“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”
As a teenager, sin and temptation were the two headed monster that consumed my thoughts and taunted me around every corner. When you grow up in an era in which the preaching made your salvation razor thin, convinced you hell was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to swallow you up and digest you into its bowels and made clear the foregone conclusion that your penchant for swear words made you prime candidate to endure the entirety of the tribulation…well, in those conditions you become obsessed with sin and temptation. Unfortunately, that obsession carried over into adulthood and was like leaven in my own preaching. I implored students to cut off anything that tempted them to sin. I preached of the dangers of sin and was quite capable of making hell very hot.
Along the way I discovered something…an obsession with avoiding temptation and trying really hard to not sin tends to have the opposite outcome. Putting such mental and emotional focus on avoiding a negative only reinforced in my thinking how big this monster actually was. There is a more legitimate focus, a more appropriate expenditure of my emotional energy. After all, living in a fallen world essentially makes the avoidance of temptation an impossibility.
I remember being at a conference in recent years where a very well known minister was making some statements about integrity, and he made a big deal about the fact he removed all internet search engines from his cell phone to avoid the temptation of looking at something inappropriate. I commend the man for knowing his weaknesses and I don’t mean this necessarily as a slam against him but that idea troubled me. The question rumbled in my soul…is the cross of Christ and His resurrection insufficient to the degree that I can’t have the internet on my phone? Is my salvation that tenuous and impotent that I cannot overcome this world as Jesus overcame the world? Is my purity and holiness always going to be contingent on my ability to identify everything that could cause me to sin, and then remove it completely?
The answer is no…unless I actually want to live a highly frustrating, seemingly impossible to accomplish brand of “faith”. Instead, my perspective and correlating prayer concerning temptation comes from James 1:14-15.
“…But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
In an effort to avoid sounding graphic, I will keep this simple. Temptation is the seed. Evil desire in our soul is the egg. When the two combine, sin is conceived and born. One can spend their entire life trying to avoid temptation but it is an exercise in futility. Temptation is inevitable. The bigger, more appropriate area of focus is to work toward a life where our soul is not a safe harbor for an egg of lust. As I pray “lead me not into temptation / deliver me from evil” what I am really asking is that my soul/spirit would be an inhospitable environment for a seed of temptation because there is a diminishing of evil craving. If temptation finds no illegitimate cravings, sin cannot be conceived. How is this accomplished? It is way more simple than some would lead us to believe. We meditate on the love of God. In the revelation of the height, width, length and depth of God’s love we become rooted in God, lacking nothing, coming into maturity and needing no external fulfillment.
There is much more to say, but succinctly stated, we must getting out of the cycle of trying really hard to not sin. It doesn’t work. But as we allow ourselves to be loved by God, illegitimate cravings in our soul diminish and temptation loses its diabolical effectiveness. Hey, in case you haven’t figured it out yet…Jesus is enough.