Prayer in the Battle of Life and Death
Rev. Kurt Lantz Midweek Lent 4 TC2; LP6, 7; DP
March 17, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
What can I do? What can I do about this virus spreading throughout the community? Public health officials tell you that you can wash your hands, wear a mask, or stay at home. What can I do about my family and friends who are feeling cut off from me and from the world? Social norms tell you that you can call them on the telephone or make a video call over the internet, personally or as part of a larger video chat group. What can I do about my own feelings of loneliness, fear, depression, and despair? There are mental health hotlines to call, meditation exercises that can be done, and various coping strategies to engage.
This advice from the world seems very practical. It gets you doing something and that is very important. But it is just as important to realize that because it is you doing the something, it isn’t really doing very much. I wouldn’t tell you not to do these things, but there is something much more important and effective for you to do, although it may not give you the same feeling that you have done much of anything. But in truth it is not really about you doing something. It is about you asking your heavenly Father to do something. So, although it may look and feel that you are not doing much when you pray, there is nothing more important for you to do. For the One to whom you pray is the only one who can do anything about these things that are troubling to you.
It is He alone who can stop this deadly virus that is raging through His creation. It is He alone who is present with family and friends when you cannot be there. It is He alone who lifts you up, supports, and sustains you through your own fears and despair. In the remaining special services this season of Lent we will examine the means He uses to do these things. But tonight we will focus on the fact that He is eager to do it, and delights when we realize that and so turn to Him in prayer, asking for His grace and mercy.
Throughout the Catechism, we are reminded over and over again that God desires us not only to look to Him for His active involvement in saving us through every situation, but He also desires that we cry out to Him to do so. In the Second Commandment He says: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20: ). That means, you should not use God’s name for any empty purpose. Instead you should use it deliberately for a definitive purpose.
The Second Commandment
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
God commands us not misuse His name, because He has given it to us to use properly, and that is to call upon Him in every trouble. He wants us to pray to Him about this pandemic, and not only about stopping the virus in general, but also about every way in which it has affected our lives and the lives of our family and friends. He wants you to call out to Him when you are worried about others, when you are in despair yourself, when you are afraid or lonely as well as when you are sick. It is a great blessing to have the name of God given to us so that we can call to Him, and even more so that He has bid us call Him, “Our Father.”
It is Jesus who taught us to pray in this way, and He should know how it works. There is no one with a closer connection to the heavenly Father, and no one with a closer connection to you. He suffered in all ways that we suffer. He experienced the same feelings of loneliness and despair, and we see Him falling down in prayer to cry out to the heavenly Father in great agony. The account we have in the gospels of His hour of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals to us that He did not have some esoteric life devoid of any true human suffering. Rather, there we see Jesus so much like ourselves, in tears and turmoil, with His one recourse being to pray to His heavenly Father, our heavenly Father.
He bid His disciples to join Him in the hour of prayer and to pray while He prayed. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40). That is how He had taught them to pray earlier and how the Catechism reminds us to pray:
The Sixth Petition
And lead us not into temptation.
What does this mean?
God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.
Yes, we are attacked by false belief, despair, and great shame and vice. But we have prayer to ask the heavenly Father not to abandon us to these things, but to deliver us as we know He is willing to do. In our times of turmoil we are deceived into believing things about God that are simply not true, things like: He wants me to fail; He doesn’t know about how this is affecting me; He won’t miss me whether I survive or not. These false beliefs drive us to despair, knowing that there is no other help, nowhere else to turn, and consequently we give ourselves over to great sins, not caring anymore about how they hurt ourselves or others because we don’t think God really cares about us anyway.
But the fact that He has given you His name to call, and that Jesus has taught you to pray, and that Jesus Himself prays along with you as you cry out “Our Father,” screams the contrary. He does care about you. He wants you to be His dear child forever. He does know what you’re going through and He wants you to overcome it and live in the victory and love He has secured for you through your brother, His Son, Jesus Christ. The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer sums it all up for you.
The Seventh Petition
But deliver us from evil.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
He wants you to pray because He has salvation for you. He wants you to know that. He wants you to believe that in every trial and temptation. He wants you to see that He has overcome it all for you and He is giving you the victory over it all in Jesus Christ. His own Son went through the agony of temptation, suffering, and death for you, so that you can truly live as though it is all conquered already.
The devil is defeated. Your sins are forgiven. Eternal life in paradise has been secured for you. It is all done for you because you could not and can not do it for yourself. God in His grace and mercy has already heard your prayer and answered in His loving kindness to His children. You can be sure that in answer to your prayers He is doing something about this pandemic and how it has affected you and your loved ones. Even through you He is doing something, accomplishing much more through your feeble efforts than could ever be possible without His divine, almighty, and merciful fatherly care.
In the salvation He has given in Jesus, He has freed you to entrust all things to Him by praying and asking as a dear child asks their dear father. Every night, even in the midst of a viral outbreak we can pray with all boldness and confidence, as the Catechism models for us in the Daily Evening Prayer:
In the evening when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say:
In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may also say this little prayer:
I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.