Prayer – No Temptation!
Twelve hefty, mature men stood around Jesus, listening in on His conversations with His Father in heaven. When He finished His prayer, one of the twelve asked of Jesus the question on the minds of them all: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples."
Jesus obliged their question, and taught them to pray. "When you pray," said Jesus to the twelve, "say: And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one." This petition is necessary both because of Satan's craftiness as well as human weakness.
The word "temptation" refers to an enticement, an allurement to do something wrong. In plain language: a temptation is a bait set before us luring us to a certain action. It is Satan who sets temptation before us, seeks to entice God's own to sin against God. When Satan was cast out of heaven (after Christ's victory on the cross), the following warning was issued:
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.Revelation 12:12
This intense wrath of the devil against the Christ who defeated him prompts the devil to declare war on those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (vs. 17). That is life; life is war.
The element we need to bear in mind with the sixth petition is this: how does Satan fight that war? What's his strategy, his technique? There is a passage in Scripture that warns us against the devil because, says the passage, "your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeding whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). That passage places in our minds the thought that Satan is readily noticeable; a roaring lion is not a secret, by his roar he's announced his presence and his intent. Yet we do wrong to think of Satan's strategy being one of much noise and announcement of his attacks. The Bible portrays Satan in much different terms, portrays him as wily, crafty, devious, unassuming – and at the same time deadly.
In his letter to the Ephesians, die apostle Paul speaks of "the wiles of the devil" (6: 11). The word 'wiles' refers to scheming, to cunning efforts to bait God's people to sin. The same apostle writes to the Corinthians that "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel" (2 Corinthians 11:14). He masquerades, disguises himself so that his true nature is hidden. We understand: this craftiness on the part of the devil makes him far more of an enemy for us than would be the case if he would announce his every arrival with the roar of a lion. The whole notion of temptation, of enticing, of luring hinges on the concept of deceit. Ask any fisherman what bait tempts the fish the best… You don't catch a thing if you loudly announce that 'I’m going to fry you.'
In his craftiness, the devil sets temptations before us in such a way that we don't recognise them to be temptations. Eve walked in the garden one day, as she had done so often in days gone by. In the harmony and peace that was Paradise, she could stop to admire this animal, scratch that one between the ears, stroke another including bears, tigers, and dugites. In a setting so normal and common place as possible, Satan came with his temptation: "Has God really said?" He didn't announce: 'here I am with all my cunning and my deceit, and I'm going to try to bait you.' He didn't come with bells and whistles and lots of fanfare so that Eve might be on her guard. He came as the deceiver he was, with cunning, craftiness, deceit.
When Eve suspected nothing, when all was quite normal, there came the devil…
That same patterns presents itself in the devil's attack on Peter. True: Jesus warned Peter of Satan's intent. Said Jesus to Peter:
Satan has asked for you, that he might sift you as wheat.Luke 22:31
But when the attack came, Peter was not at all prepared, not at all suspecting the devil's temptation. Peter sat around the fire in the courtyard of the high priest's house, chatting no doubt with the soldiers and others looking for the warmth of the fire. A very normal, common place setting. A girl walked up, looked at Peter, and commented to the crowd: "This man was also with Him." How normal, how common place, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet this was a temptation, a bait prepared in hell to make Peter deny any involvement with the Lord Jesus. In Jesus' own words: here Satan was sifting Peter. Obvious: An attack played out in the open, with adequate warnings and preparations? Not from the devil's side! Let it be a warning as to how Satan operates!
Jesus knew the nature and method of the enemy. That's why He told His disciples, when they asked for instruction about prayer, to pray also the sixth petition. Satan's method of attack is sinister, is devious, it's not straightforward and open. This is a reality Jesus took into account, and so He taught those twelve mature men standing around Him to pray, to pray not just for daily bread or for forgiveness of sins, but to pray also that God would please lead them not into temptation but instead deliver them from the Evil One.
The second element that makes this sixth petition necessary is our inability to withstand Satan's bait. It's not just Satan's craftiness, his low-profile approach, his deceit that makes his bait so tempting. We haven't the where-with-all either to withstand his temptations.
Satan entered a Garden of no sin, spoke to a woman whose every fibre was free of evil. Yes, Eve was able to sin, but she was also able not to sin. She had been created in the image of God, was adorned in her mind with true and wholesome knowledge of her Creator and of all things spiritual, her heart and will were Upright, all her affections pure, completely holy (Canons of Dort, III/IV Art 1). To this sinless person Satan came with his temptation, came in true devilish fashion; he enticed her without warning, enticed her when her guard was down. She fell for his bait, considered that indeed the forbidden fruit was desirable (Genesis 3:6), and ate.
If, dear readers, sinless Eve – and sinless Adam too – fell for Satan's temptation, how much less shall the disciples standing around Jesus be able to withstand Satan's crafty attacks! Psalm 14 reminds us that "all" people have "become corrupt" so that there is "none who does good, No, not one" (vs. 3). It is then arrogance most profound for the disciples to assume that somehow they can withstand Satan's enticements! By telling His disciples that they were to add to the five petitions of their prayers also a sixth was instruction to the twelve about their depravity, about their weaknesses, about their inability to withstand the devil. Then yes, it's true that Peter had big words to say to Jesus when Jesus revealed to him Satan's request to sift Peter. Said the apostle:
Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.Luke 22:33
Silted? Tempted? Attacked? Peter wasn't worried about it; he was sure he could handle that quite all right; he was man enough for the devil. And Jesus let Peter find out for himself:
I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me (vs. 34).
You know what happened. How necessary, how absolutely necessary it was for Peter to pray that sixth petition, be it in the Garden of Gethsemane, be it always!
And equally: it is imperative that we pray that sixth petition, we too display the height of arrogance if we suggest that we can withstand Satan's attacks. The apostle Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to write this:
… what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that l do… I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.Romans 7:15 ff
In the words of our LD: "In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment." Here is the doctrine of depravity, of abiding sinfulness even for those regenerated by the Spirit of God. 1 As Psalm 103 says it (rhymed):
He knows our frame, that it is weak and humble; He keeps in mind how prone we are to stumble. The Lord recalls that we are only dust (vs. 5).
No, there is no room for pride (or for self-reliance; here, is room only for humility, deep humility. In the face of Satan's attacks, we haven’t got a chance. We are dependent, totally dependent, on God's help, God's grace, God's strength to withstand whatever bait, whatever enticement, whatever temptation the Evil One lays on our path.
Distinctly, then, there is need, absolute need for us to heed Jesus' instruction to pray that sixth petition! Jesus Himself knew about the realities of Satan's anger, hatred, deceit, craftiness. He took it for real, and so instructed His disciples – mature men as they were – to pray this prayer of dependence. He took it for real, and so we too need to take Satan for real – and pray accordingly.
Will such a prayer be answered? The world in which the Lord God gives us a place is filled with devils, yes, all around us are temptations of so many colours and sizes and shapes. We’re told that riches makes one happy, and so does a pretty woman – and we're inclined to agree. We're told to take control of our own destinies, and the thought is so attractive to us. We're told that the cause of problems in our lives is not ourselves; it's instead the circumstances, it’s our genetic makeup, it's our background, it's the government, anything to pass the blame to another and free the self of responsibility – and we're much attracted to the idea. It's so tempting, so very tempting to follow the current, to accept the thought that I'm not the problem of my life. In the midst of so many temptations, does the Lord hear our prayer to lead us not into temptation, to deliver us instead from the evil one?
Jesus' promise to His disciples when He taught them to pray was this: "Ask and it will be given to you" (Luke 1 1:9). That is: ask according to the instruction of the Lord's Prayer, and you will receive all you need. That is a promise of God to which we may appeal in our circumstances: ask that our Father in Jesus Christ deliver us from the evil one, ask it in the awareness of our own weaknesses and our own inner inclination to sin, ask it in the awareness that sin blocks God's gift of daily bread (so that in turn you cannot do God's will, make His kingdom come, and so give to God the glory that His due), and God will surely answer our petition! Jesus meant exactly what He said: "Ask, and it will be given to you."
We need to recall also that behind the promise of this petition is the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan on the cross. It is true that Scripture speaks of a woe upon the earth because of Satan's wrath. And it's equally true that the Scripture speaks of the "wiles of the devil", of his deceit and cunning and trickery. But the Scriptures speak also of Jesus' victory over Satan. On the cross of Calvary the Son of God not only paid for sin and satisfied the wrath of God; on the cross of Calvary the Son of God also battled the devil, and overcame him. The result is that Satan is "bound" (Revelation 20:2). He is not free, is not at liberty to do whatever he pleases. Rather, Christ has been given a throne over the universe so that He "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Altogether, this simply means that we can ask the Lord God to lead us not into temptation, can ask the Lord to deliver us from the evil one. And He both hears and answers.
How, concretely, shall we then pray? All life, and so all prayer, is to be God-centred. As we live this life, we speak with our Father in heaven, speak in terms of praising Him. We ask for strength to obey His commands to us, ask for daily bread to carry out those commands, ask for forgiveness of the debts we incur as a result of misusing God's gifts. And because of Satan's fury and our own weaknesses, we add in our specific circumstances the sixth petition: lead me not into temptation.
How do we ask it? Consider this prayer:
Give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be fall and deny You, And say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.Proverbs 30:80
That prayer comes from Agur, a contributor to the book of Proverbs. Agur was aware that he himself was too weak to withstand the temptation to be proud, too weak too to withstand the temptation to steal. So he prays for daily bread – nothing more and nothing less – prays for the bread needed to give to God the glory that is His due. He wants no temptation that comes from having riches, wants no temptation either that comes from poverty. It's a prayer in line with the sixth petition.
This is what the disciples of old were to pray, and this is what we are to pray:
'Lord, please don't give me too much of wealth, lest I get proud and self-sufficient; and please don't give me too little either, lest I despair and trust you no longer. For, O God, I can't withstand on my own strength the enticement Satan lays before me in money.'
Or: 'Father, please keep me away from drinking parties, lest I loose control over my mind and say things that profane Your name. For, O Lord, I haven't the where-with-all to resist the temptation of so much drink when the boys are around.'
Or: 'Father, don't let me see things at the beach this summer that lead my mind to sin, for I don't have the where-with-all to resist temptations of the flesh.'
God gives many good things for us to enjoy. We need to recognise that our hearts and minds are sinful, that we are vulnerable to Satan's wiles. So we need to pray, without ceasing, that the Lord please spare us from Satan's attacks. Equally, when we come into temptation, we need to ask the Lord please to deliver us from die evil one.
As we pray, we may believe that the God who is our Father for Jesus' sake has over come the evil one. We do not pray in vain!