On Treating the Symptoms Instead of the Disease

(Originally published in part as Part 6 of the Lord’s Prayer series.)

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches His followers how they should pray. These instructions do not mean we have to pray this particular prayer every time we pray, but that the elements within the prayer (the priority of prayer/the important areas we shouldn’t forget about) should exist in our prayer lives. In the final line of the prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray each day for His supernatural help against an enemy who is trying to woo us towards eternal death. He says we should ask God to:

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13 (ESV)

These two statements are the most pivotal points of 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 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 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.

In order to fix our problem, we want to place the blame on someone or something else. In the same way, Adam blamed Eve for eating the fruit in the garden, we spend our time blaming the wrong sources. We want to blame a culture of violence on movies and video games. Now, I’m not defending violent movies or video games (see our former post, “The Importance of the Stories we Consume”) but could it be that these things aren’t the root of the problem? These things are not helpful to people who are violent. But violence doesn’t exist because of violent video games, violent video games exist because violence is inside all of us and unless we let God do His work in us, our sinful nature cannot stay in check. The banning and blaming game is our poor attempts at only treating the symptoms, not the disease (sin) itself.

One of my favorite bands, Thrice, wrote a song entitled “All the World is Mad,” my favorite part goes like this:

“We can’t medicate man to perfection again

We can’t legislate peace in our hearts

We can’t educate sin from our souls

It’s been there from the start

But the blind lead the blind into bottomless pits

Still, we smile and deny that we’re cursed

But of all our iniquities ignorance may be the worst

Something’s gone terribly wrong

With everyone, all the world is mad

Darkness brings terrible things

The sun is gone

What vanity! Our sad, wretched fires”

In the wake of a perpetual cycle of school shootings, one side races to ban weapons, while the other side seeks to arm every teacher. I would humbly say that I am not sure what human course of action we should take on the issue, but I do know that when we look at this issue, we are ignoring the heart of the problem. It isn’t a gun problem, it’s a problem of evil, it’s a problem of Satan, and a problem of the depravity in our hearts without Jesus Christ. Shortly after Adam and Eve sinned, they passed sin onto their children, resulting in one son murdering the other. Cain lived in a world without movies, video games, or assault rifles, yet evil still existed. We will look in a moment more in-depth at Cain’s story, but God warns Cain, as He warns us, either we will rule (with God’s help) over evil or evil will rule over us.

Dustin Kensure, Thrice’s lead singer, has also spent years leading worship in church, wrote these lyrics with Jesus’ teachings in mind. Jesus went everywhere proclaiming that apart from God we can’t accomplish anything, no matter how noble an effort against evil we make. This is bad news to those who reject God’s help at each turn, but it is the greatest news those of us who place our lives and our trust in the hands of God can ever hear. Our God is with us, and as Jude boldly proclaims, God is able to keep us together, and He does this in many ways.

God’s grace holds us in a way that can keep us from falling away from salvation upon each mistake we make. We are not saved one moment and lost the next. He justifies us in an instant and we spend the rest of our lives on the road towards becoming more like Him. We don’t pray, get baptized, and live the next ten years of our lives hoping to be accepted by God once we’ve reached a certain level of spirituality, we are saved instantly and this salvation is not paper thin. Not to be limited, God also has the power to instantly set us free from the weight of addictions and sins, while this isn’t the case for each person when they are saved, some like the man living in the graveyard possessed by demons are instantly set free. This may not be the case for most Christians, but this is a way God delivers some of us from temptation and evil.

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, 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 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, 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 led 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.