Monday, 28 January 2008

The Lord's Prayer (5)

THE LORD'S PRAYER (MATTHEW 6:6-15)
A series of talks given on retreat, January 2008
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In many ways this could have been one of the first talks.

One of the things that happens when we shut the door and take time out is that the demons come. We are in a spiritual battle, and the enemy, the evil one, does not like it when we mean business with God.

I remember as a parish assistant in London keeping Wednesday as a day of fasting. I used to expect that I would feel very spiritual. In fact what happened was that I would find myself becoming very very angry. It was almost as if, because I was letting down the physical defences, some of the other stuff that I was very good at pushing down came to the surface.

And when we close the door, and shut off other voices, sometimes those voices that we are very good at suppressing grow louder. You may have seen the programme, Extreme Pilgrim, in which an Anglican vicar goes off to spend 3 weeks in the Egyptian desert alone in a cave. And when you are alone in the desert, in the silence, it is very hard to hide from yourself.

Well we are not in the desert, we are spending under 48 hours away, and there are distractions. But it is as we are on our own that the temptations can come.

And it may be that one of the consequences of this weekend is that you know you have to deal with something.

Which leads me to this, the final clause in the Lord's prayer.

'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'

We need to be careful how we understand this prayer.

James 1:13-15 states, 'Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God', for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire'.

My suspicion is that James is challenging the person who says: "I prayed the Lord's prayer, 'Lead us not into temptation', but I found myself in a place of temptation. Therefore God is to blame because I fell"

It doesn't work like that, says James. We are tempted by our own sinful desires. It is not God who is tempting us.

In fact God has promised (1 Corinthians 10:13) that 'No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.'

So 1 Corinthians 10 needs to be taken together with our prayer, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'. When we pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation ..’, we are saying, ‘God you promised not to allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear. So I am asking you to do what you promise’.

Of course, there is a flip side to this. It is not wrong to be tempted - Jesus was tempted, just as we are, but he did not sin. But if God answers the Lord's prayer as we believe that he does, and if 1 Corinthians 10 is true, and if what James says about temptation is true, then when we do give way to temptation, we have no excuse whatsoever. There was a way out, but we chose not to take it.

Throughout the Lord's Prayer, we have seen this double dimension

It is all about God: God's name, kingdom, will
He is the one we look to who provides our daily bread
He is the one who forgives
He is the one who is ultimately in control

But we need to pray for his kingdom and submit to his will
We need to pray for daily bread, and still work for it
We need to pray for forgiveness, but we also need to live forgiveness
We need to pray we won't be led into temptation beyond that which we can bear - but when temptation comes, we need to resist it.

Our prayer is that we will not be led into temptation, but we still need to watch and pray, to be aware of our weaknesses, to guard ourselves.

Our prayer is for deliverance from the evil one, who would wish to separate us from God, but we still need to work not to give him a foothold in our life.

Of course that means cutting out the stuff that is not helpful.

There is the story of the girl who used to stop by the river on her way back from school to have a swim. Her mother, when she found out, told her that she must not do it. The girl agreed, but mum decided to check her school bag before she left for school. She found in it her swimming costume. The girl explained, 'I just put it in, in case I was tempted'.

“Long ago, Tertullian told the story of a Christian woman who persisted in attending the gladiatorial shows. The word of the Church meant nothing to her. On one of her visits, she became possessed of a devil. When she returned home, the exorcist had to be sent for. With all the elaborate and impressive ritual of his craft, he began to question the devil: ‘How dare you enter the soul of a Chrisitan woman?’ ‘I had every right,’ came the reply, ‘I found her on my ground” (Rita Snowden, The Lord’s Prayer, p58)

We don’t need to go to the circus. We have the circus brought to us – to our living rooms and monitors. I read something recently, commenting on one of the latest murder mysteries, why the murders on TV are becoming more and more graphic.

I had a battle with my wireless enabled PDA. I was unaccountable on it, and it was too easy to go to inappropriate web sites. So I had to take Jesus' talking on 'If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out', by taking out the wireless card and destroying it.

We need to make ourselves accountable to each other. We need to pray and watch.

Notice we are not praying for deliverance from unfortunate events. Because we live in this world unfortunate events will happen. Rather it is praying that when unfortunate events happen, we will still stand.

Psalm 112.7 says of the righteous, “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord”

We are praying for deliverance from temptation
- for strength to resist when our lusts are so strong,
- for perseverance and courage when the bad things do happen,
- for faithfulness so that we continue to trust in God - his goodness (cf Job), his promises, his mercy and his love.
- for vision to live for his kingdom, even when it is unseen

We are praying for deliverance from evil: walking from the light into darkness, from calling good evil and evil good, from turning our back on God’s ways and on God.

It is the prayer to pray when we are going through it;
It is the prayer to pray to keep going;
It is the prayer that God will keep his promises and not take us beyond what we can endure.

Sometimes we look and see people who have to carry awful burdens. We wonder how they can cope. But Jesus never never never allows us to go through more than we can bear.

This prayer is always answered. There is only one time in history when this prayer was not answered. That was when Jesus prayed it on the cross. He was delivered into the hands of 'evil' on the cross (not in being crucified, although physical pain and shame was part of it), but Jesus went into evil in order to overcome evil, he dropped into the pit of hell in order to rescue us from hell.

So we do give thanks to God for his love and faithfulness in giving us this very special prayer.

I do hope that as we have explored these familiar words, they have come to us with a new freshness.

It is God-centred
It invites us into intimacy
It breaks open our self-centredness
It calls us to submit to him
It expresses our dependence on him
It asks us to examine ourselves
It covers our daily needs
It covers us with his protection
It shapes our life

And so, when we pray it, the prayer ends with the doxology (a declaration of praise): expressing our confidence in the one to whom we pray, 'For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory; For ever and ever. Amen'.

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