When Jesus taught His followers the model for prayer in Matthew 6, He taught a deliberate sequencing in order for us to understand the priority of prayer. He begins by teaching us to acknowledge Him first (Our Father,) then moves us to worship (Hallowed be your name.), and then into submission before Him (Your Kingdom/Your Will). Once we have prioritized God in prayer, then His teaching shifts to our daily needs (Give us today our daily bread,) and then to two specific daily request, first being our forgiveness (Forgive our debts,) and secondly to help us walk in forgiveness towards others (As we forgive our debtors.)
However, that is not where the prayer ends; the final request in the Lord’s Prayer is equally important to us. Jesus teaches us to pray:
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13 (ESV)
Just because Jesus placed this final request at the end of the prayer, it does not mean that it is of less importance than the rest of the prayer. The sequence exists for a purpose, like following a recipe, if you get a step ahead of the other, the final product will not be what was intended by the person who wrote the recipe. You must do each step in order, but this doesn’t mean the final step is any less significant than the first. In fact, most recipes’ final step is the most important. A cake recipe requires many steps, but if you skip the time in the oven, the cake remains inedible.
The two statements found in Matthew 6:13 are the most pivotal points in our spiritual walk. We have to come to the realization that we can not avoid temptation on our own. We also have to understand that the evil we face in the world, and the evil one who is orchestrating against the people of God can not be defeated by any human means. The prayer has led us to a point of great dependence on God, now here it is teaching us to ask for His help (daily) to overcome the temptations, addictions, and difficulties of this life. Jesus is instructing us to ask “Our Father” to deliver us each day from the works of Satan because we cannot withstand him without divine help.
This shouldn’t cause us to run away in fear, instead, it should cause us to run to God as our strength because where we are unable, He is more than able. Jude ends his brief yet powerful letter of warning about Satan’s devices, by reminding us (and possibly quoting from Psalm 121,) that we should take heart in our daily struggles because of one simple fact.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
Jude tells us not to worry about failing in our struggles because we have a Savior who is able to keep us from falling into temptation, and will fight with and for us in our struggles with sin, the world, and the Devil.
At this point we have to remember where Jesus’ prayer began, by acknowledging we are not in control, but that we’ve submitted to the control of God, His Kingdom, and His ways. We will never overcome by doing things our way. The more we try to fix things on our own the worse they get. We love to learn from “self-help” books, ignoring that our “self,” is what is wrong, to begin with. We want the government to change laws in order to change the hearts of the people, we want 12 steps to have a new life by Friday, and these things never work because we are treating the symptoms, not the disease.
Perhaps the most practical way God seeks to lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil is through the work of the Holy Spirit walking with us through our daily lives, and this is why it is so important to pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer each day, so many of us neglect the fact that God, through His Spirit, wants to be our guide in each and every moment of temptation or attack. God has always wanted to have this relationship with His creation, but it is us who have so often chosen not to listen.
Let’s go back to the very first family on earth and see the way in which God chooses to do this. We all know the story of the Fall, we know that Adam and Eve’s sin introduced depravity to all future generations, and we all know it didn’t take very long for that sin to overtake the first two children. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of Cain and Abel; Abel’s offering is accepted by God, while Cain’s is rejected. Cain then takes this out on his brother by murdering him in cold blood. However, when we simplify the story to that extent we miss what could have been the turning point in the story, we miss that God tried to keep Cain from stumbling.
God spoke to Cain in the midst of his anger:
“Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)
God saw the temptation that was luring Cain down a dark path, He saw Satan’s plan for Cain’s life. As Jude wrote, we serve a God who is able to keep us from falling, but He doesn’t choose to override our choices. God stood before Cain with both hands raised signaling for him to stop, but Cain refused to listen. In the same way, the Spirit speaks to us, to keep us from stumbling, the question is, do we listen? Jesus repeats several times in the New Testament, for those of us who have ears, that we should listen. Our problem is we know how to hear, but we don’t like to listen. This is why it’s important to begin the prayer by praying for God to have His way, not our own way.
There is another way, other than God’s and our own, most of the time we are listening to this “other voice,” more often than even our own. God told Cain that “sin is crouching at the door,” God paints the picture of Satan as a wild animal seeking to pounce on a victim. The New Testament describes him in the same way.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
And again, Jesus warns of Satan’s plan for each of our lives.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” John 10:10a (ESV)
These words that were spoken to Cain are spoken to us. When we pray that God will keep us from stumbling, He has various means to accomplish His goal. When we pray that God will lead us away from our weakness to temptation, and deliver us from Satan, we wish He would just wave a magic wand and make it so. Sadly we are often devoured by sin and the attacks of the enemy, because God has chosen to help us, in these two areas, in ways that require our input. He gave us the authority to stand in His power against the Devil, and in our greatest moments of weakness, the Spirit stand’s warning us of the dangers. We must pray each day that God’s Spirit will speak to us in our times of need, and that we will listen. This is how we can be lead away from temptation, and this is how we can be delivered from evil.
Pray that God will give us ears to hear and that we will listen to God’s life-giving voice. Take heart and know that the one who is watching over us to guide and direct us, is more powerful than anything we can face, and while Satan has his plans to destroy us, that is not where John 10:10 ends.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY.” John 10:10 (ESV)
Grace and Peace to You.
Next Week: The Prayer: A Benediction