Have you ever faced it?
Temptation is a universal human experience. It is almost as human as breathing or eating. We have all faced it. We have all yielded to it somewhere along the way.
Having said that, the words “Lead us not into temptation” ought to strike us as somewhat odd. Theologically they are strange. Yet even more than that, it just sounds inhuman. How is it possible to go through life without facing temptation? What exactly is Jesus modelling for us in this prayer?
In all the time I have recited the Lord’s Prayer, I have never quite gotten used to the words, “Lead us not into temptation.” I have to admit there are times when I pause and ponder while everyone around me continues reciting the words. Over the years as I have studied, looked at various translations, and read numerous commentaries; and I have never quite come away with an answer that fully satisfies my curiosity.
Here are some of my questions. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I grouped them together by theme:
- Does the petition mean that sometimes God can lead us into temptation?
- Wouldn’t that contradict other passages like James 1, where it says God does not tempt us?
- Is temptation the right word English word? Are “trial” or “testing” better words?
- Yet does that not also contradict huge swaths of the biblical story?
- Would that not fly in the face of James 1 again, where we are encouraged to endure trials?
- Is temptation the real issue, or our yielding to it?
- Why do my commentaries say the idea of yielding is a bad translation of the original words?
To be candid, I still do not have a great explanation, but I am not sure I need one. I suspect Jesus is pushing us to imagine something deeper.
What if Jesus’ point is simply this: we are human! We are frail. To err is human. We will face temptation. We will fall. On our own.
Is Jesus opening our eyes to where our desire for control, our penchant for doing life on our own, and our reluctance to yield our lives to Him actually leads? Is He helping us face the fact that without Him in control we are doomed to fall, and fall, and fall, and fall, and fall again? I suspect so.
Jesus is graciously guiding us to an incredible source of strength and help. He is inviting us to live life with Him, in His strength, in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is inviting us into everyday dependence on the guidance of the Spirit living within us. He is not asking us to throw up temptation SOS prayers when we are desperately at the end of our own ropes. If we wait until we are at the end of our own rope, we will likely hang ourselves.
Let me conclude with the words of Paul that seem to summarize our thoughts here:
“After starting your lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” (Galatians 3:3, 5:16)
Let us pray that the Spirit guides our lives this month.