Lead us not into temptation - Part 2
22nd June 2018
You, me and every Christian face huge temptation. The temptation to cut corners. The temptation to speak unkindly to people who are less committed than us, or who see things differently from us. The temptation to comfort ourselves with too much food or drink, or inappropriate relationships. The temptation to be unforgiving towards those who hurt us, or who restrict what we can do. The temptation to have favourites. The temptation to criticise. The temptation to self-pity. The temptation to give up. The temptation to compromise our Christian values. It would be daft not to pray lead us not into temptation.
We have an enemy. That enemy hates that we've become Christians. He fought to prevent it, and he lost. Now he fights to make us unhappy Christians, and to make our churches unhappy communities. He does this because he hates us, and he does it because the more unhappy we become, the more we will succumb to temptation, and the more we succumb to temptation, the more unhappy we become, and the less effective we'll be for Jesus, until the day we repent and cry out "deliver us from evil".
Satan wants us to give up, to walk away. He tempts us to get caught up in sin. He doesn't mind what kind of sin. It can be sex, money, pride, ambition, judgementalism, anger, unforgiveness, anything, just so long as it causes us to walk away from God, the church, and the mission to save the world. Whether we give up because we're ashamed, or because we're hurt, or because we think other Christians aren't good enough for us, Satan has achieved his aim. We stop running, we stop fighting, we don't keep faith with God.
Some people don't walk away from church physically, but they do in their hearts. Some people don't think they've walked away from God, but their hearts become darker, their speech become more negative, their actions become less loving.
Satan wants us to give up our fight against sin. Ideally, he wants us to walk away from Jesus and the church altogether. But he'll be pleased if we just go through the motions of being a Christian - turning up from some meetings, singing some songs, praying some prayers, while harbouring lust, or greed, or laziness, or cliquiness, or criticism in our hearts. He'll be pleased if we let some sinful attitude or habit pollute us, and so pollute our church, spoiling our witness and inhibiting the work of the Holy Spirit.
We need to pray "lead us not into temptation". When our family situation, or our church situation, or our work situation, is difficult and painful, we need to pray that God will strengthen us to do the right thing anyway. And because we're weak, we need to ask God to protect us from the sort of temptations that we won't be strong enough to resist.
We all know, don't we, that sometimes God will allow us to be tempted. But it must be right to pray for protection. It must be right to ask our Lord to keep us safe from the temptations that we will fail to resist. We can resist all temptation, but we all know that sometimes we don't. So we ask God to help us.
And we can help protect ourselves. We can apply common sense, as well as prayer. If we're susceptible to the temptation to gossip, we can choose (usually) not to spend our time in the company of other gossips. If we're in danger of drinking too much, we can stay out of the pub. If we tend to be a bit critical of others, we can choose not to listen to other critical people, because we know their sin will encourage us to sin. If we're a bit mean and selfish, we can choose, as a spiritual discipline, to give money away regularly. If we're getting overweight from too much comfort eating, we can choose to keep only healthy food in the house. And so on.
But we'll all so very weak, so very foolish, and so easily ensnared. We need to pray lead us not into temptation.
And, because we all fall sometimes, because we all still sin, we sometimes need to pray deliver us from evil. I'm sure that phrase has more than one application, but let's think about just this one: when we fall into the act of sin, or the attitude of sin, we can get trapped in the habit of sin.
As any recovering alcoholic will tell you, if they fall into the temptation to have just one drink, it won't be just one; it can ruin their lives. As many people who have fallen into adultery will tell you, and as Solomon tell us in the book of Proverbs, a single act of adultery is not just a bit of fun; it can destroy our marriage and our family. It can destroy our ministry (if we have one) and our friendships. It can result in divorce, and - just speaking practically - it can destroy our finances. If you look at pornography, it can quickly become addictive. If you tell a lie, you may have to tell another lie to cover up the first lie, and a third to cover up the second, and dishonesty can trap you. As Richard III says (Act 4 scene 2) "sin will pluck on sin". We need to be delivered from evil.
If you've been caught by any sin, and you're struggling to get free, then you need to make wise choices and you need to pray. Cry out to God, "deliver me from evil". And he will.