Most of us learn the Lord’s Prayer as children. But then we forget what it means. Over the last few weeks I have found myself teaching the Lord’s Prayer to several different congregations – over 2000 people in all, including many young people.
We live in a world and a country with poor mental health. Yesterday the government announced £300 million new funding for children with mental health measures. It’s welcome but already people are saying it won’t be enough.
There is increasing evidence that our consumer culture actually undermines mental health, especially in the young, and creates a deeply demoralised society prone to depression and other mental health conditions.
Jesus gives his disciples a prayer not to teach them to be pious but to help people everywhere to live well and flourish.
Here are seven reasons why the Lord’s Prayer is good for mental health – seven reasons to say the Lord’s Prayer, as Jesus intends, every day.
- To remember who you are
Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name
To say the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is to answer the deep question of identity at the heart of our culture. We no longer know who we are.
The first line of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we are not random specks of matter floating through an infinite universe: we are created and called into relationship with our creator who loves us as a parent loves their child. We are called into relationship with our fellow men and women as sisters and brothers. You are loved and your life has meaning.
- To find courage to live well in an imperfect world
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven
The world is not yet as it was intended to be. God is at work within it, bringing justice and peace. That work was begun in Jesus Christ but is not yet complete.
We are aware of the suffering in the world like no other generation before us because of 24-hour news and instant reporting from anywhere in the world. We need a framework to understand that immense suffering and the evil in the world in order to know how to live.
- To find the only way to be content
Give us this day our daily bread
All year we are bombarded by advertising: every time we look at a screen or listen to the radio or open a magazine. The single aim of advertising is to steal our joy and create discontent and longing for more stuff or different experiences.
Jesus teaches his followers to pray each day not for more but for just enough. This is the open secret of what it means to be content and find joy in this life: to realise and appreciate what we have. This line alone is the antidote to the misery created by consumer culture (especially at this time of year).
- To learn to live with our imperfections
Forgive us our sins….
Sins are the ways in which we fall short of the ideal. All of us do that. But our culture creates expectations of perfection. We think we are supposed to look good, perform well, make a great impression in every moment of our lives.
Jesus gives us a prayer to say every day which simply acknowledges that we fall short – we are not perfect people. Each day we can come to God and ask forgiveness and seek help and strength for the day.
- To learn to live with the imperfections of others
….as we forgive those who sin against us
The Lord’s Prayer reminds me that other people are imperfect as well. I need a way to deal with my own rubbish and with theirs. Otherwise all my relationships will be spoiled and clogged up and I will increasingly be alone (which is actually what happens to people who are unable to forgive). Somewhere near the root of many mental health conditions is isolation.
Jesus offers us this prayer to say each day in which I let go of and forgive the things others have done to me: the small slights, the neglect, the careless words, and begin again.
- To be resilient in a challenging world
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Consumer culture eats away at our resilience by persuading us that life should really be comfortable and easy all the time. That is one of the deepest lies ever told.
Human life is difficult. Over the course of your life you will face many challenges: illness, adversity, relationships which go wrong, failure and, in the end, mortality.
To live well is to have an understanding that life is challenging and hard, because of the imperfections in the world, in yourself and in others. But strength and help are available in God in all circumstances.
To pray the Lord’s Prayer each day is to prepare yourself for whatever difficulties lie ahead.
- To understand the end of the story
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.
This part of the prayer was added by the Church. It’s not there in the two places in the Bible where Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer (in Matthew 6 and Luke 11). It takes us back to the beginning. It reminds us that a life lived well is a life lived with purpose to the glory of God.
It reminds us that in the end, God holds the end of the story. God will bring all things to completion. God will watch over us through this life and welcome us, beyond death, into the life to come. That God is over all and in everything and all manner of things shall be well.
Most of us learn the Lord’s Prayer as children but never fully understand what it means. It’s impossible to exhaust all the meaning in the prayer.
But say it, if you can, every day of your life to remember your identity, to find courage, to learn contentment, to live with your imperfections and those of other people, to build resilience and to understand the end of the story.
 See John F Schumaker, The Demoralised Mind, New Internationalist, April, 2016 https://newint.org/columns/essays/2016/04/01/psycho-spiritual-crisis