Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “The self-sufficient do not pray. The self-satisfied will not pray. The self-righteous cannot pray. No man is greater than his prayer life.
We know how important prayer is. It is the heart of our relationship with God. So we are learning to pray from the prayer which Jesus gave his disciples as a pattern for prayer, which we call the Lord’s Prayer.
We begin by recognising the enormous privilege of addressing Almighty God in heaven, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, All-knowing, Eternal, Holy, Transcendent God yet we are invited to pray to Him as, “Our Father.” And we pray Hallowed be your name,” may God be glorified and honoured by all His Creation.
Then we pray, “Your Kingdom Come”, Amen, Come Lord Jesus, as we look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We pray, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” asking God to reveal His will to us and give us the strength to obey Him.
Last week we thought about the next petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our continual dependence on God for everything we need, not just for food and water but for all the blessings we so often take for granted: home and shelter, travelling and communications, and so many possessions which we think of as necessities but which so many people do not even have as luxuries.
Then we learned to pray, “Forgive us our sins”, reminding us that we should always acknowledge and confess our sins and seek God’s grace to repent and become more like Jesus. But we were also reminded that the proper response to God’s forgiveness is for us to forgive those who sin against us. So our prayers should always recognise that God is the provider of all our needs, physical and spiritual. And this leads on to the next two requests in the Lord’s prayer which are concerned with our growth in grace and maturity and holiness.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
Some people only pray the first three words of that sentence. “Lead us not!” It is as if they don’t want God to reveal his perfect plan for their lives to them, or that they can’t be bothered to follow that perfect plan. But if we want to become more like Jesus we have to ask for God’s guidance and be prepared to follow it. The sad thing is that many Christians do fall into temptation precisely because they don’t seek or follow God’s leading.
“Lead us not into temptation.” God is a holy God – He would never cause anybody to sin. So we need to think a bit about what this prayer means. The key word has two meanings at the same time: temptation and testing, or trial. So the prayer means two things.
Do not allow us to give in to temptation.
Do not bring us to the time of trial.
Do not allow us to give in to temptation.
The Bible is clear that God never tempts anybody.
James 1 12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
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.
Christians are all in the middle of a battle against temptation. It is a battle fought on three fronts against the world around, against our own sinful human nature and against the devil and all the powers of evil. We need to pray if we are going to escape all the traps of the world, the flesh and the devil. In this materialistic world which thinks that “greed is good” we need to be on our guard especially for the temptations of society around us.
1 Timothy 6 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
In this battle against sin prayer is vital if we are going to keep hold of God and His priorities and values and standards. We must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. “Your kingdom come, your will be done!”
Being tempted is not sin – giving in to temptation is sin. So often we have just a moment between temptation and giving in – a brief opportunity to cry out to God for the grace and strength to resist the temptation. Too often we don’t put up a fight.
“Lead us not into temptation” is a prayer we can use in that very moment of temptation, a breath prayer if you like, seeking God’s grace.
I don’t know what temptations you are struggling with in these days. Somebody once said, “A holy life is a succession of holy moments.” Christian maturity only comes through a life-long series of victories over temptation, through prayer. Remember the words of Paul, which are not only a promise but also a challenge.
1 Corinthians 10 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 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.
In every situation of temptation God provides a way of escape – and we ought to take it!
“Lead us not into temptation”. Do not let us give in to temptation. One very obvious practical point. We cannot pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” if we deliberately put ourselves into situations where we know we are going to be tempted. To pray against temptation and then to put yourself in a place you know you are going face temptation is as foolish as putting your hand into a fire praying you won’t get burned. Don’t do it!
Do not bring us to the time of trial
The second sense of the key word here is not temptation but trial or testing. Jesus knew his disciples would all face tough times for being Christians. Some would be persecuted, some would be martyred. Suffering in such “times of trial” has been part of the experience of the church in every age. Many of the Letters of the New Testament were written to Christians facing persecution and even death.
1 Peter 4 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. …. 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
The Bible explains God’s purpose when Christians are facing suffering and persecution.
1 Peter 1 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
James 1: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Most of us haven’t experienced much of these kinds of times of trial. I have met believers in Bulgaria whose family members were imprisoned for their faith in the communist years. I have met Christians in Uganda who had relatives and church members who were martyred in the years of Idi Amin. And there are believers in Syria and Sudan and too many other places even today facing “times of trial” more horrible than we can imagine.
Christians need God’s strength to stand firm in their faith in times of persecution. They need a holy boldness to continue to witness for Christ when they will be punished for doing so. And even in our society, we need God’s grace to stand up for Jesus and preach the gospel. So it is good even for us to pray, “Do not bring us to the time of trial,” and for God’s strength when those times come.
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Again there is a double sense here. The word Evil can mean “Evil” or “The Evil One”, the devil.
Our prayer covers either and both. The source of all evil is the evil one. The devil may attack us directly or he may attack through the world around or through our own fallen human nature. Ephesians warns us that the whole world is in the grip of the evil one.
Ephesians 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
And it is true that the devil focusses his attacks on Christians. He has no need to put any pressure on lost sinners. They belong to the devil already. So he concentrates his efforts on causing Christians to stumble and fall and pushing churches to become powerless and ineffective.
1 Peter 5 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
“Deliver us from evil” reminds us of our continual dependence on God when we want to live a holy life. We cannot do it in our own strength. We need God to deliver us from evil, bringing the victory over the Devil which Christ won on the cross into our own lives. But that victory is not just for us Christians, but potentially for the whole world. So we pray “deliver us from evil” also for the world around us.
We are praying for our friends and neighbours to be saved, that God will deliver them from evil as well.
2 Corinthians 43 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
So we are praying for opportunities to witness. Praying when the seed of the gospel is sown it will grow and bear fruit to eternal life. Praying that young Christians will be kept safe from the attacks of the devil. As we show God’s love to other people in compassion and social action we are also praying, “Deliver them from evil.”
And there are times when we need to confront the devil directly, when we are brought into contact with those who have been trapped in the occult, or in immorality, or in alcohol or drugs or other addictions. Jesus came to bring freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and to release the oppressed. And Christians are called to continue in this spiritual warfare, standing up against the principalities and powers. “Deliver US from evil” is only the beginning of the prayer: “Deliver the whole world from evil.”
William Law said, “He who has learned how to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and a happy life.” If we are serious about following Jesus, if we want to know the joy Jesus gives and experience true holiness, then we will pray every day as Jesus has taught us to pray.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”