Readings: Psalm 119.49-56, Exodus 14.5-end & Matthew 6.1-18
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This week I caught the end of the film ‘Deepwater Horizon’. It tells the story of the events in the run up to the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which took place in April 2010. The blowout, an uncontrolled release of oil after the pressure control systems failed, led to an explosion and a fire that engulfed the platform at about 10pm at night. Eleven people were killed, and it resulted in the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.
At the end of the film, the survivors, battered and bruised, stood on the deck of a nearby supply boat that had rescued them. They watched the fire raging violently, the rig collapsing into the sea, which was itself on fire. In the face of such awesome and overwhelming power, they knelt on the deck and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
And as I watched this incredibly moving scene, it struck me afresh that Jesus gave us something uniquely wonderful and powerful in the Lord’s Prayer. Because we know it off by heart and say it often, sometimes we rattle through the Lord’s Prayer without thinking too much about the words.
But when the world is falling apart around you, and words cannot begin to express how you feel, the words of the Lord’s Prayer give voice to our greatest needs. It got me thinking about the power of prayer in the darkest times, so here are just a couple of other examples.
Fr Thomas Byles was an English Catholic priest aboard the Titanic. He twice refused a place in a lifeboat, but stayed with the trapped passengers. Towards the end, survivors witnessed him praying the rosary, hearing people’s confessions and giving absolution to more than a hundred passengers. His body was never identified.
And as we come up to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, on that terrible morning, on Flight 93, Todd Beamer, unable to get through to his family, spoke to an Airfone supervisor called Lisa Jefferson. He asked Lisa to say the Lord’s Prayer with him, and then recited Psalm 23: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Six minutes later another passenger, Tom Burnett, told his wife that the passengers were going to take back the plane. It crashed into a field, killing on board, but preventing the hijackers’ aim of the plane striking the White House or Capitol.
This prayer gave people solace and strength.
When Jesus started to teach, people already knew how to pray, but Jesus stripped away a number of distractions, and we can learn from this.
Firstly, he told the disciples to let the prayer come from the heart. Never let your prayer be for show. That’s pointless. Pray alone, pray with others, but always pray with humility, integrity and authenticity.
Secondly, do not worry about telling God every detail. If you forget something, that’s okay. He already knows. And a short but heartfelt prayer is as worthy as if you spend hours preparing what to say.
And thirdly, look at how Jesus structures his prayer: praise of the Father, submission to his will, then supplication (asking for things – basic necessities and mercy), and finally dependency on God for protection and salvation.
Not only does the Lord’s Prayer sum up so much of what we want to say anyway, but it does so in a way that can shape all our other prayers as well. Furthermore, it can entirely shape our lives.
The truth is, like all prayers, saying the Lord’s Prayer won’t stop us from going hungry, or facing temptation, or even truly dreadful situations like the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, or 9/11, or the sinking of the Titanic. But a life shaped by prayer means that when faced with those times, we will do so knowing with absolute trust that we are not alone. God is with us, God cares for us, God will save our souls.
If we are shaped by the Lord’s Prayer, it might also give us the courage to be the type of people who help others through those incredibly difficult situations. We truly have nothing to fear if God is with us. So pray the Lord’s Prayer with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and carry the gift of this prayer with you wherever you go.
(Artwork: ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ by James Tissot)