Praying the Lord’s Prayer in the pandemic

These are tough times for all of us in many ways. The pandemic brings death and sorrow, endangering everyone. Our lives are altered and we do all we can to be safe. Politically, the deep polarizations feel paralyzing. Our social fabric is severely strained. Will political leadership be established and provide ways forward toward establishing justice, peace and help for those whose needs are great? The pandemic and politics form twin concerns bringing anxieties, fears and threats to hope.

So, people of faith pray. We pray and continue to pray believing prayer as “conversation with God” (as John Calvin termed it) is our source of hope and help. We offer thanks to God and we petition God — the two main types of prayer.

In the community of Christian faith, we pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). It is often called the “model prayer,” given by Jesus to his followers. It embraces thankfulness for God’s glory and appeals for our own needs. We have prayed this prayer regularly, liturgically and privately in all seasons of our lives. Now, in the contexts of “this season” of life, the prayer takes on meanings that can sustain us and nurture us. 

Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Our first concern is glorifying God’s name. Our divine parent “in heaven” is over all and is the one we worship in all life. We pray to God. We pray believing God hears the deepest concerns of our hearts. Our deepest concern is expressing praise to God for who God is, what God has done, is doing and will do. We revere God, our loving Lord, who tenderly hears and answers our prayers. With the psalmist we pray: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Psalm 57:5).

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. We pray for God’s reign and God’s will to be done on earth. In the midst of a pandemic, may healing and comfort be real — surely signs of God’s reign in a beloved community of blessing.

We pray for God’s will to be done, here and now: in our midst, in our world, in our nation. Prayers to God in heaven are not untethered from early realities. For God’s will to take shape in our culture, we have responsibilities as God’s people to enact the will of God as we know it in all dimensions of our lives together. God’s reign and our responsibility go together. God’s reign can take shape – in ways large and small – through those God uses to carry out God’s will: us and others. So we work for human good, protest injustice and evil and seek societal structures and laws which promote “the general welfare” and provide meaningful help for all. Our passionate prayer is: “Thy will be done” — through us, corporately and individually.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts [trespasses], as we forgive our debtors [those who trespass against us]. We pray for our daily needs and those of all people. We pray for the basics of life: food, shelter, health. We pray for our need to be safe in the face of all things that would rob us of health and safety — and especially now, the coronavirus. We depend on God’s help to get us through dangerous times every day. We pray “daily” for “daily bread” to sustain and nurture our lives in ways of health and peace.

Daily, too, we pray for forgiveness: of our debts and trespasses. We pray for forgiveness for our disregard of the climate changes of this world; for the systemic racism and white privilege that has marked political and social lives in this country; for disregarding the needs of the most vulnerable people in our midst; and for looking to our own self-aggrandizement and self-interests. Our lives are inevitably “political.” How power is carried out, how resources are distributed and how decisions are made are all human activities for which we need continually to ask for God’s forgiveness. How we hurt others in the broad makeup of our society as well as how we hurt others in our day-to-day relationships — we are always standing in the need of forgiveness. Our daily bread and our daily forgiveness go together. When we daily seek God’s forgiveness, it is so we can receive God’s daily provisions for us and for others.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. In these days we are tempted to fear the future, fret about our health and safety and grow cynical about where goodness can be found as hope gets deflated. For these temptations, we seek God’s daily protection and pray, as this petition is sometimes interpreted: “Do not bring us to the time of trial” (NRSV) — the time when we look to and rely on ourselves, instead of relying on God. We need continuing strength to resist these temptations – and all others – as Jesus himself resisted the temptations of “the evil one,” over and over again.

Evil is real among us, in more manifestations than we can name. But deliverance from evil is also possible, by the power of God. Our prayers will not make things “automatically better.” Our human history is marked by zigs and zags, on our way to God’s ultimate reign. Along the way, we confront evils that shake our souls. So we pray for God’s deliverance and help (John 17:5).

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. This traditional ending for the Lord’s Prayer as a doxology concludes with a further affirmation of faith. Here we entrust all our petitions to the God whose kingdom and reign is powerful and glorious forever. The God of “power and glory” is also the God to whom we express our deepest desires, who hears and answers our prayers out of the ever-flowing love we know in Jesus Christ.

The fragility of our human lives and health and the political challenges of living toward a just society that seeks to move toward the concerns and values of God’s reign are given over to God. This is the God who, as the psalmist writes, “loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). Calvin said of this doxology: “It was added not only to warm our hearts to press toward the glory of God, and warn us what should be the goal of all our supplications, but also to tell us that all our prayers, here set down for us, have no other foundation than God alone.”

Now, more than ever, the Lord’s Prayer speaks to us. We pray words that praise God; we pray words to petition God. Our needs are deep, our anxieties and fears are strong. But we pray in hope. We pray in hope and in faith that through it all, God is with us — hearing our prayers and sustaining our hope in the kingdom Jesus Christ proclaimed and was in himself. Our hope brings comfort and responsibility. We pray and through pandemic and politics, we live for the glory of God!

Use this article in a Bible study or small group, and then discuss:

  1. In what ways has living through this pandemic affected your Christian faith? What insights from faith have you gained to help in your living?
  2. Why is it important to begin the Lord’s Prayer by recognizing God as the One who hears and answers our prayers? What does it mean to believe God hears and answers our prayers during a pandemic?
  3. Where, even in the midst of a pandemic, do you see God’s reign breaking forth in this world? What are ways you feel responsible for helping to do God’s will in our society and culture?
  4. What are your feelings when you pray for “daily bread,” when so many are also praying for their most basic needs to be met? What are the “political dimensions” of your life for which you daily ask for forgiveness?
  5. Are there temptations that seem particularly strong and that you are facing especially during these days? What are ways you see God delivering us from evil?
  6. What comfort and encouragement does it give you to affirm God’s “power and glory” at the end of the Lord’s Prayer? What are ways you try to live for the “glory of God”?

Download a PDF of this discussion guide: POMcKimDiscussionGuide