What a dark and difficult world this can be.  It often is hard enough listening to the news, but when this darkness travels up-close and personal, it becomes all the more difficult.  Financial struggles … mental health issues … hospice care … prejudice … broken relationships … undesired consequences … extreme fatigue … you name it, I have encountered it over the past couple weeks in the lives of people whom I love and who are close to me.  Perhaps you, like me, can identify with St. Paul as he writes “We are hard pressed on every side, … perplexed, … persecuted, … struck down … always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus …” (2 Corinthians 4.8-10) 

I don’t need to get into any of the particulars in my life – though if you wish to discuss yours with me and have my specific prayers, feel free to contact me.  What I do want to get into are the verses surrounding the words quoted above.  Why, you ask?  Things, you see, are not as bleak as those words make them sound because God has “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.6)

Or, to fill in the blanks I left previously, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4.8-10)

In this regard, someone recently directed me toward the Large Catechism, and specifically its explanation of the last petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “but deliver us from evil.”  It is a worthwhile read: In the Greek this petition reads, “Deliver or keep us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.”  The petition seems to be speaking of the devil as the sum of all evil in order that the entire substance of our prayer may be directed against our archenemy.  It is he who obstructs everything that we pray for: God’s name or glory, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a good and cheerful conscience, etc.

Therefore we sum it all up by saying, “Dear Father, help us to get rid of all this misfortune.”  Nevertheless, this petition includes all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom:  poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the tragic misery and heartache of which there is so incalculably much on earth.  Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies.  He breaks many a person’s neck and drives others to insanity; some he drowns, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes.  Therefore there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray constantly against this archenemy.  For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour.

Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that affects our bodily welfare and directs us to seek and expect help from no one but him.  But this petition he has put last, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done.  Then he will preserve us from sin and shame and from everything else that harms or injures us.

Thus God has briefly set before us all the afflictions that may ever beset us in order that we may never have an excuse for failing to pray.  But the efficacy of prayer consists in our learning also to say “Amen” to it – that is, not to doubt that our prayer is surely heard and will be granted.  This word is nothing else than an unquestioning affirmation of faith on the part of one who does not pray as a matter of chance but knows that God does not lie since he has promised to grant his requests.

As I read these words, I remind myself that they were written nearly 500 years ago – and still vividly describe our world, and our needs, today.  And, we dare not forget, these words are simply explaining the words of our Lord from 1,500 years earlier – given in response to the request “Lord, teach us to pray.”  If you ever wonder whether or not Jesus understands your current situation or needs, you need look no further than the Lord’s prayer.  He knows how hard pressed we are.  And he knows our basic needs better than we do. 

And he, along with “our Father who art in heaven”, also loves us with incomparable love, for “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15.13) Add this to these familiar words “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3.16-17) and we have all the assurance we need to see that we are well taken care of in life, in death, and in eternity.  All this because in our baptism we are pressed hard into the nail-scared hands of our resurrected and eternally living Savior, Jesus

Hard Pressed