Psalm 141:1-10, Matthew 6:7-15
October 9, 2011
Today we’re looking at this next phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. And this is one part that can be very difficult! It’s been confusing for many people over the years, and it’s been frustrating for me!
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Does that phrase mean that God might actually lead us into temptation, and we’re asking him not to? Certainly we face temptations in our lives. Certainly there are evil influences and powers around us, certainly there are wrong and questionable choices that present themselves to us and call to us in powerful ways. But did Jesus mean to imply that God places temptations before us, or that he leads us to them? I believe the answer to that is no. But I also have to tell you that people have some funny ideas about that. And I need to bring this up today because it has everything to do with what I believe Jesus is teaching us in this prayer.
One night while I was at Kirkwood, I walked out to the tent camping area to see if they were having a campfire. I love campfires! There’s something about that atmosphere that brings people together. And there’s something about it that makes people share with one another on a deeper level. (Am I right?)
Well, there was a campfire, and I sat down on a log, and I listened to the discussion that was already taking place. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before this subject came up. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Which is not surprising, because this is still a huge question for a lot of people! Well there was a girl there who was in about 10th or 11th grade, and before long she was “explaining” how bad things happen to us because “God is tempting us.” “Because that’s how he makes us stronger.” Well, I don’t know if she really meant that God “tempts us.” I think she was trying to say that God “Puts difficult trials in our lives?” But it didn’t matter, because I have a problem with both of those things! And I found myself wondering who was teaching young people these things.
Time and time again, I hear people saying that the reason bad things happen because God is doing them! He does it because he wants to “test us,” or to “strengthen us,” or in the case of Job, to “prove our faith.” That was the story of Job wasn’t it? It wasn’t about strengthening Job or teaching him anything. It was about God saying, “Behold my servant Job. He’s a wonderful righteous man.” And Satan says, “Sure he is! He loves you because you give him everything!” And by the way, even in the case of Job, God wasn’t doing anything to him. It was only about God “allowing” things to happen! And that’s a big part of this subject, isn’t it – God allowing things!
The big problem I have with this whole thing is that we cannot take stories like this as universal! (And believe me, I want to go shout that out the back doors of the church!) What I mean is, just because God does something a certain way one time, or even some of the time, that does not mean that’s what he does all of the time!! (I want to shout that out the door, too!) If some difficulties or trials happen for certain reasons to certain people – people like Job or Abraham. But that does not mean that that’s the reason every bad thing happens! Do you get that?
But so many people – like the girl at the campfire – are quick to make that a rule! They believe everything bad that happens to us happens because it’s some kind of test. And they are quick to jump to that conclusion whenever anything happens. That’s why I get a anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear people say this. They say, “I believe everything happens for a reason.” I get that feeling because that old cliché sounds suspiciously like this assumption – this rule – that every bad thing in our lives is done by God for a reason! Like there’s supposed to be some kind of comfort in that!
Yes, things do happen for reasons. But not always like that! Sometimes bad things happen because bad things simply happen! Sometimes bad things happen because people make bad choices that make bad things happen to others. Sometimes we make bad choices that lead to bad things happening to ourselves or to others. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Romans 8:28 says “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and who are called according to his purposes.” And that is comforting! But it does not mean that God causes all things! It means he can use all circumstances in our lives for our good. It doesn’t mean he makes them happen!
The better question here is not why does God cause bad things, but why does God allow bad things. You see, that’s the part that’s true! God does allow things to happen to us. And that’s only a problem if we believe God has the power to stop them. It’s no big deal if we think God’s powerless. The dilemma for us is that we do believe God has the power to stop bad things, but he doesn’t. Why? That’s the real question in all of this!
I’ve gone on with this, I know. But this is so important! I believe we need to have a vision of God that is bigger than the one that too many people have, that God is just some kind of celestial chess master, someone just moving pieces around, and we’re the pawns. This is more than just the vision that God’s sovereignty is simply about controlling our lives and directing events and circumstances and evils. This amazing and wonderful prayer of Jesus doesn’t give that image at all! Even in this phrase that’s before us today, he’s teaching us about a close, personal relationship with God. He’s telling us that the important thing is living our lives in an interactive way with a God in heaven who is powerful and sovereign and holy – and is our father! And he uses such close family-like terms for God!
Think about what Jesus is saying here in this phrase, “Lead us not into temptation.” That does not mean God tempts us! It’s not even about him allowing us to be tempted. It’s actually an expression that really means, “Lead us away from temptation.” And that’s all about being close enough to God, and listening enough, that he can lovingly direct us away from temptation and evil. It’s about him calling us to follow him – away from temptation. And that goes right along with the second half of the sentence, “but deliver us from evil.”
I wonder if Jesus had in mind this passage from Psalm 141 as he taught the people this prayer. I wonder if they had it in mind! They knew the Psalms! Because this psalm is about asking God to direct our hearts away from temptation and evil. And it’s about how we need his strength to do that. Jesus knew that! The psalmist David certainly knew that! (Boy did he know that! Remember that whole incident with Bathsheba?)
Psalm 141:4 says, “Incline not my heart to any evil thing…” He’s asking for God to protect his heart. He’s asking for God’s strength so he could resist evil, and walk away from it. That’s what this is about! It’s more than just learning what’s good and evil and avoiding the latter. It’s about our hearts! What’s in there? How do we protect it? How do we receive God’s strength to protect it.
Jesus wants us to learn to seek that strength from our relationship with God. And that follows throughout the New Testament, which is filled with passages that talk about resisting temptations or resisting the evil one. Paul said in I Corinthians, “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (I Corinthians 10:13) To the Thessalonians he said, “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” (II Thessalonians 3:3)
God wants to walk with us, not just be studied by us. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning. But as John Eldredge says, and as I’ve said before, and as Jesus and Paul would totally agree, we must not substitute “knowing the right things about God” for knowing God! And that is the heart of this prayer! It’s about our hearts and the heart of God!
Yes, there are times and reasons that God allows some things. But it doesn’t mean that everything that happens is to teach us, or to strengthen us, or to test us. Sometimes it’s just that there are bad things in this life. And what Jesus was teaching us is that God wants to be with us in those times. It’s not, “Yea, though you take me out of the valley of the shadow of death…” No, it’s “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me! Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me!” The Lord wants to walk with us and lead us and give us strength to negotiate those difficulties. He wants to make those things “work together for good” for us. And he will be able to do that if we love him, if we seek his guidance, and if we seek his strength, his sovereignty and his will. There’s all those things from the first part of this prayer! That’s how the Lord wants us to deal with the hardships of life.
This wonderful prayer of Jesus speaks to all of that! So, may we focus, not on how we think God works in the various circumstances of this life, but on knowing he is with us, on seeking his guidance, on knowing his peace. Let us close with prayer now, and I will lead us into the Lord’s Prayer at the end.
Our Heavenly Father, we ask that you teach us to walk with you, to feel your presence with us, no matter what the circumstances of this life. Help us to keep our hearts in tune with you. Thank you for watching over us and keeping us in your care. For this we pray in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us this prayer… “Our Father… Amen”