Exploring and Applying the Lord's Prayer
Lord, Teach Us To Pray

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Despite their loveliness great houses have always been open to all kinds of troubles; to troubles from within, from members of the family itself or from those employed in the running of the house, among whom may be those who would deceive, steal or even destroy the household. They are also open to troubles from without, from people who would break in and help themselves to treasures, antiques or important papers and from those who would break in to kidnap, hurt or destroy.

In the kingdom of heaven, as with a great house, our happiness and our security lies in knowing the dangers we face and in being watchful and on our guard. So, from the warmth and wonder of our heavenly Father's goodness to us and purposes for us, we must turn to be forewarned of the evil depths of our own hearts, of the sheer hatred of evil people and of the malice and cunning of Satan.


Firstly, our Lord taught us to plead for rescue from the evil thoughts, words and deeds that are conceived, spoken and done almost before we realise what is happening.

i) 'Deliver us from evil thinking.'

It was the great German reformer Martin Luther who taught us that we cannot stop the birds flying over our heads, but we can stop them nesting in our hair!

It is the nature of these brilliant things we call our brains to be constantly turning over all kinds of ideas, often quite unconsciously. All sorts of ideas 'just arrive' but it is our responsibility before our heavenly Father to either develop them or expel them. Brilliant ideas and useless ideas; wonderful, godly and selfless ideas or vile, evil and destructive ideas are constantly entering our conscious minds either to be enjoyed, delighted in and turned into action - or to be rejected and thrown out.

These ideas are inspired by all that we see, hear and feel. They are inspired by our present situation or by the lovely or terrible experiences of the past; inspired by our heavenly Father or thrown in like a hand grenade by the evil one to wreak destruction. However they arrive, the kind of ideas presented by our sub-conscious minds will be influenced by what we feed into them and by what we welcome from them.

We may actively choose to restrict our conscious thinking to all that is good, honourable and worthy of praise, as the apostle Paul urges us to. Alternatively, we may invite other 'birds' to settle. We may welcome and revel in very negative and destructive thoughts about ourselves or about those around us. Allowing thoughts like these to grow and develop lies at the root of so many of the difficulties in our relationships with one another.

By our choice of cinema, television, DVD and computer viewing our sub-conscious minds are flooded with very powerful images for good . . . or for evil. We live in days when we watch and regard as 'entertainment' violence, vice and evil, but are horrified when people put into practice the very fantasies we enjoy.

The potential is within each one of us, for out of the heart comes all that is pure, noble and lovely but out of the heart comes also every evil thought: unkindness, uncleanness, theft, envy and murder. All these come from within. Both Judas' betrayal of his Lord and Hitler's 'final solution', the extermination of the Jewish people, were once 'just a thought.'

'Lord deliver us from evil thinking, rescue us from feeding and revelling in that which is evil. Wake us up so that we may recognise the poison of evil thinking for what it is. Give us strength, despite its fascination, to turn it off, kick it out, to scare away such 'birds', before they 'nest' bringing havoc to our homes, our lives or our society . . . Father, keep us from evil.'

ii) 'Deliver us from evil speaking.'

A retired missionary was telling how the Lord first challenged him. As a lad of sixteen, he was with friends on a train. They were 'proving their manhood' by loudly outdoing one another in foul language. A man in the corner was totally ignored but, as he left the carriage, he very quietly said to the future missionary, 'Young man, if your heart is as evil as your mouth, you are in very great trouble.'

From our lips escape all too easily all kinds of evil: words that are lying or deceitful; words that crush and destroy; words that are foul or words that throw into the gutter something which is lovely or holy.

Too many relationships are destroyed by an unrecognised habit of evil speaking! We are commanded to love and build-up one another and yet self-centred, arrogant, critical and destructive words so easily escape our lips: 'What is the matter with you!' 'You've done it again!' 'You're useless!' or in their absence, 'He'll never be any good!' 'He's rubbish!'
      'Lord set a guard on our lips, keep us from evil speaking, to one another or of one another.'

iii) 'Deliver us from evil deeds.'

Evil deeds may be done for all kinds of hidden reasons. We may be blinded to what we are doing by sickness, by the heat of lust, by anger or by an all consuming commitment to a cause. In lust and in anger we only think of ourselves. In the total devotion to a political, racial or religious cause it is all too easy to lay aside the godly principles of kindness, courtesy, justice, mercy and good will. We assume that belonging to our group gives us the right to treat other groups of people with contempt. We do to them what we would not like done to ourselves.

The Lord warned his disciples that they would be persecuted and even put to death by men who were really convinced that they were doing it 'for God'. St. Paul was such a man when, as Saul the zealous Pharisee, he persecuted the Christian believers. Many a man, like Saul, has done terrible evil, believing it to be right, because he has done it for a political or religious 'cause'.

Harshness, hatred and persecution, beatings, burnings, imprisonments, shootings and bombings . . . 'Father, keep us from evil.'

Then, biologically, the sexual drive is like a fire. In the hearth or boiler of our own home it can give warmth and comfort, whilst outside of godly marriage, it can burn like a fire out of control, raging and driving all before it. Unchecked and unmanaged, our sexual urge and lust can drive us to all kinds of evil. It can lead to all sorts of ungodly partnerships; to unfaithfulness within marriage and to the breaking of other homes and marriages by adultery. In the extreme it leads to perversion or child abuse. Here is a prayer that we may face our sexual nature and so channel it that it burns only in the God-given hearth of the marriage partnership and does not become a force for evil, destroying our own and other people's lives.

Closely linked is that other wild horse, anger. Anger is the characteristic of the young man which, wild and untamed, leads to so much hurt and destruction. However, 'broken-in' and under control it can enable us to stand with strong and godly passion against oppression and evil. It was in godly anger that the Lord cleared the temple of thieving money changers and crooked salesmen who had made the house of prayer a den of thieves. It was with godly passion that William Wilberforce and his colleagues fought for the abolition of slavery. It is this kind of godly anger that has driven all the great social reformers.

Secondly, our Lord taught us to plead for rescue from evil from without. To pray for rescue from evil people, evil days and from the evil one.


The driving force behind the desire for leadership is the desire for power; power over people, power to influence and change lives, power to rule and direct. Like so many things, such power is two edged, it can be channelled and used for great good or it can be used for great evil. Here is a prayer that our heavenly Father would keep us from using the authority entrusted to us in our homes, at our work or in the wider society in a way that is evil. It is also a prayer that he would keep us safe from those who are using a position of power for evil.

Evil at home turns the place of love and safety into a prison house of fear, violence and abuse. At work, an evil 'boss', shop steward or group turns a place of creativity into a place of stress and abuse at every level.

In the church evil men, 'wolves' as both our Lord and the apostle Paul call them, may be charming, eloquent and persuasive as they gain power over us, 'relieve' us of our money or lead us astray morally or theologically.

In society, where at best we support and encourage one another, how unthinkably terrible it is to come under the power of terrorists or to be under a death threat from evil religious extremists, caught by a violent gang, or hemmed in by an organised crime ring. We do well to thank God daily if we know nothing of such things and to pray that he would keep us safe. We need to cry to God daily if we find ourselves, or know of fellow disciples, trapped by such evil, at home, at work or in the wider society.

Sometimes, 'Deliver us from evil' will be a cry for godly wisdom, strength and protection from within a terrible situation. Sometimes it will be a prayer for courage and a godly way of escape, for the New Testament unashamedly urges us to escape from evil oppression. Sometimes it will be a prayer for those we know who are caught up in evil.

Sometimes this prayer will be a cry from the heart as far-reaching, perhaps national, choices, decisions and appointments are made. 'Lord, spare us from evil leaders and from evil laws.' For nationally, too, we do well to pray that our heavenly Father would keep us from evil. How terrible it was for godly men and women to be caught up under Hitler and the Nazi regime on the far right of politics, or under Stalin and the Communists on the far left. How almost impossibly hard it is for a Christian, especially for a Christian leader, to live for the Lord under an evil regime be it atheistic or religious. 'Lord, deliver us . . .'

'Father deliver us . . .' can also be a cry, from within an evil situation, to deliver us from the natural anger and resentment and malice that wells up in our own hearts towards those who threaten and abuse us - this is in itself an evil that would destroy us. From the prison camps have come many accounts of those who, by the grace of God, have learned to rise above the malice and hatred of the camp and to be free before God to pray for, and even to love, those who taunted, persecuted and imprisoned them.

Then the evil day; the evil day is the day we hear from the doctor that our remaining days are very short. It is the day of domestic calamity; the day we learn the terrible truth of trust betrayed, or witness the sudden death of those we had loved with all our heart. Although we must all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, it is the promise of our heavenly Father to walk with us. We need fear no evil. Nevertheless we are taught to pray that our heavenly Father would spare us from such overwhelming evil.

Evil days can touch a whole nation; days of financial ruin, days of famine or days of war with the accompanying loss of home, loss of loved ones, loss of everything. The whole book of Job wrestles with such evil days; days of utter calamity.

That book of Job also shows us that behind such days can be very evil forces. As we pray, 'keep us from evil' it is also right to pray, 'keep us, deliver us, from the evil one.'

The Lord's Prayer is not about sweet sentiment. It is about the glorious and terrible reality of living for our heavenly Father in this fallen and often evil world. It is an essential prayer for safety and deliverance for ourselves, our families, our land and our fellow disciples throughout the world.

'Father we thank you for every day that you spare us from evil. Evil that, in this fallen world, may touch our lives at any time. Help us to use the good days you give us for your honour and walk closely with us through the dark days. By your grace, bring us safely through them.'

References

'Good, honourable' etc. - Philippians 4:8
'Theft, murder, envy' etc. - Mark 7:21-23
Murder, 'for God' - John 16:1-3
Saul persecuting Christian believers - Acts 8:1-3 & 1 Timothy 1:12-15
Clearing the temple - Luke 19:45&46
'Wolves' - Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:29, 2 Peter 2:1-3
Escape evil oppression - Mark 13:14
With us in the valley of the shadow - Psalm 23

Questions

Our thoughts

1 Would it be good if all the thoughts that pass through our minds were known to those around us?
2 What kind of negative and destructive thoughts, allowed to grow and develop, might destroy ourselves, our home lives or our working relationships?
3 How do we feed our minds? How do we regard the fantasy world of the magazine, television or computer?
4 How can we control what we think about?

Our words

5 How evil are our mouths? Do we cheapen godly or precious things by the way in which we speak?
6 Do we use our words to encourage and build up or to crush and destroy?

Our deeds

7 Saul persecuted the early Christian believers out of religious zeal. Are there people that we despise or treat unfairly? How can we keep ourselves from such evil?
8 Can our strong sexual passions lead us to do evil?
9 What has our heavenly Father provided to be the right place for passionate love and to keep us from such evil?
10 What good and what evil can come from anger? Can you name some examples?

Other people

11 How deep in human nature is the desire for power?
12 Can you think of examples in which people have used their power, a) for great good, b) for great evil?
13 How much are we aware or concerned about our fellow disciples who are being evilly oppressed?
14 How natural is it to return evil for evil, hatred for hatred? How can we begin to cope?

Evil days

15 Why and how does the evil day narrow our vision?
 

Download and listen to the audio podcast of this extractDeliver us from evil, continued  . . . the one who would destroy

A heart that readily wells up with evil dreams and plans, flesh that delights in them, a fallen world that brings to us all kinds of evil days, people, circumstances and opportunities . . . and in the shadows, hiding behind all these things is Satan, the evil one. In scripture he is also described as the deceiver and the destroyer. In the Lord's Prayer it is legitimate to translate, 'deliver us from evil,' 'deliver us from the evil one.' We do not only wrestle with flesh and blood but with mighty, deceptive and destructive spiritual forces under the evil one.

We are guests in our heavenly Father's world and yet Satan, a fallen servant of God, will constantly suggest that God's commands are irksome, restricting; that our heavenly Father is denying us a basic 'right', namely, to do as we will, to be as gods. He tempts us to break free from God and do as we will. Here is Satan's basic ploy. See how he uses it again and again.

Satan and society

'A people's greatest treasure is their reverence for the LORD.'
In modern Western culture, with our great Christian heritage, perhaps the most effective way in which the evil one has been at work is by way of liberal, secular, humanist thinking. Here is a way of thinking that cuts free from God and his fatherly commands and instructions. By it Satan has been able to bring our godly heritage all but tumbling down.

Our secular government has laid aside godly moral values and replaced them with a whole sea of relative values. These are human values that simply depend on current social thinking, the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the effectiveness of a pressure group or on the whim of a ruling political party. Such thinking is always presented very plausibly and forcefully and yet it has exposed us to a flood of evil right across our society.

In Britain, godless thinking underlies the throwing off of godly ways and a sliding back into old and pagan ways right across the moral spectrum. Godly chastity before marriage and faithfulness within it are being displaced by a widespread thinking which regards the exclusive and lifelong commitment of marriage as of little importance, relatively stable partnerships becoming the normal pattern. It is a way of thinking that can lead to the collapse of godly family life, and unltimately to the collapse of society.

How far will we slide? Roman society women dated the year by the name of the then current partner. Indeed, the ancient Romans accepted any partner, homosexual or heterosexual, at any time - with children of mixed parentage loosely attached along the way. For our encouragement, this was the very cradle or seedbed of the New Testament church.

In Roman times, Christian disciples were a people with a new and distinctive way of living. However, the effect in our own days of declining godliness is, firstly, to make appear 'very odd' those Christian disciples 'still living' our heavenly Father's narrow but best way and, secondly, to alienate great swathes of people, who have nothing against the Christian church, but find themselves excluded from it by the way in which they have been encouraged to live.

There is a very great social cost attached to the prevailing godless way of thinking. It has undermined the family, offering 'equally valid' alternative lifestyles, but they are lifestyles that tend to the breaking down of society. These ungodly lifestyles have produced, often not of their own choosing, many more single parents and homeless teenagers. This flows from the casual nature of modern parenting partnerships where one or the other partner may move on or be replaced, and youngsters find that the new relationship in some way excludes them. This casual or uncommitted approach has also given us a spiralling tax burden that the rest of society must pay to care for those who are no longer in economically efficient, mutually supporting families.

This tide of secular thinking has also destroyed so much that was orderly, good and godly in the education of our young people. It has added to godly honest dealing a range of so called 'creative' financial approaches. It has brought into medicine what is in practice abortion on demand, the 'right' to destroy a dependent life that is not wanted, a way of thinking naturally to be extended to euthanasia. It has filled our society with groups demanding rights of every kind, and has largely taken away the sense of personal responsibility. In short, ungodly liberal thinking has brought with it a whole rising tide of evil. And most sinister of all, it lays out a 'red carpet' for the advance of a determined alien culture. A culture which, across the world, consistently threatens and crushes with violence all that stands in the way of its advance and in particular crushes godliness and godly people. And behind all this Satan smiles as deceit and destruction flourish and the godly foundations of our society are steadily undermined.


Satan and the church

Within the church the strategies of the evil one have been equally effective. By the same ungodly liberal thinking, he has undermined true faith in great sections of the church, offering well-presented human teaching which displaces the teaching of our Lord and of his apostles. By this thinking, for example, he has torn apart the church over the central issues of Christian belief, over the ministry of women and the acceptability of homosexual practice.

In our worship, Satan, the deceiver, delights to replace sincerity of heart and holiness of life with splendour of ceremony or with heat of emotion.

In our fellowships, at every opportunity, Satan, the destroyer, sows those fast-growing weeds of mistrust, discord and envy. How we need to be constantly on our guard, praying that 'we may agree in the truth of God's holy word and live in godly love and unity'; testing all we hear and read against the plain teaching of scripture, and actively guarding our fellowship with one another. Satan delights both to lead us astray and to divide us. He delights to see the church, at the local, national and international level, destroying itself.

Satan and ourselves

Satan is the master of his art. His constant aim is to cause us to stumble. Behind Job's terrible trials was Satan seeking to cause Job to curse God to his face. Behind Peter's terrible night, as he found himself denying his Lord, was Satan seeking to cause Peter to fall. Yet, on the surface, all could be accounted for by personal weakness, by the pressure and persuasion of the people around them or by the circumstances in which they found themselves.

The evil one plays on our anxieties, fears and hardness of heart in order to undermine or destroy our walk with our heavenly Father and our walk with our fellow disciples. This world really is a spiritual mine-field!

Satan works indirectly through material wealth, pleasure, anxiety or the pressures of life, to make us forgetful, fruitless and cold towards the things of God. It is for this reason that it is so hard for the successful person, modern and materialistic, to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is for this reason that young Christian disciples, who begin so full of vision and passion for God, so often end up in middle-life cold, indifferent and fruitless. 'Father, keep us from evil.'

Satan works more directly as the destroyer as he presents ideas and convictions that would wreck our walk with our heavenly Father or our usefulness in his service. The recorded temptations of our Lord are exactly of this pattern. Each, though presented as apparently highly desirable, would have either destroyed him or his work. He was tempted to use his authority and power for his own gratification. He was tempted to commit a spectacular suicide and so destroy himself. And finally he was tempted, in the privacy of the moment, to gain all with ease - at the price of becoming a double agent, a secret servant of Satan.

We will face similar times of testing. For us, the temptations of Satan can be presented as the persuasive argument of an atheist, the advice of a 'friend', or simply a 'gut feeling'.

More rarely, but dramatically, Satan works as the destroyer through tricks of the mind. He is sometimes behind quite overwhelming and terrifying thoughts of destruction, both of ourselves and of those around us. Fiery darts indeed, to be recognised by their sudden force and destructiveness. Our heavenly Father does not shout at us! So if, when you are under great stress, depressed or just very tired, you feel a strong prompting to 'Finish it all, throw yourself in front of this train,' - hold fast. If it is, 'I could kill you,' - hold fast. If it is, 'Drive into the ditch, now,' - keep steady. Or, in the early hours you might awake from a dream with a mind filled with the most unthinkable scenes of violence or vice, from which you recoil in horror. Such things are by no means uncommon, but they are not of God. 'Lord, deliver us from evil. Keep us safe, keep us steady.'

Even more directly, if we have in some way played into Satan's hands, we may find ourselves or come across others who are directly under the influence, or even control of the evil one. We can so easily bite on his bait for it is always presented so attractively. As a former generation put it, 'Satan's delicacies are always served on silver salvers.' It is so desirable to know the future; to have hidden powers; to be in touch with the spirits; to be in contact with those we have lost through death. Yet to pursue any of these is to bite on Satan's bait. Can this also be a hidden danger behind an invitation to join a secret brotherhood or lodge, or even behind certain job or financial offers?

We are involved in spiritual warfare where powerful spiritual agencies would enthrall us, ensnare us and enlist us for their own ends and purposes. They may offer us 'the world,' as Satan offered our Lord. They may offer all we could desire as Satan offered in the garden of Eden, but the aim is always to lure us from a single-hearted loyalty to our heavenly Father

In the early chapters of Genesis, it tells us that, after their fall, both the man and the woman hid themselves. After such an encounter with Satan's temptation, whether we fall or not, it takes very great courage to come to our heavenly Father in honest and open confession. And yet our Father does not look on the outward appearance but on the heart. In the kingdom of heaven there are no hidden secrets and there are no double agents.

If we have been caught by the evil one we need to cry to our heavenly Father for mercy. Deliverance and forgiveness are freely available, they have been purchased for us by the cross of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. To be given them demands very courageous openness with our heavenly Father, from whom nothing is hidden. It takes very great courage, but, for those who dare, for those who come to him hiding nothing, he has promised forgiveness, deliverance and a fresh new start. The wonderful truth is that there are no depths of evil, into which we may fall, from which the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ cannot rescue us

'Father, spare us, rescue us from the evil we have brought on ourselves. Keep us safe from the evil one, with all his subtlety and with all his skill. Turn us again to hunger after that which is godly and to stand against that which is evil. May your name be honoured, your kingdom come, your will be done.'

References

Greatest treasure - Isaiah 33:6 (TEV)
Wrestling with mighty spiritual forces - Ephesians 6:12
Satan behind Job's temptation to curse God - Job 1:9-11
Satan behind Peter's fall - Luke 22:31-34
Satan behind the temptations of our Lord - Matthew 4:1-11
Warning to Peter - Luke 22:39-46
God looks on the heart - 1 Samuel 16:7

Questions

1 To what extent does Satan keep in the shadows?
2 Why do moral values that are not anchored to godliness drift? What anchor has God our Father given us?
3 Why will true disciples appear increasingly 'odd' in an ungodly society?
4 Why might it encourage us to know that the ancient Roman Empire was the seed bed of the Christian church?
5 In what ways does ungodly thinking undermine the family? Are there costs, of different kinds, to the children, wider family, community and state?
6 In what ways have you seen Satan play the secret destroyer among disciples in the church?
7 Do we need to be personally watchful? For what kind of things, situations and people?
8 How can evil creep up on us until we are all but spiritually dead, or at least fruitless?
9 Do we need to be aware and praying much more for one another: that we may recognise and resist Satan's fiery darts?
10 In what ways might we play into Satan's hands?
11 How will the fact that true disciples are caught up in spiritual warfare affect the way in which we live?
12 'No hidden secrets or double agents' - Why is it so hard to openly confess? What encouragement is there to do so?


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