There was a man named Bob, who we might describe as “fluffy,” –the comedian Gabriel Iglesias’ favorite word to describe being overweight. Now fluffy Bob had a penchant for doughnuts. Despite trying to avoid sweets, one day he walks into the office with a box of two dozen doughnuts. “Bob!” his co-workers say, this is nice of you, but aren’t you trying to give up doughnuts for your health?” Bob replied, “Yes, but I came up to a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, and I said, “Lord, if you want me to get some doughnuts today, let there be a parking spot in the lot. On my eight time around the block, a spot opened up. So, I knew it was the Lord’s will that I bring in doughnuts!”
Since the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, temptation has been a constant, unrelenting part of human life. People have tried to avoid, resist or ignore it. But no person has ever found a place or a circumstance that can make him safe from temptation. Not even hermits. Everyone is tempted.
Temptation is so commonplace that Jesus talks about it in the prayer he has taught us to say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s prayer for the past several weeks. How we are to relate to God as a loving parent, and to each other as brothers and sisters. There’s no “I” in the Lord’s prayer, just “us, our, and we.” We’ve explored we are called to live in such a way to emulate the Kingdom of God on earth. We’ve discussed how we are instructed to pray for our daily bread, that physical and spiritual sustenance that we need every day. We were reminded to ask for the forgiveness of our sins, just as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Today we ask God to not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. All the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer remind us what we face daily: opportunities to live the kingdom of heaven, the need for nourishment for our bodies and spirit, the need to forgive and be forgiven and to face with success the trials and temptations of the evil one. It is a powerful primer, a complete prayer of living that when we offer it up faithfully, thoughtfully, sincerely, we engage the life of faith with total devotion.
The phrase we are reflecting on today, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” is confusing to some. Is Jesus saying that God leads us to temptation? This doesn’t sound like what a loving Father would do. Even Pope Francis suggests a revision, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The book of James spells this out clearly: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:13-14). Yet Paul reminds us: “temptation is common to all.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
In our phrase, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” the word for “temptation “or enticement to sin, can also be translated trial or test. It depends entirely on the context to how it is used. Bible scholars concur that God permits us to be tested and to endure trials to strengthen our faith, or because we bear the results of living in a fallen world. We daily face temptations, usually by the Evil One, because we have free choice. Will we choose the narrow path of righteousness or the path that leads to perdition? We see Job encountering the attacks of Satan, with God’s knowledge, in order to prove his holiness and faithfulness. We see Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Who will Jesus obey, God or Satan? We also see Jesus praying in the garden of gethsemane begging the Father to let the trial pass from him. The psalmist David inspired Jesus as he himself prayed: “O LORD, do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with those who do iniquity” (Ps 141:4).
Temptation leads to deceive us from our goals, Like poor Bob and his donuts. Testing seeks to strengthen our commitment to our goals. If only Bob had passed that Dunkin Donuts by! Temptation comes from Satan and the world. Testing comes from God. Temptation seeks to lead us away from Christ. Testing seeks to lead us toward Christ. Temptation tends to be internal, rooted in our thoughts, imagination. Trials tend to come from outside us, an unexpected bill, unwanted gossip or criticism, a purchase that is beyond our budget, an unexpected illness or rupture in a relationship. Hardships like illness, death, job losses, family problems and persecutions can be “fiery trials” that test our character (1 Peter 4:12–13). Trials, once the devil gets a hold of them, can turn to temptations and ultimately sin.
After fasting for 40 days Jesus encounters the Tempter. It’s telling for us that Satan came across sympathetic to Jesus’ plight. He wants to appease Jesus’ hunger by turning stone into bread. Who’s going to miss one measly stone? Wouldn’t Jesus function better if he weren’t hungry? Satan promises the kingdoms of the world and all earthly power and glory if Jesus would just worship him. Just one time. He knows Jesus is messiah and offers him power over all the kingdoms on earth. Wouldn’t that make Jesus’ work go more smoothly? Finally, Satan tries to get Jesus to spread his wings – to leap from the pinnacle in the Temple in Jerusalem. Wouldn’t that be a grand entrance for the leadership and faithful to see? They’d be talking about it for months. How could they dispute God’s Chosen One with this feat? Just one time, Jesus, just one time.
Satan is so suave and convincing. He knows his scripture well, better than any human being. He is able to twist it to his advantage. He just wants to get between us and God. Just like he got between God and Adam and Eve. So, temptation seeks through half truths to separate us from the love of God. That’s why “Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil “ is such an important prayer. Because we do not have the strength from our own abilities to overcome Satan. We need God’s power to be triumphant.
Temptation, and trials and tests, expose our true self. We are nowhere near as strong as we thought. Our common humanity has an unattractive side. We humans have developed an almost unlimited capacity to deceive and allow ourselves to be deceived. When we want something badly – when we want to get our way -- we easily fall into self-deception. We make excuses. We go in denial. We pile one lie onto another. And we pay the price. The loss of peace of mind. Our relationships suffer. We become ill – in body, mind and spirit.
The tempter’s plan is to get us to give in and break our promises or do something wrong – but that’s not the real goal. The Tempter’s true goal is for us to feel badly about ourselves, about others, so our relationships will be strained and hopefully severed, and in our shame we will turn away from God. I had a professor once who was a consultant on the movie, “The Exorcist.” He was the Devil expert, we called him. His insight on Satan and Evil is that actually, the devil prefers to tempt us subtly, raising doubt quietly, almost without us even realizing. Why? Satin’s desire is to destroy relationship, to weaken and tear apart community. Satan’s longs to isolate us. To kill us, spiritually if not physically, and to smash the image of God within our soul, to force us to flee from the presence of God out of despair, convincing us that God does not love us or will forgive us.
The devil knows us better than we know ourselves. As the Father of Lies, and half-truths, he knows how to lead us away from what is true and right. He knows how to plant fear, worry and self-righteousness in our hearts – and have it seem like caring, concern and competence. The tempter knows what buttons to push, what triggers our weakness. We learn through struggle and prayer that we have a choice. Will we stay in the Tempter’s snare or will we break free? That’s why Job was tested. That’s why Jesus was sent to the wilderness. That’s why Jesus embraced the cross – so we are not finished when we fall. Jesus is there, helping us up again. That’s why he teaches us to pray, “let us not fall into temptation, deliver us from evil.” Peter, a veteran of temptation and trials, assures us: “ In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1: 6-7). Do not let trials dissuade us, do not let trials turn to temptations and turn our backs to God’s will.
Whatever is in our past, whatever we have done, whatever the devil keeps throwing it up in your face you need to know that God was standing at the window and He saw the whole thing. He has seen our whole life. He wants us to know that He loves us and that we are forgiven.
When we learn to pray this portion of the Lord’s prayer, we are saying God’s sovereignty extends even over Satan’s plans. We’re saying we believe 1 John 4:4 that, “God’s Spirit who is in you, is greater than the one (ie, devil) who is in the world.”
No matter how many forbidden doughnuts you eat, or ice cream scoops you sneak, or other temptations you face, how many times we fail and have start over, God is there. We can pick ourselves up, because as the old gospel song, goes, a saint is just a sinner, who fell down – and got up.
So Saints of God -- get up again. And through the grace of God, be triumphant over any temptation, any trial or test or evil that comes your way. Amen