Lead us not into temptation

The Temptation of Adam

The Temptation of Adam  – Jacobo Tintoretto

James the brother of Jesus writes this concerning temptations that we face.

James 1:13-14 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

God never tempts us, nor is he ever the one who drags us into sin. It’s our own evil desires that do that. So why would Jesus ask us to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil?” Isn’t that the one thing God wouldn’t do anyway?

I believe that the key to unlocking this mystery lies in the stories of Jesus. Jesus loved to tell farming stories to describe how the kingdom of God grows within us. In one of these stories recorded in Matthew 13:1-8, a farmer goes out and sows seed on the ground. Some of the seeds fall on the path, some on rocky soil, others fall among thorns, but the final group of seeds falls in good soil. The seeds that fall on the path are snatched away by the birds and never germinate. The seeds that fall in the rocky soil spring up quickly, but because the soil is too shallow, the plant lacks the roots to survive the summer sun. The seeds among the thorns also sprout, but the thorns quickly choke the life out of the young plant. Only the seeds planted in good soil grow to maturity and produce a hundred fold harvest.

Later in Matthew 13, Jesus explains this parable when he is alone with his disciples. The seeds snatched by the birds are those who hear the gospel but never respond. Their faith never takes root because it is stolen by Satan. The next two obstacles, the rocks and the thorns, are of particular interest to us because they represent the two great temptations that followers of Christ will face throughout their lives.

The rocks represent hard times; persecution and trouble. If our roots are too shallow, the heartbreaks of life will be sufficient to undo our faith. The thorns are the opposite. They represent the dangers lurking in the good times. We all know what comes with great wealth and possessions. We worry about losing them. They consume our time maintaining and enjoying them. They dominate our lives choking out thoughts of the eternal. They own us as we depend on them for our security and if we are not careful, they will destroy our faith and kill the gospel seedling that was planted in our hearts.

In other words, Jesus sees two great threats to the Christian soul. Heartache and success. Great wealth and excessive poverty. Too much and too little. These are the rocks and thorns, the two great temptations, which seek to destroy our faith in God.  The book of Proverbs captures this idea with this simple prayer:

Proverbs 30:8-9 … Give me poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

Interesting. Isn’t this what Christ asked us to pray two lines earlier in the Lord’s Prayer? Avoiding the two great temptations, riches and poverty, is linked to the request “give us this day our daily bread. “Lead us not into temptation” complements “give us this day our daily bread.” They are two sides of the same coin. By asking God for “our daily bread”, we are also pleading with him to “lead us not into temptation.” If he were to give us more than our daily bread, if he were to drown us in wealth, the conditions would be right for our hearts to be led into the sins of pride and self-reliance. If God were to give us less than our daily bread, we would be brought to the brink of starvation and tempted to steal.

This is not to minimize the threats that we face from outside ourselves. We do live in a world with real enemies, real spiritual forces and terrorists. We are to pray, “deliver us from evil.” With that said, James reminds us that our own evil desires pose an even greater threat. It is our evil desires that drag us into sin and if we are not careful will “give birth to death.” (James 1:15) Enemies may kill our bodies, but lurking within our own hearts are threats with the power to destroy our own souls.

In this life we walk a narrow ridge line between the chasms of pride on the one hand and despair on the other. It is our task to plead with God to steer our lives between them, to clear the rocks and thorns  and allow the gospel to grow to full maturity in the fertile soil of our hearts. May we never stop praying for ourselves and each other, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

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Forgive us our debts

Victims of the Nazi terror bombing campaign in London. “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” CS Lewis

England was not in a forgiving mood as German bombs indiscriminately rained down on the terrified residents of London. It was in this atmosphere of fear and anger that CS Lewis was asked by the BBC to give a series of talks on what he called “Mere Christianity”. One of his most poignant talks dealt with forgiveness.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’

So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do — I can do precious little — I am telling you Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do? (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

It is impossible to receive God’s forgiveness without forgiving our neighbor, but those who understand the true cost of forgiveness understand that is impossible. So what do we do?

Jesus tells a story of a servant who is forgiven a debt of an astronomical amount of money by a kindhearted king (Matthew 18:21-35). The king cancels the 10,000 talent bill because he was  moved by man’s desperate pleas to  save him and his family from a life of debt slavery. Despite having been forgiven, the servant begins choking a man who owed him a much smaller sum, demanding that he pay his debt.

I hated this unmerciful servant until I understood the size of debt he was owed. A denarii was what a worker could expect to be paid for a day’s labor. Therefore 100 denarii was roughly equivalent to a third of his annual salary. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, could you imagine taking a financial hit of that magnitude? Would you be able to absorb the loss of income? It may be the difference between eating and not eating.

And yet we despise this unmerciful servant Why? Because as significant as the debt that was owed him, it was dwarfed by the debt he owed the king. That’s why we believe the king is well within his rights to imprison this servant and hand him over to be tortured. He deserves it. Do you see now how Jesus set us up?

God is the kindhearted king, we are the unmerciful servants. This warning is for us:

Matthew 18:35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you [prison and torture] unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

So what do we do when God demands the impossible of us?

We remember that our God has forgiven us at the cost of the crucifixion of his Son.

We allow the enormity of the debt we owed God, that is all the ways we have failed to love him and our neighbor, to humble us and build  compassion for the one who has harmed us. The one thing we have in common with our enemies is that we both owe God a debt that we are incapable of paying.

Finally, we cry out to God. A third of an annual salary is too much harm to let go. Only he can lift this burden and wrest my fingers from the debt that is owed. We can’t do this by our own strength. We need to pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” May God give us the grace to believe that God has forgiven the unforgivable in us and will give us the power to do the same for others.

Give US this day OUR daily bread

The ‘us’ in ‘give us this day our daily bread’ includes this child who lives and works at a dump in Honduras.

I never realized how self-centered my prayers were until the pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer were pointed out to me by the author Scott McKnight. The Lord’s Prayer never says ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘my’. It is always ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’. My version of the Lord’s Prayer is quite jarring in its selfishness if you think about it.

[My] Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give [me] today [my] daily bread.

Forgive [me] my debts, as [I] also have forgiven my debtors.

And lead [me] not into temptation,

but deliver [me] from the evil one.

When you pray the Lord’s Prayer my way, you wind up trying to manipulate God in order to get what you want. God, I’ll worship you and I’ll even pray that your will is followed on earth as it is in heaven, but this is only a warm up for what I really want to say, “give me this day my daily bread.” I will give you yours, if you will give me mine. That unfortunately is the definition of a pagan prayer, an orphan trying to manipulate a day’s survival out of a powerful authority figure.

But Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed, played a pivotal role in reshaping my understanding of prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the way we live out the Great Commandment, love God and love others, in our prayer lives. We love God by worshiping him and by wanting what he wants for the world. We love our neighbor by caring as much about their needs as we care about our own. That is why Jesus commanded us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”

We are encouraged to bring our needs before God, but we never do it apart from the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world. When we pray, we ask God to protect our children, but we also ask that he might protect the innocents caught in the Syrian civil war. When we ask God to meet our financial needs, we are also praying for the victims of the Haitian earthquake. When we ask God for comfort, we also pray for the family down the street that is losing their father to cancer. We cannot ask for my daily bread, without asking God to provide for my neighbor. Why? Because the Lord’s Prayer is the way we love our neighbor through prayer.

“But who is my neighbor?” We are not the first ones to ask this question. A rich young man posed this question to Jesus two thousand years ago. Jesus’ answer startled the young man and, if we are honest, it rattles us today (see Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that our neighbor includes all of humanity even the immoral, even the wicked and especially our enemies. To pray “give us this day our daily bread” with integrity means that we pray that God will provide the daily needs for even a member of Al Qaeda and his family while praying for our own. You cannot love your neighbor without loving your enemy. You cannot pray “give us this day our daily bread” without praying that God will bless our enemies.

How can we pray in this way? Only when we realize, as Tim Keller once pointed out, that we were the enemy once, and Jesus loved us and prayed on our behalf even when our sins had nailed him to the cross.

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, ‘Father,  forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’

Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Our Daily Bread

Daily Bread

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” ,.. for the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31-32)

“Dear God, put me in a position where I won’t need you anymore.”

I was startled when a mentor suggested that was what my prayers were like. I didn’t like what he was suggesting, but I saw that he was right. Deep down I think we all hate being dependent on someone else. I know that I don’t like having to rely on God. I want my life to be secure. I want it to be predictable. We don’t like the feeling of living day to day and paycheck to paycheck. But that is precisely the place where Jesus calls us to live when he taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He is calling us back to the wilderness.

We must not forget that the Lord’s Prayer is a deeply Jewish prayer. The image of “Daily Bread” was seared in the memories of the nation of Israel. It recalls the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness between the slavery in Egypt that lay behind them and the Promsied Land that lay over the horizon. It was there in the wilderness that God taught Israel to trust him one day at a time.

The elation over God’s spectacular victory over their Egyptian oppressors quickly faded as reality of life in the desert set in. Where will we find water? Where will we find food? We must not be too quick to judge the Israelites when their fear slipped into anger and they accused God and Moses of leading them out of Egypt only to kill them in the desert. After all, they had been slaves for 450 years. Trust was not going to come easy to them.

But God was gracious and he split the rocks and out poured living water. With their thirst satisfied, they grumbled about the lack of bread. God by his grace, did not rain judgment down on them, but  manna, bread from heaven. He commanded them to collect just enough for that day. There would be more tomorrow. You know what happened. In a complete breakdown of trust, they hoarded the food. The food was full of maggots the next day. Moses was angry, but God patiently sent the manna, one day at a time, just enough for that day. Israel eventually learned what it meant to trust God for their “daily bread.”

Moses reflecting on this experience wrote:

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 Remember how the Lord led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna … to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Jesus also calls us back into the wilderness, where he longs to teach us to trust him for our daily bread, but that is the very place I fear. I want six months income in the bank so I can feel secure about my finances. I want the problems of my wife and kids to be small so I can feel good about myself as a father and a husband. I am not content with the bread for today. I want my house full of the stuff and then go out and rent a storage container when I run out of space. Why? Because I’m not really sure that God is going to provide tomorrow.

Jesus is calling us to something different. He wants us to live hand to mouth. He wants us to ask him for what we need for today and then watch with delight as he provides and then the next morning get up and ask him the same thing. He never grows tired of caring for even the smallest of our needs. He wants us to walk with him in the desert, trusting him every step of the way. We are no longer slaves, but neither have we reached heaven. The desert is a needy and thirsty place. It is there that we encounter the God who provides our daily bread. It is there where we learn to pray. It is there we discover what it means to trust him.

Our Daily Bread is part of a series of posts on praying the Lord’s Prayer.

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Luke 22:42-44 ‘Father … not my will, but yours be done …’ And being in anguish he prayed more earnestly and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Disappointment and the fear of disappointment are probably the biggest reasons I struggle with prayer. Either I look into the past and remember the litany of “unanswered prayers” or I don’t ask for fear that it won’t happen. Better to rely on my own strength and deal with life as it comes than to put my life into God’s hands and lose all sense of control.

This has “worked” to some degree because I am rich. I live in a society where my safety is pretty much a given. I have the ability to earn money, so I have never feared the lack of food, money, or shelter. I am healthy and have health insurance, so I don’t live with the  fear of death. So why pray? I can deal with life as it is even with it’s minor disappointments. Better to live this way than to go out on a limb and discover that prayer doesn’t “work.”

I believed that life was about maximizing pleasure and minimizing risk. Pray doesn’t work well if that’s your life goal. But what if life was about something better? What if Jesus came to show us a new way to be fully alive? I believe he did and the blueprint for such a life is contained in two commands that he called “the Great Commandment.”

Matthew 22:37-38 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Scott McKnight in his book, the Jesus Creed,  points out that the Lord’s Prayer is what prayer looks like when you love God and love your neighbor. When I began to grasp this, the Lord’s Prayer and prayer in general took on new meaning. Take the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave his disciples to teach them how to pray.

Matthew 6:9-10 … Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

For Jesus, prayer always begins as an expression of love for God. Because we love God, we long for others to see him and worship as he deserves and so we pray, “hallowed be your name.” Because we love God, we want we he wants and so we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We lay aside our hopes, dreams, and concerns and in love submit our desires to His desires.

Central to Jesus’ mission and teaching on earth was the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? The Lord’s Prayer tells us: the kingdom of God is the place were God’s will is done. God’s kingdom is fully established in heaven, for there the angels perfectly obey his will. The kingdom is breaking into our world as we speak. It is already here in the sense that Jesus entered our world, died for our sins, rose from the dead and gave us the Holy Spirit so that the guilt of our sin might be paid for and the power of our sin might be broken. This is why Jesus said “the kingdom of God is within you” in Luke 17:21. There are people all over the world who, through the Holy Spirit, have experienced the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and have dedicated their lives to following King Jesus by making him known to the world and by fighting the effects of sin in all its forms whether it is sickness, war, poverty, abuse, environmental destruction or suffering.

But we cannot say that the kingdom of God is not here in its fullest sense. This world is still racked by evil and so we are instructed to pray, “your kingdom come.” Saint Francis had this in mind when he prayed, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.”

This is a scary prayer, at least for me anyway, because my mind swirls with plans and dreams for the future. Jesus asks us to lay those aside and pray, “God, I just want what you want for the world.” Imagine the trust it must take to let go of  our mortgages, our uncertain economy, our family struggles and say to God, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” What if you are facing cancer? What if you have children that is in peril of destroying their lives? What if you don’t have the money to pay your bills? How can Jesus realistically expect us to surrender to God’s will in this way? To put it more bluntly, how can I know that God will take care of me if I devote myself to him?

Let’s listen in for a moment to the prayer Jesus prayed to his Father the night of his betrayal just hours before his crucifixion. He has an agonizing choice before him. Jesus is under no obligation to go to the cross. He can walk away and all of humanity would be destroyed as we deserved. The only reason he is considering it is because he loves his Father and he loves us. Jesus understands the depth of this sacrifice. The sweat pours drip off him like drops of bread while he prays, thinking not only of the pain of crucifixion, but especially the agony of the words “my God, my God why have you forsaken me.”

We sometimes forget that Jesus in addition to being fully God, was also fully man. He will experience the anguish of the cross in every humanly possible way. Yet, when the time came, he surrenders in love to the will of his Father:

Matthew 26:42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

How can we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done”? Only when we realize that Jesus prayed it first. In prayer, we give ourselves to the one who proved his love for us by laying down his life for us. As John, the disciple Jesus loved, tell us, “we love, because he first loved us.” May the love of Christ become real to us, so that we might have the courage to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done.”

Our Father

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans … for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Jesus

In our previous post we explored the idea of the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for our prayers. This week I’d like to begin taking a closer look at each piece of the Lord’s Prayer, beginning with …

Our Father in heaven.

I don’t think we can begin to appreciate the audacity of addressing God as father. It was foreign to both Jew and pagan alike. Consider the words of King David in Psalm 8:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3)

Have you ever stood under a cloudless night sky and gazed up at the vast number of stars? David, who grew up as a shepherd boy, spent many nights looking up at the countless stars of the Milky Way. The God he worshiped as a Jew was the one God who created the entire universe, who numbered the stars and called them by name. David marvels that the God who created all he could see in the night sky even thought about someone as small as himself.  But call him father? I don’t think the thought ever occurred to David. He knew God as shepherd. The nation of Israel knew him as the God of fire and lightning on Mount Sinai, the Savior who  parted the Red Sea, inflicted plagues on the Egyptians and brought his people to the Promised Land. Would they have addressed a God of this magnitude as father? It would have struck them as too familiar and yet we are called to address him as father.

Praying to God as our father was unthinkable for pagans as well. If you read Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, you’ll notice that the prayer is offered as a contrast to the Lord’s Prayer.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

The pagan way of relating to God is one that tempts us every day. I think it is our default mode of spirituality. The pagan mentality tended to bring the gods down a level so that we could manipulate them for our purposes. The common belief in the ancient near eastern religions was that the gods, while being powerful, were incapable of feeding themselves. You brought sacrifices, not as a plea for the forgiveness of sins, but as a meal. You fed the god and the god was expected to grant your wish. If he or she didn’t come through, you moved on to the next god. Prayer was business, it had nothing to do with the love of a family.

I pray like a pagan all the time. “God, I am in a jam. If you come through for me this one time, I promise to serve you.” The Lord’s Prayer is quite different.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Prayer, as Jesus teaches us, is an appeal from a child to a perfect father in heaven, in contrast for some to the imperfect fathers we had or didn’t have on earth. A son or daughter does not earn what they need from a loving father, it is given to them because of who they are. If we believed that, would we try to manipulate God with our prayers? Wouldn’t our prayers take on a different tone?

The Lord’s Prayer is more about the posture we assume as we approach our God in prayer and less about the words we recite. Do we approach him as the servant of a needy God who demands his pound of flesh in sacrifices and acts of devotion or do we approach him as a father who if we ask for bread will not give us a scorpion? Will we need to pour out many words in an attempt to get his attention or will we be able to rest in his goodness so that we are able to align our will with his will? It all begins with how we see him. He is “our”, not “mine”, but “our Father”, who is in heaven.

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11:1 … “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples to pray.”

Throughout my young adult life (now far in the past) I made the fatal mistake of believing that spirituality came naturally. I say fatal because it nearly killed my prayer life. I thought real prayer was simply a matter of closing my eyes and pouring out my heart to God. I considered learned or “rote” approaches to prayer to be inauthentic. The irony is that when I solely prayed “spontaneously” my prayers became rote, repetitive and flat-out boring.

It is true that many effective prayers have been a desperate cry of “help” from the back of a cave or pinned down in a foxhole, but to say that we can’t learn to pray will severely limit our experience of prayer. In Luke 11:1 Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus didn’t say, “just close your eyes and pray what is in your heart.” He said, “When you pray, say” (Luke 11:1) or “This then is how you should pray.” (Matthew 6:9).  What followed is what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” We recite it every week at our church, but it never occurred to me, until recently, that this is Jesus’ instruction on how to pray. It is both a prayer that we recite as a community (“pray this” – Luke 11:1) and a pattern for our prayers (“this then is how you should pray” – Matthew 6:9).

So what would it look like if we allowed the Lord’s Prayer to guide our prayers? I’d like to take this and the next couple of posts to explore that idea. My hope is that you won’t read these articles and agree with me, but that you will actually try this and share your experiences by posting a comment.

Here’s a couple of things to help us get started:

Overview of the Lord’s Prayer.

I’d like to give a wide angle view of the Lord’s Prayer in today’s post. We’ll take a more detailed look in the next couple of weeks.

Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed, helped me get a big picture perspective on the Lord’s Prayer. He points out in the book that the Lord’s Prayer is rooted in what Jesus considered to be the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39) If you take a look at the prayer, you’ll notice that it follows the same pattern.

The first half of the Lord’s Prayer explores what it means to love God through prayer.  God is addressed as “our Father”, not simply a god we wish to do business with. We long to see his name honored and worshiped (“hallowed be your name”). We align our will to God’s will by praying for God’s kingdom to come to earth so that his will be obeyed on earth just as it is in heaven. When you love someone, you begin to desire what they desire.

The second half of the Lord’s Prayer is an expression of loving your neighbor through prayer. Notice the pronouns in Matthew 6:11-13. It is never  “me”, “I” or “my”, but always “us”, “we” and “our”. We don’t pray for my daily bread, but our daily dread.  We are not asking for forgiveness only for ourselves, but for the community also. We don’t pray, “deliver me from temptation” only, but also, “help my friend, help my neighbor be freed from temptation.” The Lord’s Prayer does not ignore our personal needs, but it does teach us that prayer is incomplete without concern for our neighbor.

Two Approaches to Praying the Lord’s Prayer.  

Mark Gelinas introduced this approach at our worship service on April 30th. We did it as a church, but we invite you to try this on your own.

  • Read each line of the Lord’s Prayer slowly.
  • Pause after each line and reflect (meditate) on the words you have read.
  • Pray back to God whatever thoughts and prayers emerge from your meditation and then move on to the next line.
One of the men from our Wednesday Coffee group suggested praying through the Lord’s Prayer in a week, focusing, meditating and praying one line a day.
  • Monday – “Our Father in heaven”
  • Tuesday – “hallowed be your name”
  • Wednesday – “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
  • Thursday – “Give us today our daily bread.”
  • Friday – “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  • Saturday – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Get Involved.
Our goal is to become people of prayer, not simply people who know a lot about prayer but never actually do it. You can help us towards this goal by giving this a try and posting your experiences and ideas as a comment to this post.