The part of the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” reveals something uncomfortable about ourselves. Jesus sees in us a brokenness and weakness inherent to our human nature. NT commentator David Garland, paraphrases it this way, “Do not test me, I might not be able to hold up.” In Matthew 26:41, Jesus captures the idea as he faces his disciples who couldn’t stay awake to pray: “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” In essence, Jesus teaches us to pray that, because we are so weak, we should ask our Heavenly Father not to ‘bring us into” (a better translation than “lead us”) a place of temptation, because He knows the success rate won’t be high. This part of the prayer is also a warning against the deceitfulness of presumption (“I can handle it, I got this”). Instead, and in sharp contrast (“but”), we need to cry out, “deliver us from evil.” Here Jesus totally recognizes the power of evil in all its forms. Our only way out is to be delivered from evil in a generic sense, whether the “tempter”/the devil himself (Luke 4:13), danger (2 Corinthians 1:10), the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13), wicked people (2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:17), ourselves (Romans 7:24), and finally the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 2:9). Left to ourselves, we are messing with overwhelming forces we won’t ever be able to handle!
The language of “temptation” deserves an explanation. For starters, Jesus chooses the Greek word ‘peirasmos’ which has the dual meaning of a test (which God sends our way; Genesis 22:1; James 1:2, etc.) and ‘temptation’ which the devil does. To illustrate the dual meaning of the word, James talks about trials/peirasmos that come our way in James 1:2. In James 1:12-14, he also uses peirasmos (the verb form) to describe the process of temptation. James is very clear to say, God never tempts us to do evil. We do this all by ourselves, enticed by the Evil One (see 1 Chronicles 21:1). So the Lord’s prayer is also a cry for discernment. Show us Lord, whether this is a trial/a test/ to strengthen our faith, or a temptation to destroy it.
Temptations and trials come our ways in very different packages. Psalm 77:1-20 describes the temptation of our times perfectly. The charge that God is not good is a routine one. Social media announcements by some Christian leader that they no longer call themselves Christians usually go back to deep-seated questions about God’s character. We do the same thing: whenever adversity strikes (lack of finances, health, depression, you name it), it’s very tempting to question whether God is good. If He were, we wonder, none of these bad things would happen to us. It sounds cliche but it’s a pretty accurate read. Psalm 77:7-9 put it in brutal terms. In the series of five questions, the writer questions the bedrock of who God is, His grace/favor, steadfast love, compassion and especially, whether He actually remembers any of it (see Exodus 34:5-7)! In fact earlier in the psalm, the writer has reached a place of deep depression: “my soul refuses to be comforted,” “my spirit faints,”
“I’m so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:2-3).
What’s the way out of this dark hole? We cry out, “deliver us from evil!” In Psalm 77:11, in the midst of the despair, the psalmist consciously remembers the deeds of the Lord, the wonders of old, which for him means the Exodus (Psalm 77:15-20). He’s recalling what God did in the past! We do the same, only now we don’t remember a departure from a physical oppression in Egypt, we remember the victories of God in our lives through Jesus, our Deliverer. He’s become our Exodus, our Redeemer (Psalm 77:15) who has triumphed over the devil sin and death. Thanks be to God! Romans 8 in its entirety is a hymn to our new Exodus. In the struggles against the flesh that is so weak, we remember Jesus, that in Him we are more than conquerors, that nothing will separate us from His love. He is faithful to deliver us! (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Reflections for the week:
When you are tempted to doubt God’s goodness, remember God’s mighty acts in your life. When we are tempted, as a community of faith, to doubt His provision we recall His provision of the past. Create an inventory of your own Exodus moments so that when the temptation comes to question whether God exists at all, let alone care for you, you will have a track record of the reality of His intervention, His love and faithfulness. It’s time to put it in writing!
Don’t be presumptuous and think you can handle the trials and temptations of life by yourself (“lead us”). We need one another to bear each other’s burdens (see Galatians 6:1-2). Seek a friend, join a life group, talk to your spouse, open up to someone else (and be brutally honest). Ultimately the deliverance is yet to come when Jesus returns and will make everything right. In the meantime, in this wilderness journey we call life on earth (itself a massive test of our faith), we know that the Lord is faithful and will carry us through as we fix our eyes on Him!