The disciples sought instruction about how to pray. Jesus told them to take Satan seriously, to take also their own weaknesses seriously, and so beseech the Lord to lead them not into temptation.
Will such a prayer be answered? The world in which the Lord God gives us a place is filled with devils, yes, all around us are temptations of so many colours and sizes and shapes. Weíre told that riches makes one happy, and so does a pretty woman Ė and weíre inclined to agree. Weíre told to take control of our own destinies, and the thought is so attractive to us. Weíre told that the cause of problems in our lives is not ourselves; itís instead the circumstances, itís our genetic makeup, its our background, itís the government, anything to pass the blame to another and free the self of responsibility Ė and weíre much attracted to the idea. Itís so tempting, so very tempting to follow the current, to accept the thought that Iím not the problem of my life. In the midst of so many temptations, does the Lord hear our prayer to lead us not into temptation, to deliver us instead from the evil one?
Jesusí promise to His disciples when He taught them to pray was this: "Ask, and it will be given to you" (Luke 11:9). That is: ask according to the instruction of the Lordís Prayer, and you will receive all you need. That is a promise of God to which we may appeal in our circumstances: ask that our Father in Jesus Christ deliver us from the evil one, ask it in the awareness of our own weaknesses and our own inner inclination to sin, ask it in the awareness that sin blocks Godís gift of daily bread (so that in turn you cannot do Godís will, make His kingdom come, and so give to God the glory that His due), and God will surely answer our petition! Jesus meant exactly what He said: "Ask, and it will be given to you."
We need to recall also that behind the promise of this petition is the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan on the cross. It is true that Scripture speaks of a woe upon the earth because of Satanís wrath. And itís equally true that the Scripture speaks of the "wiles of the devil", of his deceit and cunning and trickery. But the Scriptures speak also of Jesusí victory over Satan. On the cross of Calvary the Son of God not only paid for sin and satisfied the wrath of God; on the cross of Calvary the Son of God also battled the devil, and overcame him. The result is that satan is "bound" (Rev 20:2). He is not free, is not at liberty to do whatever he pleases. Rather, Christ has been given a throne over the universe so that He "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph 3:20). Altogether, this simply means that we can ask the Lord God to lead us not into temptation, can ask the Lord to deliver us from the evil one. And He both hears and answers.
How, concretely, shall we then pray? All life, and so all prayer, is to be God-centred. As we live this life, we speak with our Father in heaven, speak in terms of praising Him. We ask for strength to obey His commands to us, ask for daily bread to carry out those commands, ask for forgiveness of the debts we incur as a result of misusing Godís gifts. And because of Satanís fury and our own weaknesses, we add in our specific circumstances the sixth petition: lead me not into temptation. How do we ask it? Consider this prayer:
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, "Who is the Lord?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God" (Prov 30:8f).
This is what the disciples of old were to pray, and this is what we are to pray. ĎLord, please donít give me too much of wealth, lest I get proud and self-sufficient; and please donít give me too little either, lest I despair and trust you no longer. For, O God, I canít withstand on my own strength the enticement Satan lays before me in moneyí Or: ĎFather, please keep me away from drinking parties, lest I loose control over my mind and say things that profane Your name. For, O Lord, I havenít the where-with-all to resist the temptation of so much drink when the boys are aroundí Or: ĎFather, donít let me see things at the beach this summer that lead my mind to sin, for I donít have the where-with-all to resist temptations of the flesh.í
God gives many good things for us to enjoy. We need to recognize that our hearts and minds are sinful, that we are vulnerable to Satanís wiles. So we need to pray, without ceasing, that the Lord please spare us from Satanís attacks. Equally, when we come into temptation, we need to ask the Lord please to deliver us from the evil one.
As we pray, we may believe that the God who is our Father for Jesusí
sake has over come the evil one. We do not pray in vain!