), not "Pray this."
And yet no pre-written prayer has to be vainly repetitious if you really do mean what you're praying, if you really are seeking to bring your desires in alignment with heaven's. And that's really what the Lord's Prayer is about. Further, if you wanted to apply what the Lord's Prayer teaches to our present moment of crisis -- or any moment of crisis, for that matter -- you may find it a profoundly helpful and even powerful pledge of submission to God in the midst of painful, uncertain times.
What does the prayer we say to God say to us about times of trouble?
"Our Father in heaven,"
The Lord is on his throne. He is sovereign and in control. He sees all, knows all. Our vision may be blurred and uncertain, but his is not. Our hearts may be troubled and anxious, but his is not. There is no hand-wringing in heaven. There are no emergency sessions in the Trinitarian boardroom. Whatever happens, we can rest assured that the Father who loves us is at the helm, steering all things to our good.
"hallowed be your name."
In times of crisis, we lean into the holiness of God. His holy guidance. His holy wisdom. His holy love. We ascribe sovereignty to him for our times but not blame to him for evil. We say, no matter the storm about us, that God is God and that God is good. If crises call us into anything, let it be into a holy reverence for the holy God who both judges and saves. Let us strive not to be flippant, apathetic, or nihilistic about these days. The world is watching, and we want them to "catch" Christians worshiping a holy God despite their trouble.
"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
This is an odd request, because we know that what God wills sovereignly will come to pass. He cannot be thwarted. We also know that his kingdom was "at hand" through the person and work of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, and that he Christ is coming again to consummate his kingdom. In fact, he is returning "quickly." But the prayer is a way of aligning our hearts with that reality and expectation.
There's nothing in the words that actualizes what the Lord already plans to do. There's nothing in the words that changes God's plan or timing. But they can change us. They change us, when we from the heart express them as a pledge of allegiance to God's kingdom above all. Right now, this might look like repenting of political fighting or conspiracy theorizing, endorsing or promoting anything that would threaten to drown out the announcement of the good news of the kingdom in anyone's ears.
And it would look like, with our actions -- not just our words -- demonstrating that Christ's kingdom is real, that it's in fact still "at hand" through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working through the Church. The context of the Lord's Prayer is the Sermon on the Mount, which gives us Christ's kingdom blueprints, his announcement of glad tidings for sinners and instructions for kingdom citizens. And divisive, fractious times like these are uniquely fit for Christians living according to this kingdom. Let his will be done, let his kingdom come, through us on earth, as we submit to he who is in heaven.
"Give us this day our daily bread,"
Is there any doubt right now that we are utterly reliant on the Lord's provision? Not only do we feel in danger of losing our health, millions have already lost their jobs. We have taken daily bread far too lightly. With all means of self-sustenance beginning to fail us, we are getting more and more in touch with the reality of the Giver of all good gifts. We will feel our need more keenly in times of trouble, and this can be the means of remembering where our daily bread ultimately comes from.
And don't worry. The Provider of daily bread takes care of flowers and birds. Aren't you worth more than they?
"and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
There is no more pressing need right now than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this regard, these days are just like any other days. There may be more to fear, but the greatest danger has always been lurking outside our doors every day of our lives. It is the losing of our souls. For those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, we know we are safeguarded by the Spirit, that we are united to Christ through faith, and that we will never be cast out. Let us take this urgency more seriously in the days to come. People may be more sensitive to spiritual answers to existential questions right now.
This request in the prayer reminds us to lean into the grace of God, acknowledging first that the most important thing we need (forgiveness of sins) is already provided for us in Christ at his cross, and that because of the empty tomb, ascension, and eternal intercession of Jesus, we have ready access at any time to God's mercy. "If we will be faithful to confess, he will be faithful to forgive." We ought never doubt we walk in forgiveness.
And yet the request helps us to remember that grace is not meant to be hoarded but shared. The lovingkindness of God is meant to spill out of our hearts once overflowing and into the streets around us. Thus, the Lord's Prayer reminds us that "loving our neighbor as ourselves" is in effect how we show we "love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength."
Forgiven people forgive people. Loved people love people.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
We don't know what tomorrow holds, but we do know who holds tomorrow. And he is stewarding these days not for our misery but for our joy. He is leading us not into destruction but into further reliance upon him. So let's not lose heart. Let's not lose faith.
As you worry, as you are tired or stressed, look to the risen Christ who loves you. Don't look to the angry people on cable news, the vacuous people on social media, the lustful images on pornographic websites, the shiny baubles on Amazon or Etsy, etc. etc. Don't wander down the roads of temptations as a respite from your weary heart. Look to the one who will truly give you rest.
He may be leading you through the valley of the shadow of death. But green pastures and still waters lie further ahead. Stay close to the Shepherd.