Where do I find God in this world of tragedy and pain?

This is a world of tragedy and pain. It is also a world of joy and fulfillment. It is my conviction that God is present to us in both worlds.

The Divine Hours

A complete guide to the ancient practice of fixed-hour Prayer

Save Us From the Time of Trial, and Deliver Us From Evil

Written By Lewis K. McKee

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Imagine—just imagine—that at this very moment we are all sitting together on the grass at the foot of a hillside. Like the disciples, we are listening to Jesus. When Jesus is finished we ask him to teach us to pray. Today, 2000 years later, he still teaches us The Lord's Prayer!

But even to this day the $64 question remains:"What do those words mean to us?" For the next few minutes, we will try to explore a few meaningful insights and suggestions on the phrase, "Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil."

As a very young person I learned the following prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Frequently, clergy and parishioners are asked to suggest ways to help others to pray, and to understand what it is they are praying. Prayer is a mystery. Lots of people, including clergy, have come to accept that they don't find prayer easy. There is good Scriptural warrant for finding prayer puzzling, and even mysterious. We are reminded of this in Romans, when Paul observes, "We don't know how to pray, or what to pray for as we ought."

In particular, The Lord's Prayer sums up fully and accurately the way in which Jesus read and responded to the signs of the times, and the way in which he understood his own vocation and mission. He invited his followers then and now to share it.

This prayer serves as a lens through which to see Jesus himself, and to discover that he was giving his disciples and us part of his own breath, his own life, by sharing this prayer. It cries out for justice, bread, forgiveness and deliverance. If you think that any of these things are irrelevant in today's world, read a newspaper or turn on the TV, and think again.

Someone once said that there is a fairly obvious order of praying priorities. When we pray there is usually some sort of mess and we want God to get us out of it. Also, we recognize some fairly pressing needs and want God to supply them. Chances are, we'll move from mess to wants, such as: Please sort out the mess in the Middle East; please feed the hungry; please house the homeless; please save us from the time of trial; please save us from evil.

Hopefully, our prayers might also help us recognize that there really is a larger world out there—there really is a larger God as well. If we linger in our prayers at this point, we may find our priorities turned inside out—the contents may remain the same, but the order will change. With that change, we move at last from paranoia to prayer—from fuss to faith. The Lord's Prayer is designed to help us make this change—this change of priority, not change of content.

It is obvious this prayer doesn't pretend that pain and hunger aren't real. Some religions say that—Jesus did not. Some religions use the greatness and majesty of God to belittle the human plight—Jesus did not. His prayer starts by addressing God intimately and lovingly—as a Father—and then bowing down before his greatness and majesty.

"Save us from the time of trial." Those words could provoke a negative reaction in us. "Oh, that's too gloomy. All this sin business is so morbid and unnecessary." How easy it is for us to do one of three things with guilt (all of which are ultimately no good): We can imagine guilt, we can deny guilt, or we can simply live with guilt.

The Lord's Prayer is so honest it clears away the paranoia and gets us down to business. The sequence of thought in the prayer is designed to clear our eyes to see which bits of our guilt are purely imaginary and which bits are real, and how to deal with the latter. Once we face up to that reality, we can do a better job of dealing with our guilt by confessing frankly and honestly, and by waking up again to the forgiving love of God, as we see it in the life and death of Jesus Christ.

As we pray this prayer, we need to hold God's precious and precarious world before us, to try to sum up the world's and our own often-inarticulate cries for help, for rescue, and for deliverance. I do not believe we can pray these words from a safe distance. We can only pray them when we are saying "Yes" to God's Kingdom coming to birth within us, even when we really might not understand why.

"Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil." When we pray these words, we become bold enough to ask God to give us, forgive us, and don't test us, deliver us. But I think we are also saying, "We can do nothing without you God." In short, we are confessing that without God we are nothing.

William Willimon suggests that, "the Christian life is no safe harbor secure from storms and struggles." And I certainly agree with him. When we pray to "save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil," we are not asking for some changed self-understanding, some new way of feeling good about ourselves, or something to put zest in our lives. I suggest we take heart with the words, "Our Father," which makes the prayer bearable. If God is something like a Father, and he surely is, then it follows that we can approach him as his children.

It is obvious that as we pray for deliverance from evil, we acknowledge that we have not the resources, on our own, to resist evil. We acknowledge that God is greater than any foe of God.

The Lord's Prayer is so honest. This really is an answer to prayer. According to Jesus, the most important thing about praying is to keep at it.

In one of her books, Agnes Sanford, an Episcopal laywoman, tells the story about a Dr. Mulenberg. Dr. Mulenberg confessed to her that much of his private praying was just blubbering, but still he was speaking words out of his deepest longings and fears. Agnes Sanford said that was the whole point.

"You had to expect to believe. That takes work. It takes practice, and more than anything, it takes faith." According to Sanford , "It was faith that unbound the hands of Jesus so that through our prayers his power could flow—miracles could happen, healing could happen. Because where faith was and is, prayers are answered."

Yes, we need to acknowledge that inside us all there is sometimes a voice of doubt and disbelief that seeks to drown out our prayers—even as we are praying them.

In closing, let us not forget, for God all of time is One. We invite Jesus into our past as into a house that has been locked up for years. He will help us open the windows and doors so that light and life can enter at last. Praying The Lord's Prayer and remembering what Jesus is saying will surely help "save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil."


    Copyright ©2002 Lewis McKee. This series was first presented at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN.

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