“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13
Mountains attract me. They are majestic, glorious, mysterious, yet beckoning; like other parts of God’s creation, they speak of His nature, majesty and power. The Psalmist said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2) But for anyone who has hiked in the mountains or climbed peaks, mountains can fool you. Zebulon Pike was fooled by the peak that bears his name. Looking from a distance he thought he could reach the base, scale the summit, and return in a few days. He not only returned many days later, but failed to reach the top of Pikes Peak, struggling for several days in waist deep snow without food.
Nearly two centuries later in the Sangre de Cristo Range in Colorado, I led some high school young people up 14,000 foot Horn Peak during a Youth Leadership Conference I was directing. One of the young male counselors of whom I thought highly was leading a group behind us. Though they started later, he thought they might be able to catch up with us and made the unfortunate decision to try a “short cut.” If you do not know where you are going in the mountains, short cuts are disastrous. Four thickly forested ridges and rugged gulches many hours later, the exhausted young people and leader were totally discouraged, and sadly no closer to the peak toward which he was convinced he was making a “beeline.” Only they weren’t bees. In the meantime we had crested the summit, returned to camp, and I was worried about our missing hikers. As I was about to send out search parties, the bedraggled crew struggled in, putting my fears for their safety to rest. I knew where I was going; having climbed this peak numerous times since I was a boy. He did not.
What are we praying when we ask God to not lead us into temptation? The Bible tells us clearly that God does not tempt us to sin: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”(James 1:13-14) Pretty serious words with bad implications! So what are we asking from God when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?” Precisely, that God keep us from being led, enticed, cajoled, seduced into any situation or circumstance where we are certain to be overcome by temptation; a situation from which we cannot escape due to our weakness. Our real problem is the same as that of the two men above: we seriously overestimate our ability, in this case, to resist evil or the evil one; and, we underestimate the great difficulty of situations we assume we can overcome. So we not only are neither quick nor faithful to pray this prayer, we are not genuinely convinced of the need for it!
Maybe C.S. Lewis can help us grasp it: “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . . A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means–the only complete realist!” (Mere Christianity) This Realist is the One who instructs you and me to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” He knows far better than us how powerful and evil temptation and sin are. We would do well to pay heed to His words.
“Today, Lord, keep me from those temptations and sins which separate me from You. Do not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear.”
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional