And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'”
And He said to them, “Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he shall answer and say, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
“And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.
“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Jesus has been praying to His Father and, when finished, is asked by one of his disciples if he might teach them to do likewise. Jesus immediately responds with what is popularly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Although, like everything else that came out of the mouth of our Lord it is bursting with instruction far beyond its brevity, I have wondered over the years about the particular phrase, “And lead us not into temptation.”
Why such an utterance?
I once had a dog, a Siberian Husky. Tyler was a great friend! Being a Siberian, he could be unpredictable, prone to respond to the call of the wild and take off at the drop of a hat. It was only through countless hours of training and the development of a deep love between us that we arrived at a place where I could take Tyler for walks in the fields and hills with confidence in his not running off. But Tyler’s success was dependent in large part on my diligence in protecting him from temptation. For it was my role to be looking far enough ahead—in fact, all around us—so as to spot temptation in the form of dogs, deer, people and other distractions that might overwhelm Tyler and cause him to give chase. In short, I avoided leading him into temptation and, in so doing, aided my canine companion in his basic desire to please me through his obedience. If I saw something in the distance that might appeal to a weakness in Tyler, I changed course so as to avoid the temptation and keep him out of trouble. The end result was a satisfying outing for us both, fostering the ever-growing bond of love between us.
My experience with Tyler helps me appreciate the benefit of being the child of a heavenly Father who knows you and me thoroughly, loves us completely and who is able to scan the horizons of our world, spotting the dangling temptations lying in wait for us. These spiritual predators are eager to rise up and cause us, from our many and varied weaknesses, to stray from the path of life God would have us trod.
If you are like me you may find yourself wondering, If God is good and loves us, why do we have to ask Him not to lead us into temptation? Would He lead anyone into temptation?
Do you remember Jesus’ baptism by John and how afterward came the voice from heaven declaring, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased?” The Spirit then led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Jesus had no easy time of it having fasted for forty days and nights! Although God Himself never tempts anyone, as just illustrated, he deliberately led his Son into temptation. And a servant is not above his master. For the glory of God and our good, it may be that to temptation you or I must go. Yet it will never be a temptation beyond our capacity to, like our Savior, endure and rise above. (1 Cor 10:13)
I think, too, there is something about asking God for things that are right and true (and therefore good) that pleases him. Very much so.
Immediately after Jesus speaks the words of the model prayer he launches into the next part of the divine instruction the disciples need so as to keep them from mistaking his words as being what to pray instead of how to pray.
He tells them a story.
The story Jesus shares is of a man who has a need. A friend has arrived and the man has no bread to offer him. Out of his need, the man turns to another friend, asking him for what he lacks. Being midnight when he makes his request, the timing is awkward and his friend reluctant to oblige. Jesus goes on to make the point that even though the two are friends, it is the persistence of the man in need which will result in the fulfilling of his request. The claim of friendship alone will not suffice.
There is much in the story we don’t know. For example, when did the man’s out-of-town friend arrive? Was it in the morning and the two whiled away the day in conversation and other amusements only to find themselves growing hungry because time hadn’t been taken to provide for dinner? Did the man know his friend was coming to visit or was the whole affair one of surprise? Were the three loaves asked for representative of the actual need or would one or two suffice? We aren’t told and I’m glad we’re not. It leaves the idea of a need to stand on its own. Perhaps if greater prudence had been applied the need could have been averted. No matter. As humans, we are awash in needs. Even if some are of our own making.
So, you may wonder, how does persistence enter into the matter of asking God to not lead us into temptation?
There is yet another segment to our Lord’s answer to the original request made of him. And what Jesus says next is nothing less than astounding!
Ask, and it shall be given to you…
Seek, and you shall find…
Knock, and it shall be opened to you…
Utterly amazing! The disciples (and we) are told, indeed promised, that everyone who asks receives; who seeks, finds; and who knocks beholds the opened door. In asking to be taught how to pray the disciples find themselves immersed in instruction of the richest sort. Through Christ’s dialog with his disciples we are taught to pray with persistence asking, seeking and knocking with the fullest confidence of gaining—perhaps not exactly what we envisioned when we asked—but something infinitely better: what we need. (Remember the story Jesus told? If we look closely, we find that because of his persistence the man would be given not the three loaves he asked for but “…as much as he needs.”)
Which leads me back around to where I began: pondering why Jesus included the phrase, “And lead us not into temptation,” in his prayer.
The greatest need of humanity is to know God, the Father of us all. To know Him rightly and, in so doing, to love Him as, in Jesus, God has loved us. In the pursuit of this great need we are confronted with an enormous obstacle: sin. Sin in the form of Self as god. To love God we must first be set free from sin’s mastery over us.
I have heard time and again that Jesus came to die for our sins. But if salvation were confined to such a thing as only being free from the eternal consequences of our sin without the benefit of being free from sin altogether, eternal life would hold little appeal.
Tyler, my dog, had no concept of a porcupine before he met up with one. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the porcupine in time to alter our course before Tyler’s resistance broke and he experienced the painful consequence of succumbing to temptation. My point is that Tyler could never have imagined all the different forms temptation might take. Neither can we. Temptation runs the gamut from base vices to more cerebral ones—including high-sounding religious doctrines that distort the grandeur of the gospel and present to others something less than God himself. Temptation can even take the guise of something good, like ministry, if it places service above our relationship with the living God. In including the phrase, “And lead us not into temptation,” Jesus highlights our Achilles heel: we are prone to wander and drink the poison of that which is not of the Truth.
The antidote? Prayer. A persistent asking, seeking and knocking. A constant declaration that we need our heavenly Father in every aspect and moment of life. In asking God not to lead us into temptation, we speak truth and confess our dependence on him and our desire to yield our will to his.
Saint Matthew adds additional insight. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This is precisely what Jesus came to do and is doing, even now…
© Michael Kimball 2013, 2017 (This writing may be freely copied in its entirety without prior permission from the author.) Listen to the audio version at FatherBound.com.