“Lead us not into Temptation, but…” Matthew 6
This afternoon I got to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the Park Street Church in Boston, which is more than two hundred years old. I sat in the back with a great vantage point of the mixed congregation that seemed to have few blonde-haired individuals like myself. In front of me in the long, old pew was a family with darling twin girls about five years old—bows in their hair, dresses with ruffles and boots, who were clearly engaged, and singing along in the service. Then there were a couple single, ‘thirty-something’s’ and a homeless man, who smelled so bad, I tried not too breathe too deeply lest I be overcome.
We oft rattle off the words of The Lord’s Prayer without thinking too deeply, including, ‘and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ Jesus instructs his followers to include that element in their prayers, but how often do I remember to do so?
Here’s the question—from whence does temptation come?
Does God tempt us?
If not, where does the temptation come from??
Consider this from James: “No one, when tempted, should say, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.”1
Back in Genesis, we find the entrance of temptation . . . which of course, by its very nature implies a choice, and that choice includes evil.2 Eve, and then Adam, could not stand up to the temptation put before them 'to really know', which the serpent told them they would, if they ate of the tree of knowledge . . . With the choice made by the first couple, the sin condition entered what had been a perfect world. (Notice that temptation came through an appeal to pride)
Does God send temptation our way? James is pretty clear that God does not tempt anyone; it is impossible for God to violate his own character. Thomas a Kempis in his work, "The Temptation of Christ", written in 1441, has some keen insight on this critical topic.
The beginning of all evil temptations is an unstable mind and a small trust in God. Just as a ship without a helm is tossed about by the waves, so a person who lacks resolution and certainty is tossed about by temptations . . . temptations reveal who we are.
It is our own (individual) desires that entice. It is for this reason that what tempts you, may not tempt me, and visa versa. It is valuable to see that temptation is part of a process-
>First, the thought is allowed to enter our minds~
>Second, the imagination is sparked by the thought~
>Third, we feel a sense of pleasure at the fantasy, and we entertain it~
>Fourth, and finally, we engage in the evil action, assenting to its urges.
Kempis admonishes us about thoughts of temptation,
"Meet them at the door as soon as they knock, and do not let them in."
We can overcome temptation with the help of the Holy Spirit. When we choose to make Jesus the leader of our lives, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us, and he gives us the power to resist temptation . . . if we look to him. "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation."3 We have a promise to claim: God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear-- "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."4
I think that God appreciates it when we know his Word well enough to speak it back to him—and I have done so several times in my life. ‘God, I am taking you at your Word … that you will give me no more than I am able to handle. You promised a way of escape; please show that to me now!’
No, God does not tempt us. Further, “Lead us not into temptation,” means ‘don’t let us yield to temptation’ but “deliver us from evil”, rescue us from the evil one! Do you pray that God will keep you strong?
And, are you prudent? Do you (and I) flirt with temptation that will lead to sin by opening ourselves to it? A little further on, James says:
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”5
Temptation – what are you doing with it? Praying for strength before and when you face it, flirting with it, or like a Kempis said, ‘meeting it at the door when temptation knocks on it, and not letting it in’?! ‘Something to think about before you are knee-deep in the muck.
1 James 1.13-15
2 Genesis 3.1
3 2 Peter 2.9
4 1 Corinthians 10.13
5 James 4.7