Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 6

Jesus tells us that there are forces within us and beyond us that desire our harm/ We can ask the Father for protection. 

Keeping the Heart

Jesus concludes His model prayer with these words:

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13, The Net Bible)

What does Jesus mean by our asking, "do not lead us into temptation?" Is it that we need to fear that the Father will lead us into temptation unless we pray? Will He set us up to see if we will fall? The letter of James tells us, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires." (James 1:13-14) I think most would agree that we must understand Jesus' words in light of our own propensity to sin.

The Father does not directly tempt us to evil, but He does bring us to moments of testing. And with testing, comes the temptation to quit and not press on. The famous example of Peter's denial illustrates such a failure. The night before, Peter had confidently asserted that he would stick by Jesus no matter what. Only a few hours later, Peter denied in strong language that he even knew Jesus. When we pray to not be led into temptation, we are asking the Father's help in avoiding such situations. We ask for doors to be closed that have difficult situations on the other side. We ask for our hearts to be strengthened and focused on good things.

Although we are morally culpable for our actions, it can also be said that even the first sin in our race was not committed in a vacuum. The serpent in Eden, later identified as Satan or the devil, tempted Eve and prevailed. The Lord had commanded that the man and woman not eat from a single tree in the center of Eden. Satan attacked at that point and helped bring forth the sin. And so we need to ask for protection from his schemes. 

Satan seeks our failure and prays for it. In Job, we have the record of such a prayer:

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Have you not made a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his cattle have increased in the land. But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will indeed curse you to your face!” (Job 1:9-11)

It is interesting that before this, we have a record of Job making offerings on behalf of his children-just in case they sinned. We are not told that Job ever made an offering for himself. Like Peter, he was self assured. Like Peter, Satan asked to sift Job like wheat. It is just such situations that we pray against in our prayers. We acknowledge our weakness and ask for strengthening. We ask to receive our lessons in another way-according to the way of wisdom and instruction.

There are other sources of temptation that we must guard against. The world values make constant appeal. Our inner natures are weak and would like to go along.  Through prayer, we can become a different kind of person.

Ultimately, it gets down to character that flows from within. "When is a thief not a thief?" When I ask this question, I usually hear, "When he is not stealing." That is not correct. A thief who is not stealing is a thief who is out of work. A thief is not a thief when he labors with his own hands in order to have something to give to someone in need. (Ephesians 4:28) Such is the goal of this prayer. To change us from thieves to givers, from adulterers to loving husbands and wives, from proud to humble, from hating to loving, from bitter to forgiving, and so on. For each negative, we need to find and nurture its opposite. Prayer can helps us do that.

This ends Jesus' prayer model according to the most reliable manuscripts. Some manuscripts tack on something like, "For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory." I have chosen to go with the more attested reading. In the first place, we can give honor to the Father at the beginning of the prayer. In the second place, if Jesus did not include the ending, there is questionable value in using it. It is a grand ending, but Jesus ended His model with a reminder of our humility. The prayer moves from the greatness and glory of God to our total dependence on Him. I think it is better left that way.

Wednesday: An important condition

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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