Saturday, March 18, 2006

And lead us not into temptation

The sixth and last petition of the Lord's Prayer is about spiritual strength and deliverance. "And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one." Like the rest of the prayer, it is a very realistic petition. It is an earnest request that arises out of life in a world that is full of temptation to turn away from God.

First, this petition recognizes that God is sovereign over our lives and that he controls everything that comes our way. Elsewhere his word assures us that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that when we are tempted he will also provide a way out so that we can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). This would be a meaningless promise if God was not able to care for us and protect us from harm. But thankfully he is able to do all this and more as Jesus himself tells us when he says: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).

Second, this petition reminds us that we will face temptation every day of our lives until we see Jesus face to face. As we are to ask for daily bread, so we are to ask for daily strength to obey the Lord. More precisely, we are to humbly acknowledge just how weak we are and how liable to fall and therefore how much we need the Lord to lead us in a way that is good for our souls. The Christian life is never easy. And sometimes the Lord takes us up mountains and through valleys. Yet the main thing is that he walks beside us each step of the way. If he is leading us we will be okay. Then it does not matter how rugged the terrain, how dark the night or how hot the day, if he is by our side, no harm will befall us.

Third, this petition acknowledges the existence and malice of a personal embodiment of evil known elsewhere in the Bible as the devil or Satan. Although many today regard such a person as nothing more than pre-scientific superstition, Jesus does not. Nor is he accommodating himself to the errors of his day for such accommodation would call into question his integrity as the incarnate truth of God himself. Jesus knows better than anybody about Satan as a result of his confrontation with him in the wilderness and throughout his earthly ministry. And he knows more than we will ever know about our need to be delivered from his hellish grasp. A desire for deliverance which is turned into a petition for the same will take seriously what the Bible says elsewhere in passages like Ephesians 6:10-20 where Paul tell us about the armor that we must put on if we are to fight against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. In this regard, it is interesting that he mentions praying in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. This is yet another reminder that prayer is essential if we are going to take our stand against the devil's schemes and having done all to stand!

And so we come to the end of the Lord's prayer and what a prayer it is. How thankful we should be that Jesus has given us this model prayer to show how to come into the presence of our heavenly Father. Beginning with the glory of his name, we are to pray for the coming of his kingdom, and that his will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then we are to bring our lives before him with our daily need for food, forgiveness and deliverance. With masterful precision and yet economy of language Jesus tells us how to approach him who dwells in light unapproachable and yet bids us come to him because of the reconciling work of his Son which God himself planned before the creation of the world. Let us take these words with us when we pray. Amen.

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