Lead Us Not into Temptation

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And lead us not into temptation,

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a 67th book of the Bible, one reserved for all the verses that people think are verses but never have been verses?

We could call it the book of Hesitations. 

Hesitations 3:16: “God helps those who help themselves.”  Despite the fact it’s routinely quoted with biblical conviction, that’s actually the gospel according to Ben Franklin.

Hesitations 7:11:  “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  Moms wish this one was in there, but it’s not. 

Hesitations 5:5:  “Money is the root of all evil.”  But isn’t there something like that in the Bible?  Check out I Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  That’s a significantly different message. 

Hesitations 9:11:  “God works in mysterious ways.”  Yes, he does, even though Scripture never explicitly says so. 

Then there’s the mother of all Bible verse wannabes.  Let’s call it Hesitations 1:1:  “God will never give you more than you can bear.”  That sounds like something a nice deity might promise.  But anyone who has endeavored to walk with God for more than 24 hours realizes that just the opposite is true: Our heavenly Father routinely allows us to experience more than we can bear, for the simple reason that we’ve been called to a lean-on-God life, not an existence where we’re supposed to figure out how to be in control. 

Here we arrive at Jesus’ sixth request in the Lord’s Prayer: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or the Evil One, a more accurate translation). 

We smile at the bumper sticker that says, “Lead me not into temptation.  I can find it all by myself.”  But why in the world are we even making this request?  Do we really have to ask God not to set us up for a big fall? 

Actually, this is a Hebraic way of speaking.  In ancient Israel, if you wanted to make a positive statement, one option was to negate its opposite.  Instead of saying, “Help me do this,” you might make a considerably stronger statement by saying, “Help me not do what I don’t want to do.” 

Thus our prayer becomes: “Lord, when I have the desire to disobey you, keep me away from the opportunity.  And when I have the opportunity, please kill the desire!  May desires and opportunities to break your heart never have a chance to meet.”

That makes this a vote of no-confidence in our own abilities. 

We’re admitting that we cannot stand up under excruciating pressure.  Father, keep us from spirit-crushing trials – both of our own making and those engineered by our primary spiritual enemy.  Keep us from falling, since we know that apart from your grace, temptation is likely to overwhelm us. 

For all too many of us, the 2020 election cycle has generated temptations that feel too great to bear. 

Some of us are tempted to disdain and dismiss our neighbors – the ones who display campaign signs for the politicians we can’t stand.    

Some of us are tempted to feel fear:  What happens if there’s widespread social turmoil?  We may even be tempted to feel despair, which is a particular kind of fear – the fear that there’s no hope for a happy outcome, and that evil is going to win out. 

Some of us are tempted to embrace cynicism.  Cynics, after all, seem like smart people.  They know the score.  They’re shrewd enough to protect themselves from disappointment – but only at a terrible cost.  Cynics end up protecting themselves from commitment – and a life in which we hold back from giving ourselves to what is good, true, and beautiful is not worth living.   

Most of all, some of us are tempted to think that because God doesn’t seem to be in control, we had better take control.  But every scenario in which we imagine grabbing the reins feels like a betrayal of the path to which we are called. 

This is a good day to pray as never before: “Father, steer us clear from anything that would tempt us to think the world is a hopeless mess.”

And this is a good day to keep words like these close at hand: “So do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

That’s Isaiah 41:10.

Best of all, it’s really in the Bible.