By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
To be human is to face temptation daily. Many temptations, having been dealt with, no longer exercise any real power over us, but others remain troublesome throughout our lives. And there are unanticipated temptations that catch us off guard and find us vulnerable… “Grant me the strength to resist temptation.” Douglas R.A. Hare
A suburban pastor had a meeting downtown in a big city. He drove downtown in plenty of time but couldn’t find a parking spot. He drove around for a while, then realized that he was running late so he ended up parking his car in a no-parking zone. He put the following note under the windshield wiper:
I’ve circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here I’ll miss my appointment. Reverend Thomas. FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES.
He went in to his meeting. When he returned to his car he found a citation from a police officer, along with this note:
I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.
This is our fifth sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. In the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer the fifth line says, “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.” That is quite different from the King James Version that most of us know: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” If you look in different Bibles you will probably notice that this line is translated in many different ways. Let’s take a closer look.
In Greek there is one word for the phrase “the time of trial.” It’s (peirasmos). This is the word that causes some of the confusion because it can be translated two different ways, one is positive and the other is negative.
When the positive meaning is implied peirasmos is usually translated as a trial or a test. Life is filled with trials, struggles that make life hard. These tests are intended to help us grow and become strong. That is why James tells us that “whenever you face trials (peirasmos), consider it a joy.” These trials will make you stronger and help you grow.
About five years ago there was a survey on spiritual formation. Thousands of people were asked when they grew the most spiritually. The number one contributor to spiritual growth was not the fabulous preaching people hear Sunday mornings. That is rather humbling. It was not the thought-provoking Sunday school classes led by the pastor. It wasn’t being in a small group or reading books. It wasn’t finding ways to serve in ministry. The number one cause of spiritual growth was suffering. People grow the most during the trials of life; grief, conflict, struggles of any sort.
Sometimes God brings these trials and tests into our lives, for the purpose of helping us grow. One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible is in the 22nd chapter of Genesis. It starts off like this: “After these things God tested Abraham.” What follows is the story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. God wanted to see if Abraham’s faith was real. He tested Abraham to see if God was the most important thing in his life.
Tests and trials show us the depth of our faith and the integrity of our commitment. They show us the areas we need to grow and are intended to help us grow in our faith. [5:30]
That is the positive side. When the negative idea of these trials is intended peirasmos is usually translated “temptation.” Lead us not into temptation. This is a seduction toward sin. It’s turning away from God to something evil. What makes this confusing is our passage in James. In verse 2 James tells us to celebrate the trials. They are something good. But in verses 12-14 James says that these temptations – it’s the same word here, peirasmos – are evil and God is not part of them. “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). I’ll be honest with you; I don’t know how to make sense of the fact that sometimes God tests us to help us grow in our faith, but this passage tells us that God doesn’t tempt us, and the word test and tempt are the same Greek word. This is one of the mysteries of following Christ. All I know is that life is filled with trials and temptations.
Temptations usually look good. Eugene Peterson put it like this:
Virtually every temptation that comes to those of us who are committed to Jesus … comes in the form of something right and necessary and obviously good. The devil doesn’t waste his time tempting us to do something that we know is evil. He hides the evil in something good and then tempts us with the good.
These temptations look good, but in the end, when we give in to temptation they hurt us. That is why we pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The second phrase in the prayer we are looking at today, deliver us from evil, suggests that peirasmos is a temptation. It is turning away from God toward something evil. In the Greek, the word evil, “deliver us from evil,” can also be translated the evil one. It could refer to evil things and situation that lead us away from God, or it could be talking about satan, who wants to draw us away from God. It really doesn’t matter. Either way, we need God’s help to keep from falling into temptation. And so we pray, “Don’t let us fall into a test so that we will sin and fail. Don’t allow us to be tempted in ways that overwhelm us and we turn away from God and toward evil.”
In Greek mythology there are creatures called sirens. They are beautiful and look like mermaids. They sing gorgeous songs and lure sailors to come to them. The sailors are captivated by their ravishing beauty and their hypnotic song. They sail their ships toward the sirens. However, their ships end up crashing on reefs near the islands where the sirens live, and the sailors are killed.
Temptations are like a siren. They lure us away from God and destroy us. Unfortunately, life is filled with temptation. Some of them are temptations of the flesh. These are passionate temptations. Sex would certainly be one of these. Sexual temptation is around us all the time, whether it is images on your computer or in magazines or TV. These images tempt us to believe that sex automatically leads to intimacy. We all long for intimacy and connection, and certainly sex is part of that, but intimacy is so much more than sexual.
Another temptation of the flesh is food. The historic term for this is gluttony, which is one of the seven deadly sins. It seems to me that the church has ignored this temptation. For the last ten years or so our culture has started paying attention to problems with food because people are overweight. What hasn’t been addressed enough is that there is a spiritual aspect to gluttony. We try to fill ourselves up rather than admitting that we are empty and need to be filled by God’s love.
There are many other passionate temptations – power, fame, money. However, I have a sense that we struggle just as much with temptations that are quiet. How about busyness? How often are we encouraged to take time, to make time, to slow down – to read a book (without feeling guilty), to spend 45 minutes watching a beautiful sunset and listening to the birds, or even to sit doing absolutely nothing? We fill our calendars believing that the busier we are the more important we are. At least we hope that we feel important and others will think we are important. The truth is, busyness is a sign that we don’t trust God to take care of all the things that need to be done.
What about the temptation to bitterness? It is so easy to hold on to our anger. No one can see our bitterness. We may not even see it ourselves, but the temptation to harbor that rage in our hearts will make our lives, and those around us, miserable.
How about the temptation to avoid the pain of life? Or the temptation to keep our walls up and not share our lives with others? Or the temptation to buy things to fill the empty space inside our hearts? The list of temptations is endless because we live in a world that is filled with temptation.
God doesn’t want us to sin. God doesn’t want us to fail. However, by our own strength we can’t keep from sinning. We need God’s help to overcome the trials and to avoid the temptations of life. We need to be rescued from the evil of our world. Let me offer you four steps that we can take in dealing with temptation.
First, we need to pray – “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We need God’s help to overcome temptation. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are asking for that help. During Lent, as we have looked at the Lord’s Prayer, we have used this modern translation. Last week I mentioned that debts or trespasses don’t make any sense to us so I would prefer that we keep praying “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I have just the opposite reaction toward today’s phrase. The traditional “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a better understanding of what Jesus invites us to pray. We pray because we need God’s help.
The second step in overcoming temptation is not to allow yourself to think about the temptations that you struggle with. You can’t control the thoughts that come into your mind or the images that you see in the world around you, whether it is a beautiful woman or food that makes you want to stuff your face, or something else. However, you can choose not to think about those thoughts. We focus our attention someplace else.
I love coats. I have more than enough coats, but there is something about coats that I always want more. L.L. Bean puts pictures of coats on my Facebook page, tempting me to buy another coat. However, I don’t have to click on that image and go to L.L. Bean’s website and look at all their coats and what wonderful deals they have for buying one. That is the difference between a thought that is tempting and thinking about a temptation which is taking a step toward the temptation and away from God.
Third, surround yourself with friends who will encourage you to avoid the temptations. I read an article last week about CC Sabathia. He is an all-star pitcher for the New York Yankees. He made news last fall when right as the baseball playoffs were beginning he checked into an alcohol rehab center. He admitted that he needed help and got himself sober. The interesting part of the article was how he said that he was going avoid the temptation of alcohol this year. After games he plans to go out to parties with his teammates. People wondered about that, going to places where alcohol might be served. His comment was that the real temptation for him was being by himself. In the past he had problems when he went back to his room and drank alone. He needed to be surrounded by his friends and teammates who could hold him accountable and help him avoid the temptation to drink. We need other people to help us overcome the temptations of our lives.
And finally, the fourth step of overcoming temptation is that we need to confess our sin when we give in to temptation. We never get to the point where temptations stop attacking us. We never get to the point where we stop sinning. As we talked about last week, we always need to ask for forgiveness – “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
May God help us avoid, or overcome, the temptations of our lives. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” And may God forgive us when we do sin. “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”