Who or what can tempt us? What are the sources of temptation? From the prayer itself, logically, the first answer must be – God. God our heavenly Father may lead us into temptation. He will not entice us to do wrong. As the letter of James makes plain, our heavenly Father would never tempt us to do that which he hates. He may, however, lead us into situations where, because of our own passions or weaknesses, because of pressure from those around us or because of Satan’s games, we will face strong encouragement or temptation to do wrong.
Not surprisingly, many people have stumbled over these words. How can it be that God would lead us into temptation? Surely there must be some mistake? Well, in a sense, there is. It lies in our use of old and treasured words, even when they have several shades of meaning. We will be hard pressed to find a better word than the all-embracing word ‘temptation’, but need to bear in mind that, acknowledging our weakness, we are asking that our heavenly Father would not bring us to times of overwhelming trial or testing.
In the sense of trials and testings, temptations can be good or they can be bad. They can so easily cause us to fall. And yet, successfully resisted, they can strengthen us and enable us to grow and live more boldly for God. In this positive sense each disciple needs to grow in ability to face temptation.
For a moment, we leave the splendour of the house and step outside to the coach-houses and the stable block. Great houses have always had very extensive stables, often clustered round a straw-blown stable yard. It is only during this last hundred years or so that motor cars and tractors have replaced horses, reducing the stabling and riding of horses to a leisure pursuit. Until then, almost everyone would learn to ride as today almost everyone learns to drive. Learning to drive or learning to ride is a risky and testing time – a time of temptation.
As a son of the house learns to ride, for example, he will first be placed in the saddle of the smallest and most dependable pony and gently led a few paces. But there will come a time when the youngster is first allowed to ride out into the open country and onto the road. What temptation! What risk! The pony might bolt or the lad, as yet without practical experience or road sense, might gallop away in a crazy manner. Yet, unless he is allowed out of the stable yard, he will never learn to ride – and so it is with us. God is the best of fathers. His will is our ongoing growth as disciples. His aim is that we might stand strong and spiritually mature through days of temptation. We will only stand firm in such times if, before then, our heavenly Father has allowed us to grow by leading us through many times of testing and trial.
We often admire the spiritual giants among us – but it is salutary to ask them to tell of some of the many, sore trials they have faced; the trials that have brought them to the strong and radiant faith we now so envy.
As we pray, the Lord has given us an opportunity to stop and remember that we are weak and frail and set in a fallen world, a world full of danger and hurt; physical, mental and spiritual and to pray for God-given wisdom and protection. ‘Lord watch over us, please keep us humbly aware of the dangers that surround us, growing in ability to face them, and safe. Do not let us be tested beyond the little we can stand.’
Although temptation is always an opportunity to grow in spiritual strength and maturity, it is also a snare that would cause us to stumble. Even a mature and able rider can be thrown by a slip, a stone, a branch or a frightened horse. The most mature disciple is equally vulnerable. We do need to learn to walk humbly; to pray frequently for protection, discernment, wisdom and grace. In this petition our Lord teaches us to do just that.
Temptation from the world
The world around us is our great testing ground. It cares nothing for God or godly ways. It will present us with an attractive and brightly-lit, supermarket display of alternative lifestyles, faiths and world views. Like shoppers we are enticed and urged to choose for ourselves and be uncritical of the choices of others. True Christianity, judged to have passed its sell-by date, is generally presented as a ‘museum corner’ of musty and outdated hymn books, damp and dark churches, strange robes and rituals that have little or no bearing on real life.
The world will also tempt us with short cuts to fame and fortune; offer to make us instant millionaires; owners of our own stately home. It will tempt us with sharp practice in business and less than integrity in dealing with other people’s money. Although the law and codes of practice aim to restrict these things, there will always be the pressure and the powerful temptation to search for loopholes or weak points in the fence of the law or places where it can be ‘moved a little’ for our personal or corporate gain. In business and at home we will be tempted to put ourselves first and regard everyone else as ‘disposable’. Trust and honourable dealing are closely tied to godliness and so for the disciple, the Christian, this fallen world presents a whole minefield of temptation.
Temptation from within
Our own flesh will tempt us in so many ways. We will be enticed to throw off the ‘inhibitions of godliness’ and seek ‘self-fulfilment’, self-gratification at every level. We will be tempted to be carried along by our moods and feelings. Anger, resentment and ‘black moods’ take a conscious effort to manage in a God-honouring way, but the temptation will always be to give them free rein, to give vent to our feelings by ‘taking it out’ on those around us.
We will be enticed to throw off ‘outdated morality’, enjoy ourselves and be ‘free’. Being human we will be sorely tempted to cut free from the narrow path of discipleship and join in. ‘And do I not burn with passion?’ asked the apostle Paul as he speaks of another man’s fall.
King David, a full-blooded warrior, sent his troops to fight while he spent an idle spring in Jerusalem. Looking from the roof-top resting place of his royal palace his eyes fell on a beautiful woman bathing – maybe she intended it to be that way. The temptation was overwhelming . . . and the outcome: adultery, intrigue, manslaughter and a home-life dogged with difficulty.
In the course of his duty, Joseph, as a young and handsome slave in Egypt, found himself passionately desired by his master’s wife. (It is the occupational hazard of a resident helper or ‘au pair’. . . !) For Joseph the invitations were incessant, the opportunities plentiful but, by the grace of God, he stood his ground holding his master’s marriage in honour: ‘Far be it from me to sin against heaven and my master.’ The lady’s determination and passion grew and the moment came when Joseph’s priority was to get out, to escape. Says scripture, ‘Flee fornication,’ unashamedly run from it. Faced with the devil, stand your ground, but faced with immorality show your heels. Sometimes we need to get out, whatever the taunts or threats. For Joseph it meant prison, but under the hand of God it was also the pathway by which he was lead to great usefulness. God honours those who honour him.
Our heavenly Father is in control of all our circumstances, poverty or plenty, war or peace, life and death itself. But under his hand, the world will tempt us with its delights. The flesh, our own anger, passions and so on will leave us wide open to temptation. And Satan, always in the background, will seek to play on our human weaknesses and on our circumstances for his own ends. Behind our daily, small temptations to stray from God’s holy ways lies the great temptation to rebel against God. We may be gently lured away little by little, like sheep eating one delicious patch of grass after the next, until we have strayed very far from godly ways and thinking. Or, we may come suddenly under great pressure to deny the faith and turn our back on God. In the Old Testament, the great temptation of Job to ‘curse God and die’ was of this nature. Pray that our heavenly Father would spare us from such terrible temptation. Pray for those imprisoned even now for their faith and enticed with the promise of ‘instant freedom’ if they will deny their faith and assent to some other faith, philosophy or world view. The great tribulation of which the New Testament warns must be of this nature; times when Satan and his servants do all in their power to seduce, crush and disinherit the saints of God.
We deceive ourselves so easily and are so blissfully unaware of the dangers in which we stand. Like little children who will just run into a road, we so easily run into a situation in which we are overwhelmed by difficulty or temptation. That is exactly what happened to the apostle Peter. Jesus had warned him that Satan would tempt him, but Peter said; ‘Lord, they may all fall away, but I will stand firm even to death.’ Peter did not know himself, or the overwhelming nature of temptation. He did not know the danger into which he was running. He was so sure of his own strength that he rushed into terrible testing. Then, confronted by ordinary people who identified him as one of Jesus’ disciples, the great apostle totally collapsed.
However, before you condemn Peter, put yourself in his position. The Lord had been violently arrested and was facing death. The accusation is made: ‘You were there. You are one of them.’ How would you react? It is easy to point the finger at Peter but, if on your immediate answer, hung imprisonment or freedom, life or death, would it not appear ‘wiser’ to say, ‘I never knew him.’ The temptation is absolutely overwhelming and that is the nature of temptation. Yet, like Peter, we so easily rush into it. They were no fools who taught us to pray morning by morning, ‘. . . that we might fall into no sin neither run into any kind of danger.’
The world will squeeze us into its mould, the flesh is weak and vulnerable and Satan, who plays on our circumstances, will turn them to trip us.
– If we are young we will be invited many times to join the party: ‘Enjoy yourself! Break free! Forget God and ‘the inhibitions of godly living’!
– If we are poor we will be sorely tempted to steal; ‘They have so much more; I have a right to it . . .’
– If we are fit and well we will be tempted to forget God in the whirl of sport, family, pleasure or business life.
– If we are successful and rich, we will be tempted to put God out of our thinking: ‘I have no need of God.’
– Should we fall seriously ill, we will be tempted to self-pity, to murmur against those who are looking after us: ‘They do not really care. They have not noticed how terrible I feel this morning or that I need . . .’ Self pity is the temptation exactly matched to those who are unwell. The same temptation may be directed towards God – to doubt his goodness: ‘If God really cared, would he leave me in this situation?’ – or to doubt his power: ‘Is God really in control?’
There is an almost infinite variety of temptations each presented by, and hence precisely matched to, our particular situation. It is for this reason that other people’s temptations are always so much easier to face than our own! Their temptations would never trip us up but our own are much more difficult. Each temptation, each time of testing, is an opportunity to grow, to make a God-honouring response . . . or to tumble.
Praying for one another
Do notice that we are not just praying for ourselves. Here, as throughout the Lord’s Prayer, it is ‘us’ and ‘our’ not ‘me’ and ‘my’. Certainly, ‘Lead me not into temptation,’ as I face this particular situation or person, but also ‘us’ and ‘our’. Countries, families, companies and churches are all being constantly tested and can all be sorely tempted. In the far reaching decisions that are made, the temptations for short-term gain, for exploitation, for worldly but ungodly ways are very great. Therefore pray that they, or we, as we play our part, may not be led into temptation, but may stand with godly integrity and courage. Such prayers have by no means passed their sell-by date!
In the opening chapter of the Old Testament book of Job, we are shown Job praying for his family. He is praying for his sons in their eating and drinking and making merry. ‘Lord God, there are so many dangers, lead them not into temptation, forgive them where they have fallen, keep them safe.’ What a helpful pattern for our own praying.
The Lord himself, in the garden before his arrest urged the disciples to pray that they might not fall into temptation. He also prayed for them. ‘Peter, Satan has desired to sift you as wheat is sifted, to test you and tempt you very severely, but I have prayed for you’.
‘But I have prayed for you.’ How many of us have cause to thank God for those who prayed for us in worldly, fleshly, God-forgetting days as Satan sought to test us. I thank God for a praying grandmother who prayed while I wandered blissfully unaware through the spiritual minefield of student days.
‘Father, lead us not into temptation. We pray that you would keep us, and those we care about, safe. May we not be squeezed by the world, driven by the flesh or manipulated by Satan to do what seems so desirable in the moment, but is ungodly or ultimately destructive. Give us increasing discernment, wisdom and courage to live for you day by day.’
- God tempts no one – James 1:13
- ‘Curse God’ – Job 1:11, 2:5 & 2:9
- The great tribulation – Matthew 24:21 & Revelation 7 13-17
- ‘And do I not burn’ (with passion or indignation) – 2 Corinthians 11:29
- David tempted – 2 Samuel 11:2-5
- Joseph tempted – Genesis 39:6-20
- ‘Flee fornication’ – 1 Corinthians 6:18
- Those who honour him – 1 Samuel 2:30
- Jesus warning Peter – Luke 22:31-34
- Peter’s temptation – Luke 22:55-62
- Job and his family – Job 1:4&5
- ‘To sift you as wheat’ – Luke 22:31
- In what ways and to what purpose can our heavenly Father lead us into, and through, times and situations of sore temptation?
- For the disciple of Christ, in what sense is the whole of life temptation?
- How can this petition humble us and so help us to cope with our natural spiritual pride?
- Which particular temptations does our own society forcefully present to us?
- Does the desire ‘to be ourselves’, ‘to freely express and be the person our genes or environment would make us’, need to be brought under the control of our Lord’s call to holiness of living, taking up our cross daily and following him?
- Joseph, pursued by his master’s wife, had to make some hard choices. For what two reasons did he refuse to do as she asked? Can these reasons be useful to us? Could Joseph’s situation serve as a useful warning to us about living in another person’s house? . . . or even what could happen when someone comes to live in ours?
- Does God still honour those who honour him?
- Strong and blustering Peter rushed into terrible temptation – would we have done any better had we been in his situation?
- Why are other people’s temptations no great problem to us when our own are so difficult?
- In what ways does it help us if we recognise that, despite our apparent self-reliance and strength, we are actually frail and vulnerable and open to attack?
- What value is there in praying for our friends, our families and for one another that we do not fall into temptation?