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What could or should we pray for? What things are appropriate to ask the Lord about? Jesus offers a framework for us to think well about prayer when asked, by his followers, to teach them to pray.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

This model prayer is not a call to repeat these specific words, but is an invitation and model to pray these kinds of things. We should talk to God about these issues, mentioned here by Jesus.

In previous posts we have unpacked a great deal of this model prayer. Here we turn our attention to the last two ideas: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

We know from other passages of Scripture that God does not tempt us. James tells us “God himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).  If that is the case, then in what way is it appropriate to pray that God “not lead us into temptation”? That request sounds like we are asking him to not do something that he would never do.

Jesus’ own experience may provide us a way to understand this request. We read about an encounter Jesus had with Satan in the Gospels.

Immediately the Spirit impelled [Jesus] to go out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:12-13)

What are we to make of this? The Spirit clearly led Jesus into the wilderness; the language Mark uses suggests that Jesus was, literally, “driven” by the Spirit to the wilderness. When Jesus got to the wilderness, he was confronted by Satan in a series of temptations. Is it reasonable to assume that there is some connection between the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness and Jesus’ temptation at the hand of Satan? It would seem so.

So did the Spirit, the Lord, tempt Jesus? Of course not. Did the Spirit lead Jesus into a situation where he was exposed to temptation? Apparently. Was it the Spirit’s intention for Jesus to be caught up in a sinful situation? Of course not. But did the Spirit permit Jesus’ exposure to the wiles of the devil? Apparently.

Similar to what happened to Job–where the devil asked for permission to distress Job and entice him to turn from God–the Spirit led Jesus in such a way that he was exposed to attack.

Neither in Jesus’ case nor in Job’s case was this permission–this exposure to an attack from the devil–moral evil on God’s part. He did not set up either Job or Jesus to fall in sin. But the Lord did orchestrate things in such a way that the devil had access to Job and Jesus.

Being aware of our susceptibility to the attacks of the devil and the devil’s power to sway our minds and hearts, the request to not be led into temptation is most likely a plea to not be placed in situations where we are exposed beyond what the Lord knows we will be able to handle. It’s a prayer rooted in our honest, humble, self-assessment. With a proper sobriety, rather than shouting “bring it on!” when facing trouble and trials, this is the cry of a dependent heart.

“Please, gracious Lord, spare me all that you can in order to keep me from being at risk of stumbling in sin.”

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