Sunday, February 17, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 9

Temptation is a part of life. But if we want to gain character and strength, if we want to be able to live for God, we have to learn how to let God lead us past the temptation that exists. Satan wants to trip us up and keep us from living a life of following Jesus. In fact we are reminded in 1 Peter 5:8-9, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” And yet we are given great words of encouragement in 1 Corinthians 10:13,No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it."

As I continue in my series on the Lord’s Prayer I want to look at the the phrase: “And lead us not into temptation...” Up to this point I have talked about how the Lord’s Prayer is about focusing our prayer on God, being committed to seeing God’s Kingdom come about more in this world, and seeking God and His will for our lives, trusting faithfully that God will provide for us, not necessarily what we want, but all that we need. In this next phrase, we see that it is still about trusting, but trusting that God will give us the power we need to be guided into the right paths.

When you look at the Lord's Prayer, you can see that it is actually a theological statement on the nature of God; a nature which includes who God is, what God desires for the world, God’s providing nature, and God’s presence in our lives in regards to temptation and testing. Jesus teaches us, with this last phrase, that God would not lead us into temptation.

I think for many of us, this might sound like a strange petition; “lead us not into temptation.” Why would God even think of leading us into temptation? The Bible tells us that God is a compassionate God; one who sees our suffering and rescues His people from their bondage. In the Psalms we are told that the Lord is our Shepherd, and we shall not want. Also, that God “hears our cries and lifts us up out of the slimy pit to set our feet upon a rock.” Does this same God seek to lead us into trouble and tribulation? Would God take us to the place of temptation where we might slip and fall?

One of the challenges of understanding the Bible, is that sometimes when the translation from the original language is translated into English, the English word (or phrasing) might seem to have a different connotation to us than the Greek had intended to mean. Let's look at other versions:
The New Revised Standard version says,
“And do not bring us to the time of trial…” The Modern English Bible says: “Do not bring us to hard testing…” The King James version and the New International versions say: “And lead us not into temptation…” By doing this word study, we can see that the words used were temptation, trial, and testing. And by doing a little more studying, we can see that it is referring to the kind of testing that challenges us in order to strengthen us.

When Abraham took his son Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him to God, Abraham was having his faith tested by God. And by faithfully going there, God provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac. Before Jesus started His ministry, He went out into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus was able to avoid the temptations of Satan. By passing the test, Abraham, and Jesus, and others gained strength and self-discipline. And each time we overcome our temptations, we gain strength to be able to serve God more faithfully.

So, in praying this, we are not asking God to take us into trials or temptations that we cannot bear, but so that we will not go into these trials and temptations alone; we are praying that God will give us His power as we encounter these temptations. In other words, we are saying: “God, do not lead us into trials without your help!”

The challenge for us is that temptations do exist. In fact, there was a recent survey done in Discipleship Journal where the readers ranked areas of the greatest spiritual challenge to them. Here are the top 10…1. Materialism; 2. Pride; 3. Self-centeredness;

4. Laziness; 5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness; 7. Sexual lust; 8. Envy; 9. Gluttony; 10. Lying.

The survey respondents also noted that the temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God and when they were physically tired. Resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer, avoiding compromising situations, Bible study, and being accountable to someone. (Discipleship Journal, November / December, 1992.)

To overcome the temptations in our life, we need to not look at the temptation, but rather to keep our eyes focused on Jesus; the author and perfector of our faith. To pray this petition, “lead us not into temptation,” means that we trust that God knows our breaking point better than we do. We are praying for God to not lead us past this breaking point; we are praying that God would help us to trust and cling to Him, so that we might stay faithful; we are praying that God would overwhelm us with His presence and saving strength. This is what the Lord teaches us to pray!