Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:13b “. . .lead us not into temptation,. . .”
“Us” reminds us “we are not fighting alone” (Blyth, in B.I.). Do not pray selfishly. Hundreds of us unite in fellowship here every Sunday morning for mutual support. Many come struggling with temptations and with addictions, a modern term for what the Bible calls “strong holds” (2 C 10:4), habits where Satan has on us a strong hold–yea, for some it is nearly a choke hold. Pray for one another.
Beware misinterpreting “Lead us not into temptation.” It is not a petition for laziness and ease. Any who desire merely smooth sailing prove they do not understand what Christian living is all about. Our motivation for praying “Lead us not into temptation” is to avoid not troubles and difficulties, but sin. We seek protection from formidable temptations that might catch us off guard and waylay us.
To pray for a life of ease and no trouble would be to shirk our duty, for God intends our lives to be difficult. He sends us troubles and hardships to separate weeds from wheat, to reveal weakness in us, to increase our strength, to produce in us strong character. Trouble is the discipline God puts us through in order to mature us. “My brothers, whenever you have to face trials of many kinds, count yourselves supremely happy, in the knowledge that such testing of your faith breeds fortitude, and if you give fortitude full play you will go on to complete a balanced character that will fall short in nothing” (James 1:2-4, NEB).
Trials deepen our humility and heighten our godliness. Thus, do not pray for their absolute removal. “We should seek not freedom from the furnace, but His presence in it; not to be guided away from the dark valley, but through it” (Maclaren). I well remember, as a teenager, asking Grandpa Marshall, “Is there any way we can grow spiritually and know God better without afflictions?” Tears welled up in his eyes as he strongly shook his head and replied, “No, Son, no.”
We require much training, we need to grow. This can only be accomplished by obstacles which help us develop “moral muscle and backbone” (Hunter). The only way a mountain climber can reach the summit is by repeatedly conquering dangers, by testing and improving his strength often on dangerous slopes. My use of the words “dangers” and “dangerous” is intentional. In every trial God sends us there is danger. Challenges which make us susceptible to more good also make us liable to more evil. The very fact God’s trying of us is a test proves its final outcome is doubtful. I hasten to be perfectly clear. James, the same author who told us to rejoice when tested, tells us only nine verses later, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one” (1:13b NAS). God does test us, but the ordeals He sends into our lives always come to improve us. However, in them we can fail, each of us can be “carried away and enticed by his own lust” (JM 1:14b NAS), and thus turn what is meant to be an uplift into a downfall.
God and Satan agree on this–a believer’s relationship with Jesus should never stay at the same level. God sends tests to draw us up. Satan sends temptations to drag us down. Life is full of trials, some from God for good, others from Satan for bad. In some tests both possibilities are intertwined, God having initiated them for good, but the devil then seeking to interrupt in order to interfere.
When in the midst of a trial, we sometimes cannot tell what is of God or what is of evil. We often have to pray, “Lord, remove from this ordeal all evil, everything Satanic; leave in it only good, what will help me grow in You.”
Whatever the test, whether from God or Satan, we can go through it and end up with an effect opposite its original intent. God seeks only to lift us with steppingstones, but our lusts can turn them into stumblingblocks. Satan tries only to trip us with stumblingblocks, but God’s power can turn them into steppingstones.
Let me try to summarize these thoughts with an illustration from my own life. I struggle with insomnia, often waking at three or four o’clock in the morning without being able to go back to sleep for a good while. Why does this happen to me? Caffeine? Heredity (my dad wakes at four o’clock every morning and reads for about two hours before going back to sleep)? Natural physical causes? Is God calling me to prayer? Depression? Is Satan waking me to make me reflective and thus point me back toward my old depression? I have no way of knowing for sure which of these is the case, but actually, in the final analysis it does not matter, for by the power of God I have the privilege to turn these times into seasons of great blessing and prayer, which often they are. In fact, sometimes I actually hope God will never take this insomnia from me, for it is often such a rich time of prayer.
In praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are not asking God to remove from us trials and ordeals, His means appointed for our growth. We are rather asking that our own lusts not be allowed to trip us. We pray to be neither tried too severely nor to be led into a situation where we might fall into sin.
It is essentially impossible to predict how one will fare in the wake of persistent, insidious, and violent temptations. Thus, let us humbly beware, never contradicting our prayers by our deeds. Many become their own tempters by rushing into dangerous situations. We know where temptation is and often head straight for it. To pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” and then expose ourselves to temptation is to live a lie. To ask God to direct our steps from evil, and then run into the haunts of evil, is deceit. To put the words “Lead us not into temptation” on our lips and then take on those same lips the drink which invites temptation is a farce.
We are to flee temptation, not hug it. Having no mind to do business with Satan, stay away from his store. Linger not in a neighborhood of temptation. Be mindful of what we read, where we go, what we watch at movies or on television. The lion may leap on us along the path of righteousness, but we can avoid his lair.
God help us to know our own hearts. In all of us are weak spots. Temptation would be helpless against us were there nothing in us to which it appealed. We carry in us gunpowder and bombshells ready to explode. Seek to avoid being led where the sparks are flying. Ask God to keep us far from the fire. Do not even think about getting close enough to sin to run any risk. Even Jesus, in the Garden, initially prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (MT 26:39a). His first reaction to Calvary’s impending severe test was to recoil from it. Only in His second breath did He say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (MT 26:39b).
“Lead us not into temptation” is the heartfelt cry of all whose greatest dread is sin. Ambrose said, “If I were standing on a wall between hell and sin, I would leap into hell rather than into sin.” I wonder how strong our convictions are today against offending God? How would we have phrased this only negative petition in the Lord’s Prayer–lead us not into poverty, sickness, death? Is our strongest desire the urge to walk close to God? McCheyne prayed, “Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be.” Wesley said, “My one aim in life is to secure personal holiness.” Do these words express our sentiment? Is pleasing God our chief aim?
Spurgeon told of a coal miner who had lived a sensual life and been a gross blasphemer. When converted, he endured scorn, mockery, and ill-treatment from old friends who kept trying to drag him down. Sensing his lusts strengthening and his resolve weakening, in dread of falling, he one morning knelt at the mine entrance, and prayed earnestly for God to let him die before he fell back into his old ways. He died that day. Was his prayer too urgent? I have prayed it at times, but not recently. To pray it and mean it we must have for God a white hot passion, the kind of passion He means for us to have as we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”