I find this to be the toughest phrase in The Lord’s Prayer. It seems completely antithetical to God’s nature that He ever would lead us into temptation. Repeatedly, the Bible says what’s best for us is His top priority. Psalm 84.11, for example, says, “The LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” If that’s true—and it is—why would we even think to pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”
If we look at Scripture’s explanation of how temptation works, though, we get a clearer understanding of what we’re actually asking for. In warning against the love of wealth, Paul provides a vivid picture of temptation’s modus operandi. He writes: “Godliness with contentment is great gain… People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6.6, 9) When discontentment seizes control of our hearts and minds, temptation snares us. It plunges us into ruinous, destructive behaviors. Therefore, when we pray, “lead us not into temptation,” we’re actually asking to be steered away from discontentment.
Changing the Rules
Modern thinking places very little value on contentment—mostly because marketing, advertising, and self-help/success gurus have rerouted the concept’s meaning to coincide with complacency. At the heart of this, we find men and women whose personal discontentment tempts to them to stir up and promote our discontentment. The more they can convince us we’re unhappy, the happier they’ll be. Their success depends on a fact we may recognize but somehow fail to resist: they keep changing the rules. What’s “in” and “hot” only lasts as long as it takes to convince us to buy into it. Then, once we’re fully on-board with that, it becomes passé. But where exactly is all this leading? For some reason, it never gets us where it’s supposed to go: contentment and happiness. It invariably leads us into temptation.
Awake and Alert
In Gethsemane, Jesus’s life and ministry teetered on imminent disaster. He agonized over whether or not this was God’s will for Him. Not far from Him, His followers—who also would be forever changed by events of the next 72 hours—should also have been asking God’s will in their lives. But they were complacent; they snoozed. “Why are you sleeping?” Jesus asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22.46) When we ask our Father not to lead us into temptation, we’re really praying He’ll help us stay awake and alert to snares set for us. As followers of Christ, we can’t complacently sleepwalk through life, getting trapped by manufactured mindsets and media-driven desires. We seek godly contentment—there’s great gain there. The rest of this stuff is just pipe dreams others try to project into our lives. Born of someone else’s desire for happiness, they breed unnecessary discontentment and temptation in us.
Asking our Father to guide us away from temptation is asking Him to keep us awake and alert to snares that we may fall into.
(Tomorrow: Deliver Us)