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 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 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.’
- ‘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
- Would it be good if all the thoughts that pass through our minds were known to those around us?
- What kind of negative and destructive thoughts, allowed to grow and develop, might destroy ourselves, our home lives or our working relationships?
- How do we feed our minds? How do we regard the fantasy world of the magazine, television or computer?
- How can we control what we think about?
- How evil are our mouths? Do we cheapen godly or precious things by the way in which we speak?
- Do we use our words to encourage and build up or to crush and destroy?
- 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?
- Can our strong sexual passions lead us to do evil?
- What has our heavenly Father provided to be the right place for passionate love and to keep us from such evil?
- What good and what evil can come from anger? Can you name some examples?
- How deep in human nature is the desire for power?
- Can you think of examples in which people have used their power, a) for great good, b) for great evil?
- How much are we aware or concerned about our fellow disciples who are being evilly oppressed?
- How natural is it to return evil for evil, hatred for hatred? How can we begin to cope?
- Why and how does the evil day narrow our vision?