Praying the Saviour's Way (VII)
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by Timothy Cross
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13).
With an acute awareness of our human weakness, in the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the Saviour encourages us to pray to God ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ (Matthew 6:13). The Saviour knew that we have an enemy both within us and without us – an internal enemy and an infernal one – sin and Satan respectively. Both are hazardous to our spiritual welfare. Whilst ever we are in this fallen world, we will need to pray this petition on a daily basis.
In the sixth petition, which is And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin or support and deliver us when we are tempted (Shorter Catechism).
Temptation to Sin
Having just prayed that God would pardon our sins – ‘Forgive us our debts ... – it is fitting we should pray next that He would enable us not to fall into sin in the future. ‘True godliness’ writes John Calvin ‘consists ... of a pure and true zeal which loves God as a real Father and looks up to him as a real Lord; it embraces his righteousness and detests offending him more than it does dying’ (Truth for All Time, p.3).
By nature we are prone to sin, and sin mars our fellowship with God. We thus pray that He would ‘lead us not into temptation.’ James, the Lord’s brother, gives an important interpretive comment here when he points out ‘Let no one say when he is tempted ‘I am tempted by God’. For God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one’ (James 1:13). God Himself will never and can never tempt us to sin. Yet He does order and control the circumstances and situations of our lives. Some of these may tempt us to compromise our Faith and succumb to sin, and so spoil our fellowship with Him, incur His displeasure and chastisement and bring reproach on the Name of Christ. We thus pray to God that this would not be so. ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
Scripture teaches the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit as God’s means of answering this petition. The Holy Spirit within us enables us to overcome the sinful nature within and the fallen world without. It is ‘by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body’ (Romans 8:13). Hence Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians that God ‘according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through the Spirit in the inner man’ (Ephesians 3:16). Paul closes his Ephesian epistle with the exhortation ‘be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might’ (Ephesians 6:10) and then details the armour God has provided for His children to enable them to overcome.
Trials and Suffering
The Greek word ‘peirasmos’ can also mean testing or trial. The Lord Jesus is instructing us to pray that God would ‘deliver us from hard trials.’ In His wisdom and love, God sees to it that His children do experience hard trials. These ‘keep us on our spiritual toes’, eradicate spiritual complacency and lethargy, and give reality and earnestness to our prayers, by casting us on God more closely. Hence the Psalmist could testify ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes’ (Psalm 119:71).
For what then are we praying when we ask that God will deliver us from hard trials and tests? Calvin answers:-
Our request is that the Lord will give us, with our temptation (trials), a way out of them, so that we may not be conquered and crushed by them, but rather, strengthened by God’s strength, we may continually stand fast against all the powers which assail us (Truth for All Time, p.60).
A good athletics coach knows how to give just the right training programme to the athletes under his charge. This will have enough difficulty to train, build and improve, but not so much difficulty that it breaks down and causes damage. In this petition then we are praying: ‘Lord, go easy on me. Deliver me from those hard trials which might cause me to dishonour You by doubting your wisdom and love.’ The petition is thus in-line with Proverbs 30:8,9, where Agur prays that the Lord would keep him on an ‘even keel.’ ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, ‘who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.’ Both extreme poverty and extreme wealth have their spiritual dangers, as do extreme ease and extreme stress. We pray therefore that God would deliver us from the trials associated with these extremes, knowing that He promises to send us the needed grace to do His will in whatever circumstances He sends our way. God said to Paul and still says to us ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures God’s children ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’
Our Adversary the Devil
Finally, the Saviour also instructs us to pray ‘deliver us from evil.’ He is referring here to the Evil One – Satan or the devil. The Lord Jesus just assumes his existence – and His disciples of all ages are to assume the Saviour’s assumption. We have an enemy of our souls. There is a devil. Although subject to God’s over-arching will, this Evil One is opposed to God and His people. His main crusade is to keep unbelievers in their unbelief, and to do all he can to keep believers from enjoying the salvation they have in Christ. We ignore the devil at our peril. We should neither underestimate nor overestimate his wiles. He is mighty, but not almighty. He is certainly more intelligent and stronger than we are. Peter wrote ‘Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). The Saviour would therefore have us pray to God ‘deliver us from the Evil One.’ The good news is that we are not helpless against his attacks. Christ overcame him, and we may overcome him in Christ. Hence James could write ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7). When we stay close to our God, the devil cannot touch us. Thus James continues ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’ (James 4:8).
The best is yet to be
‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ This is a most necessary petition for us here and now. But does it not look forward to a coming Day, when God will answer it fully and finally? In the glorious kingdom of heaven, we will receive the final answer to this prayer, for in the coming age we will be immune from temptation both within and without, and for ever out of Satan’s reach. On that day we will enjoy that perfect fellowship with God our Maker in a way we have never known before. The Bible tells us so. ‘The Lord will rescue me from all evil and save me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen’ (2 Timothy 4:18).
Read previous chapters of Timothy Cross's Praying the Saviour's Way:
Last Update: 2016-09-01 12:11