There is so much that can be said (and a whole bunch that, over the centuries, should not have been said) about this clause. It comes just after a request for provisions and forgiveness, and now we are to ask for our third basic need: protection.
Our Father in heaven,
let Your name remain holy.
Bring about Your kingdom.
Manifest Your will here on earth,
as it is manifest in heaven.
Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—
And forgive us our debts
as we forgive those who owe us something.
Lead us not into temptation (Matthew 6:9-13)
Actually, the sentence is broken into two pieces: “Lead us not into temptation,” and next we will discuss, “but deliver us from evil.” I will get to that soon. But both of them express a single thought: “Life is screwed up. It is a spiritual minefield in the middle of dangers we don’t dare trust ourselves; Father, keep us safe.” This is the same view of life we find in the Psalms: the realism, self-distrust, and humble dependence on God that breathes through this request is something all of us need to learn!
But, as I mentioned yesterday, why Jesus put into his model prayer a request for His Father to never lead us into temptation has confused believers since he said it. I mean, the mere thought that God would lead us to be tempted is totally against His character and nature! However, once we understand that the word “temptation” actually means to “test,” it becomes much clearer. A “test” or “trial” is a situation which reveals how far you are able to go right and avoid going wrong. You see this in a driver’s test. It is a “temptation” in this sense because the driver’s test is designed to allow you to demonstrate that you can do everything correctly. In fact, any educational program, of necessity, must have periodic tests to gauge your progress, and the experience of taking and passing those tests can be very encouraging. The same applies in God’s program for the spiritual education and growth of a believer.
God does and must test us regularly in order to prove what is in our hearts and to show how far we have gone in our walk of faith. His purpose in this is wholly constructive. It strengthens us and helps us to move forward. Oh, I see you have problems with this: “Oh, my God would never to such a thing!” Oh really? This is the reason Abraham was “tested” and told to sacrifice his first son, the very thing the God had given him! But after this test, he was promised great blessings “because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:1, 18).
Take for instance the forty years the Hebrews were lead through the wilderness. Yes, I realize that it has been argued that the wilderness experience was not at all necessary, that they had to spend that time wandering around in the desert because of their own sin, that it was never God’s desire or plan.
Well this is partly true, but the full explanation is a little different:
“when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine Country, although that was shorter. For God said, ‘if they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exodus 13: 17-18).
So, even before the people of Israel sinned and had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness, God already knew something about them. He knew that they were not ready to go right into the Promised Land. It has been explained that it took one day for God to take Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to take Egypt out of Israel. There is a lot of Truth in that comment.
Moses told them to remember how the Lord led them in the desert for 40 years, “to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deuteronomy 8:2-5, 16).
Clearly, God’s purpose for the wilderness journey was for training, for discipline, for instruction. God was acting as a father to provide for His people. Part of His provision was to bring His children through the wilderness. And He has a purpose for the “wilderness” we experience and He is bringing each of us into the land of promise. However, when we get there, we must be mature enough to accept the responsibilities and privileges of that inheritance. He has to lead us through a process of growth, of training, of instruction so that we will not only be brought out of Egypt but that Egypt would be brought out of us.
Granted, the actual number of years wandering around was indeed punishment for sin. The Israelites could have gone into the Promised Land much sooner if they had only submitted to His training. But there was still something in the plan of God that involved a journey through the wilderness.
If we were honest, we would admit that there are times in each of our lives when life does not make sense anymore. Times when all of Hell seems to be on our backs. We are filled with guilt, doubt, low self-esteem, and defeat. These thoughts occupy every waking moment. During these times, we can give up or remember who Jesus is. Hardships will either cripple us or cause our roots to grow deeper and stronger.
Thomas Paine said it so well:
“I love the man who can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
Believers often mistakenly expect their “trial” to only be physical suffering. That is not true! Your trial could be internal, focused on your attitudes or emotions. It might be a purging of your will or desires. The Lord will test and try you on your greatest need. Something a friend reminded me of is how the Lord will always test you concerning your obedience to His Word. Satan, however, always tempts (entices) you to disobey God’s Word.
The truth is that there comes a time in the life of every fervent believer when the very foundations in our lives are shaken; times for us to either hang on to heaven or fall into destruction; times for us to anchor our faith in the Rock of God’s Word or to lose all hope. It may come from pressures from without, or tremendous struggles within. These may be troubles and difficulties we did not anticipate, possibly a time of disillusionment when it seems we have given more to God than we are receiving. And I can assure you from personal experience, these times of “testing” are not one-time occurances, but could be a series of trials testing each area of weakness in your life.
Tell me, have you ever thought, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!”? “That’s not the way my TV preacher told me it would be. If I ever saw him in person I’d cram these tapes down his throat.” I am talking about honest, gut-level pain. Please realize, though, there are times when the Lord’s answer will simply direct you to be patient. His plan is in place, just trust Him.
Yes, there may be times when it feels as though He is silent, but do not confuse that with indifference or you will really be miserable and miss His best for your life. If you give up when you do not understand, you will reject His caring, steadfast love and cut yourself off from your only real hope of deliverance. That is of course exactly what Satan is hoping you do — give up, pack it in and quit.
The Lord said that He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap, and He will purify His priests and refine them. What form this refining and purifying takes is totally in His hands. I do not know what He is doing with you or in your life, but I do know His desire is for you to become identified with His suffering and to be conformed to His image. Whatever it is that is standing in the way will be burned away!
I also realize that if you have never tasted of this type of work being done in your life, you may as well put this message down and walk away now, because it will not mean a thing to you. It may even make you a little mad. Just put it away until the Lord speaks to you to pick it up again. However, you need to be aware that if you are lead to consider this idea of “perfecting trials” it means one of two things: either He is preparing you for some trials that lay ahead of you, or you are currently in the midst of fiery trials and are not learning the lesson very well. But I can assure you that if you insist on intently pursuing the Lord, please understand that the times of testing will come. Don’t shrink back from them. Don’t be afraid of them. The result will be a purity of heart and inner strength to endure all things. In fact, as James taught us, you should consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. When you stand the test, you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.
Paul admonishes us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We are to “endure the hardships as discipline because it is for our good that we may share in His Holiness.” He admitted, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” “Later, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those that have been trained by it.” However, if you refuse that training “it will cause resentment and misery.”
I have taught all of this many times to you, and you may be tired of my repeating myself, but you must understand what is happening in your life and you must be prepared! Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, “sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better and gains gladness,” that “sadness has a refining influence on us” (Living Bible). “For God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life. We should never regret His sending it” (II Corinthians 7:10).
Yes, I agree that it is unfortunate that this “refining influence” cannot be found in our times of peace and prosperity. However, the realities of God’s Kingdom will only be unveiled to us when the love of everything this world has to offer has been stripped from our grasp.
Purifying fire and times of crisis will cause us to get things out of our lives that we didn’t even realize were in there. Let me illustrate this if I can: Let’s pretend you just created a vase out of clay, then placed it into a kiln to harden. The extreme pressure caused by the heat hardens and purifies the clay. If there are any foreign substances in the clay, like a piece of straw or dirt, it would cause the clay to expand and explode, marring the vase. This is how it is in our lives. If there are any impurities in our lives, the stress of adversity will force them to the surface and if not dealt with then, would, I believe, destroy us or at least our testimony and cause anger to rise against our Father.
Sorrow will teach us lessons that laughter never could. It has been said that there can be no Pentecost without first experiencing a Calvary. There can be no Canaan without first going through the Wilderness. One way or another all of us must go through a wilderness of our own and the length of time it will take depends on our response to His leading and instruction. The most important thing to remember is that His purpose is to do us good in the end.
So often what we may desire is not what the Lord wants to give us, not because He is a mean stepfather who wants to take away all the dreams and desires of his children. No, He actually has something that is better for us. But, we cannot see that any more than a screaming child who has been denied something he desires, can see the long-term benefits of the present denial.
The time of training is exactly what the Lord is up to in our wilderness. Maybe it is a wilderness of loneliness or singleness. Maybe it is a debilitating case of depression. Possibly, a wilderness of working in a job you do not like or a wilderness of missionary work that is just plain hard work instead of the glamor you expected. Whatever it is, is it for nothing? NO! It is to humble you, to test you, and to discover whether your heart is set on obedience and if you will be able to find contentment even in turmoil.
Stand strong in your time of “testing.” Call out to your Father and don’t rest until He answers you! Pursue His wisdom and guidance and support as you would a buried treasure — make whatever sacrifices that are needed. Throw aside every hindrance to discover the light of Righteousness and Liberty!
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and a if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you—a to the list: Mail List)
I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.