Lead us not into temptation
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
1 Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, v2where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over. Luke 4:1-2
Every Christian could be united and can relate to one prayer that goes, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name. Your kingdom come, your will be done… on earth as it is in heaven… give us this day our daily bread… forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us… AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION… BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL… Yes, it is called the Lord’s Prayer and we recite it often and the very first prayer that we can recite or recall in whatever situation that needed to be prayed for. We are so used to it that the petitions and words in the prayer are not connecting at all anymore but rather taken as magical words that would drive away the devil or its minions and ill wills.
The Gospel reading this first Sunday in Lent sets the theme for us today, an appropriate theme as we begin our observance of Lent — the theme of sin and temptation. It’s an appropriate one because it is one with which we all struggle.
I read of a story about a little boy named Bobby who desperately wanted a new bicycle. His plan was to save his hard-earned peso until he finally had enough to buy a new mountain bike. Each night he asked God to help him save his money. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed, “Dear Lord, please help me save my money for a new bike, and please, Lord, don’t let the taho vendor and the ice cream man come down the street again tomorrow.”
Jim Grant in Reader’s Digest a few months back told about an overweight businessman who decided it was time to shed some excess pounds. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his driving route to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work with a gigantic coffee cake. Everyone in the office scolded him, but his smile remained nonetheless. “This is a special coffee cake,” he explained. “I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, let there be a parking spot open right in front.’ And sure enough, the eighth time around the block, there it was!”
All of us know what it is to enter the wilderness of temptation. Temptation is part and parcel of the human condition. And we ourselves do an injustice as Christians when we overlook the seriousness of this topic. Temptation is like a wedge. In the world of physics, the mechanical world, there is hardly a more powerful application than a wedge (padsek wenno Pa-et wenno sensil).
Once you get its thin edge in, it’s just a matter of time and force how far that wedge will be able to split things apart. The hardest stone, the toughest bit of wood, no matter what, is not able to resist the power of a wedge to drive things apart. That’s what temptation is like — the wedge that seeks to drive us apart from God.
And so the good news for us is that we do not have to give in to temptation.
There is One who has faced the tempter and defeated him. One who stands ready to come to our aid; One who promises to strengthen us in our times of temptation.
Our Scripture reading this morning recounts for us Jesus’ encounter with the devil, the temptations he faced, and his triumph over them. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It was not the only time Jesus would face temptation. In fact, throughout his life and ministry Jesus faced temptation. He was tempted to abandon the mission his Father in heaven had given him. He was tempted to go his own way. He was tempted to trust in his own power. But throughout his life, he was able to face temptation without falling; he was able to endure without sinning. And the question for us this morning is: What can we learn from Jesus about dealing with temptation? What help can Christ give us in our battle with that power that seeks to drive us away from God?
These are important questions for us to consider because temptation is one of those things that unite all of us. We are all tempted. Sin, temptation, and the power of the devil have open season on the children of God every single day of the year. In fact, it seems that the closer to God we wish to be, the more we seek to live our lives by faith, the more temptation plagues us. Jesus knew this. And that’s why he taught his disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” It’s one thing to pray for forgiveness, but it’s quite another to express our desire to live the Christian life by praying, “Lord, keep me from being tested beyond my power to resist.”
Someone has said that opportunity knocks only once. It’s temptation that keeps banging on your door! Jesus knew the power of temptation over the human heart and so he taught his disciples how to deal with it. Listen as he instructs the disciples on the night he was betrayed. Luke writes, “And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ ” Notice the linkage between prayer and temptation.
What follows then in Luke’s gospel is a description of Jesus’ own battle with temptation. It is here that Jesus himself prays, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me … But not my will, O Lord, but Thine be done.” His prayer is a prayer that God would give him strength to do what God required of him. That God would deliver him in that time of struggle. Luke’s description of this prayer leaves no doubt as to the struggle that our Lord faced. Luke writes, “And his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” Jesus knew what it was like to battle temptation. There, before the cross, his humanity was engaged in a great contest with his divinely appointed task.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus returned to the disciples that night at Gethsemane, he found them asleep, and when he woke them, he instructed them once again, “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” There is a link between prayer and temptation. Jesus is telling us here that the first step in dealing with temptation is to pray — pray, first and foremost, that we may not even experience temptation. For temptation is the devil’s way of leading us away from life.
M. Scott Peck, the author of the book The Road Less Traveled, once observed that the word “evil” is “live” spelled backwards. Temptation is the devil’s way of turning things around, of leading us away from life. For when we enter into temptation, we walk away from life, we choose behavior that is anti-life, we fall into habits that are not healthy, and we expose ourselves to influences that are anything but good, wholesome and lasting. “Pray,” Jesus says, “that you may not even enter into temptation.”
Most of us can deal with big troubles in life and emerge from them with minor scratches. It is temptation, the little “foxes that eat the vines” (as Solomon noted thousands of years ago) that give us the trouble. Bobby Leach, an Englishman, startled the world early in the 1920s by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, escaping serious harm. However, few people know that he spent the last years of his life as an invalid, after he slipped on an orange peel and broke his back. That’s the way temptation works. It sneaks up on us, and if we don’t watch out, if we live dependent upon our own power alone, temptation has the power to destroy us.
And that’s why Jesus tells us that the first step in dealing with temptation is to pray. Pray that we may not be tempted, for temptation always leads us away from God. The second thing we need to do in dealing with temptation is to acknowledge that it has great power over us. We need God’s help in dealing with temptation. We need to affirm that there is One whose power to deal with the tempter is greater than ours, One who can do battle with the devil and triumph. For without that One with us, we are sure to fail. The sure antidote to temptation is to be focused on Christ, to be so filled with his power, his salvation, his life and service, that there is no room for temptation. Shortly after the Reformation, some young followers of Martin Luther wrote him (kind of like an original Ann Landers) with a question, saying, “We are harassed by many temptations which appeal to us so often and so strongly that they give us no rest. You don’t seem to be troubled in this way and we should like to know your secret. Don’t temptations bother you? Are you somehow immune to sin?”
Luther wrote them back in reply, saying, “I, too, know something of temptation. But the difference is that when temptation comes knocking at the door of my heart, I always answer, ‘Go away! This place is occupied. Go back where you came from, for Christ is here.’ ”
The key to understanding and dealing with temptation is found in those words: “for Christ is here.” There is another law of physics that says that a vacuum will always be filled by whatever is near it. And so it is with our hearts. They will be filled with whatever is around us. How many people have found themselves led into heartache and patterns of unholy living simply by the friends they kept and the places they visited? How many have drifted away from God and the church because they occupied themselves with unwholesome music, movies, television, or just plain old lazy living?
Martin Luther told those youthful followers of his that the key to dealing with temptation was to allow Christ to fill their hearts. Give God room in your heart and when God fills your heart, there will be little room left for temptation. And it begins with prayer: prayer that asks God to help us overcome temptation; prayer that keeps us focused on Christ; prayer that trusts that God will strengthen and guide us. For if our prayers are that God strengthen and deliver us from temptation, we shall prevail. For Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
God is faithful; our prayers will be answered. We will be strengthened to overcome even the most persistent temptation. Now, that may not happen instantly. It may not even happen as we expect it. But prayer is the key to dealing with temptation. There is a legend about Monica, the mother of Augustine. She prayed that God would block her son’s trip to Italy. Monica, a devout Christian, was worried about her son. She saw him throwing his life away and was concerned that the trip to Rome would only harm him further. She was sure that there he would fall further from God into sinful living and never come to believe in Christ. But while she was praying that God prevent him from traveling there, Augustine sailed off. She thought she had lost him.
But while Augustine was there in Rome, God worked a great miracle in his life. For after he arrived there, he met and fell under the influence of the mighty preacher Ambrose and became a Christian — in the very place that his mother was praying that he would not go.
We have to be careful with our prayers. We dare not use our prayers to give God orders, because perhaps the ultimate temptation is to think that we know more than God does, that we care more than God cares, that we see the future better than God. Our prayers must always be that we depend upon God to strengthen us and that we trust God to lead us not into temptation.
Dear friends, Lent is a time to send the devil a message. Look around you. What kind of friends are you keeping? What kind of places do you frequent? What does your credit card say about the way you spend your life? We have six weeks ahead of us — six weeks to say to the devil, “Go away! This place is occupied. Go back where you came from, for Christ is here.” Amen. (cf esermonscom)**