Designed for times like these to help us meditate upon the sovereign care of God as Father, this is the third post in a three-part series based on the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.
This past Monday night I was driving up Georgia 400 from Atlanta. It was nearly dark but not quite. As I looked ahead I noticed an object in the road. As I approached the object, I realized that it was a huge Lazy Boy style recliner--right in the center of three lanes with cars traveling at 70 miles an hour!
Thankfully, I had room to make an evasive maneuver to avoid a full, front-on collision with the behemoth piece of furniture. I shudder to think what may have happened if I had not been paying attention or couldn’t change lanes.
In the last part of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13, Jesus is telling us to pray with the awareness that there are objects in our paths that have been placed there with the intent to do us harm. If we are not able to take evasive measures, the results could be disastrous.
- Careers are destroyed.
- Relationships get ruined, families get wrecked.
- Opportunities are squandered.
- Churches collapse, and the advance of the gospel is hamstrung.
If only we’d avoided the Lazy Boy.
Of course, the objects we face are not recliners. They are what Jesus refers to as temptations. The word temptation in the Bible may also be translated as test—something that provides an opportunity to evaluate whether we trust the wisdom of God enough to follow the ways of God.
The global community is facing a test right now with COVID-19. Not a test to avoid contamination but a test to love others well in the midst of fear and what feels like scarcity.
This is why Jesus teaches us to face temptation like a piece of furniture on the highway when he exhorts to pray in Matthew 6:13, with the words, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”[I]
In this one verse, Jesus discloses three important lessons for us about how to pray through temptation. The first lesson is that…
TEMPTATION IS A WAR TACTIC USED BY THE ENEMY TO KILL AND DESTROY.
The English word “evil” in verse 13 is actually two Greek words--ponerou, which means “evil,” preceded by the Greek article for “the.”
By using “the” before the word “evil,” Jesus is telling us to pray for deliverance from “the evil,” meaning it is likely Jesus is referring not to deliverance from evil in general,[ii]
but from the evil one in particular, whom we know as the devil, or Satan, who is the enemy.
Satan is the fallen angel in high command of unseen spiritual forces whose aim is to destroy the lives of believers and undermine the advance of the gospel. The primary tactic he uses in this covert spiritual war is placing temptations in our path that have the capacity to do severe damage if we are unable to avoid them.
This is why American soldiers during the Vietnam War walked ever so slowly through the jungles. They knew the enemy had placed trip wires and land mines all along commonly traveled paths, in hopes that an American would not be paying attention and get caught off guard. The soldiers knew the consequences of a misstep could be catastrophic.
What does this mean for us?
It means that I need to watch out for land mines. The kind of land mines that exist on the internet. The land mines that exist in marital disagreements. The land mines that are present when your teenager comes home and wants to talk about a struggle or a failure. How we step in these situations will determine whether the power of grace wins or whether we trigger an explosion of relational shrapnel.
Remember, temptation is a spiritual war tactic used by the enemy to kill and destroy—to maim believers and their families and cause the watching world to dismiss the claims of Christ.
The second lesson we learn from Jesus about temptation is that…
WE CANNOT RESIST TEMPTATION WITH MERE WILL POWER.
The expression “lead us not into temptation” is both an acknowledgement of God’s sovereign leading in our lives as well as an admission of our proneness to succumb to temptation due to our natural, inborn moral weakness.[iii]
Those of you who are fishermen (or fisherwomen), know that you don’t catch fish just by throwing a bare line with a hook into the water. You need to conceal and disguise the hook with a bait. Something to lure a fish in, deceiving it into believing that taking the bait will bring deep enjoyment and satisfaction.
One of Jesus’ brothers named James describes the dynamic of being baited with temptation this way,
“13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.”[iv]
Did you notice the tag team we’re up against? The enemy places the bait and our own flesh, our sin nature, like a hungry fish, can’t resist. It acts on impulse. But the result is not deep enjoyment and satisfaction, because the fish that gets hooked eventually gets cooked.
The same is true for us.
But lures are powerful.
- Financial gain… through insider trading or skimming from the register.
- Academic success… through cheating—buying research papers on-line.
- Athletic advantage… with performance enhancing drugs.
- Popularity… by following the crowd.
- Sexual fulfillment… through internet pornography.
- Winning the debate… with insults, or a louder voice, or physical intimidation.
Do you see the application?
The flesh has appetites. While the enemy knows how to feed it, the bait conceals a hook. Knowing this about the presence of the sin nature within each one of us, we know that we can’t face and avoid temptation alone—not with will power. But we can be on the lookout. Not only for the lure but for the red flags of rationalization.
The red flag of rationalization is the voice of the flesh convincing you to take the bait—making the bait look like the logical decision at the time. “It is just this once. Nobody will get hurt. You’ll never do it again. God will forgive you anyway.”
When we detect the voice of rationalization we know we are knee-deep in the undertow and will need help turning back. This is why we pray “lead us not” into these waters filled with deadly temptations.[v]
We know that mere will power is really no power against the power of the lure.[vi]
But there is hope and there is help. The source of help we need in temptation is revealed in the phrase “deliver us,” which is what someone cries out when they need “rescue from acute and severe danger.”[vii]
If we understand temptation as a spiritual war tactic that pins us down in such as way that we can’t escape the danger on our own, we now can understand Jesus’ final lesson for us, which is that…
PRAYER IS A CALL FOR AIR SUPPORT IN TEMPTATION.
John Piper picks up this theme of air support in a military conflict in his book, Let the Nations be Glad, where he writes,
“Probably the number one reason prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander… (has) called in the troops, (given) them a crucial mission… and handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General’s headquarters, and said, “Comrades, the General has a mission for you… And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters… to give you tactical advice and send air cover when you need it.”
But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance… Just… peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We (rigged) it up as an intercom… not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy but to ask for more comforts in the den.”[viii]
Maybe it is time to admit that we, myself included, have done this, too. I’ve turned the front-line, wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom.
With this realization, let’s allow this to be an occasion to see temptation as an opportunity for prayer, where we beseech the sovereign God for spiritual deliverance by just getting on the walkie-talkie and crying out to our Father for a way out.
In his book, A Praying Life, Paul Miller provides a helpful (and encouraging) word for us in times like we are facing, especially when it comes to praying that we will not only avoid the temptation to fear but that we will live lives of loving generosity when so many are self-protectively hoarding. He writes,
"Power in prayer comes from being in touch with [my] weakness. To teach us how to pray, Jesus told stories of weak people who knew they couldn't do life on their own. The persistent widow and the friend at midnight get access, not because they are strong, but because they are desperate."
Fear may be the leverage to make us desperate enough to pray for an escape route. Paul writes about this way of deliverance in 1 Corinthians 10:13-14, saying,
“13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
Here’s the process: We face a test. We pray for deliverance. God’s provides the way out. In that moment, the decision is ours to take his way or the way of the enemy.
I suppose this is why I lose so many battles with temptation. I try too hard and pray too little. I look to my own resources rather than looking to God’s resources. And honestly, there are times I don’t even try to resist. I don’t pray for a way out at all. And even when he provides a way out, I often refuse to take the way out.
"Prone to Wander, Lord, I Feel it"
I find myself like the hymn writer Robert Robinson, who confessed in 1758, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.”
Can you relate to that?
But there is another stanza in that beloved hymn. You may have heard it. You may need to hear it again. I need this stanza every day. It reads like this:
“[But] Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.”
This is what the cross tells those of us who are prone to wander. That even when we have refused the road of deliverance from temptation Jesus has taken the path of pain for our redemption. We are not finally saved by our decisions to resist temptation, but by Jesus’ decision to resist temptation for us, serving as our sin-bearer and righteousness provider.
When eyes of faith behold such a glorious grace, we become supernaturally enabled to resist the lure of deceitful temptations, because a conscious awareness of being the object of God’s unyielding affection is the most soul-satisfying, spiritually renewing, and morally empowering force known to man.
What if the deepest and most satisfying joy in my life was being loved by God, forgiven by God, and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus?
What if God’s grace were the defining truth of my life? That would change everything and give us the resources needed to experience victory over temptation for the glory of God and the good of my family and myself.
Oh, that we would receive this grace today!
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“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen” (ESV footnote) is evidently a later scribal addition since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is the reason why these words are omitted from most modern translations. However, there is nothing theologically incorrect about the wording (cf. 1 Chron. 29:11–13
), nor is it inappropriate to include these words in public prayers.
Which is an appropriate prayer in itself!
Robert Robinson knew of this weakness. He wrote a hymn in 1758 entitled Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing in which he writes, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave to the God I love.”
If you will notice, in Jesus’ instructions on prayer, self-help is not on the radar. The implementation of will power is utterly absent.
This is because God does not help those who help themselves; God helps those who cannot help themselves.
We may resist for a moment, but eventually, the battery of resistance runs out.
John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad