When offering the prototypical prayer that represented our relationship with God, Jesus included an interesting clause:
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13a).
Temptation is what draws people toward sin, toward selfishness. So why would the Lord’s prayer link the Father with temptation? We need to first think about the original motivation to come to God, which in some ways can be selfish.
Many religions find followers through the powerful combination of appeal and fear: an escape from whatever punishment our sin deserves and a source of reward for pleasing a powerful deity or earning karma.
These are effective forms of extrinsic motivation and, unfortunately, are quite visible in the Christian church. On one end, there are “fire and brimstone” preachers who scare people into the church without an accurate presentation of grace. On the other end, we see impressive crowds gathering to listen to the “prosperity gospel,” promising rewards for pleasing God (because “God will bless you with a new car when you contribute to this ministry”). The second one effectively thrives on earthly desires, and uses temptation to attract people.
The Gospel Is Not about Rewards
Jesus’ teaching holds a stark contrast to either of these extremes, which were also evident in His time in the teachings of the Pharisees.
When I read these words, it struck me as a strange thing for Jesus to ask God, who certainly doesn’t seem to endorse any sin. Would God really think to taunt us with temptations that could lead us to our downfall?
Fortunately, that’s not what Jesus is expressing. Saying these words is a way for us to put aside our tendency to try to get what we selfishly want out of God. What would happen if God answered all our self-centered prayers, the prayers offered only for own benefits? The new car shows up; the generous raise comes in; the opportunity to become famous miraculously arrives. Our “faith” becomes superficial, our sense of entitlement inflates, and our overall selfishness in reinforced.
Jesus kindly unpacks that line later in the chapter:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (vs. 19-21).
It seems temptation is based on our own desires for pleasure or success—our earthly treasures. Many people ask for success or prosperity as an earthly reward for their actions or proof of God’s love. But fulfilling those requests would indeed be temptation for more. From the Pharisees to today’s “prosperity gospel” preachers, the earthly desires are what leads them astray.
Despite my own selfishness and desire for some form of recognition or the comforts so often taken for granted, I do want my ultimate “investment” to be eternally minded. Praying this prayer renounces such desires, instead asking for protection from Satan’s lies.
Turning from Temptation
It’s still okay to present our needs to God in faith (“Give us this day our daily bread”). But this sentence is the place to take it a step further, to reject our selfish desires, whether a wish for wealth, or wanting better appearance, popularity, accomplishments, or relief through unhealthy habits (food, alcohol, overwork, etc.).
Look at how you invest time and resources. That can often give insight into our priorities. Where is your heart? Are your actions investing in eternal rewards? Jesus gave us pretty clear guidelines of how to focus our mindset and actions: Love God and love others.
It’s not easy to break long-term habits or lifestyles alone! Fortunately, we don’t have to depend only on our own strength to resist temptations. We have the help of God’s grace and strength—that’s what delivering us from evil.
What temptation do you want to replace with eternal investment today? How can you show love to God and others?