“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”: The Prayer You Didn’t Know God Wanted You to Pray


“And do not bring us into temptation …” (Matthew 6:13)

Most of the Lord’s Prayer makes good sense to me. Sure, sometimes I choke a little bit on “give us this day our daily bread” …

(Isn’t it selfish to pray that God will meet my needs? Shouldn’t I just trust him and not have to ask? Other people have far greater needs than mine—who am I to ask for stuff? I read one time about an order of nuns who weren’t allowed to ask anything for themselves; they just had to intercede for other people. Should we be asking God for material things at all? Shouldn’t we be more spiritual than that?)

… but not often. It’s this penultimate bit—“Lead us not into trouble”—that throws me off.

Several years ago, I was in the Philippines on a ministry compound where I heard a sermon from a visiting American preacher. He said that we should ask God to send trouble our way, because it will build our character, make us stronger in faith, and conform us to the image of Christ.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of suffering, he said, and neither should we be. In fact, we should embrace difficulty and trouble for all the blessings they bring.

Now. Jesus wasn’t afraid of suffering, and neither should we be. And if we embrace hardship like good soldiers of Christ, God will in fact brings lots of good out of it.

But I couldn’t get behind the preacher’s main exhortation because he was telling people to pray the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to pray.

Everything that preacher said about trouble and suffering fit my worldview just fine. I have no natural respect for the idea that you can or should use prayer like a “get out of jail free” card.

But that’s essentially what Jesus said we should pray.

Temptation, Trial, and Trouble

About now you might be protesting that Jesus didn’t say we should pray against troubles; he said we should pray against temptation. And of course the KJV and some other translations use “temptation” here.

The problem is that we think of “temptation” almost exclusively in terms of sin (or cheating on our diet) and not in terms of difficulty and troubles that test us, which is a more biblical understanding of it. James tells us bluntly that God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin, yet Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be “tempted” by the devil. So there’s more happening here than just the idea of being provoked to do something bad.

Actually, there’s a direct biblical connection between the ideas of trouble, trial, and temptation to sin. The story of Job provides a helpful example.

Job lived a full, blessed, and prosperous life, until he was blindsided by a mountain of trouble. Loss, bereavement, and illness all hit him at once.

Job didn’t know it, but the trouble was actually a trial. A spiritual accuser had stood up in heaven and declared that Job’s faith in God was a sham and would crumble the minute it was tested. While Job wallowed in grief and pain, the whole heavenly realm (full of beings both good and evil) was watching.

Trial doesn’t come without temptation. In pretty much every case, the temptation Satan is angling for is that we will give up on God. He wants us to stop trusting, stop worshiping, stop believing, and declare God a liar.

Job didn’t do that. He hurt, and he didn’t understand, and he asked a lot of hard questions and voiced a lot of long complaints. But he kept his faith. He passed the test.

When troubles hit our lives, God promises to work good through them. But we need to be aware that someone else has a purpose in the difficulty: you have a spiritual enemy who wants you to turn against God, and he will do what he can to make that happen.

“We are not ignorant of the enemy’s schemes,” Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 2:11). We can’t afford to be ignorant either.

Led Into Temptation

Being led into trouble, trial, and temptation is no small matter. Not everyone comes out of such tests unscathed. Not only that, but trials take a lot of time, energy, and focus, draining these things away from other, more positive pursuits in our lives.

Jesus knew this better than anyone. He warned his followers that while he had come to give abundant life, there was a thief out to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). Immediately after Jesus’s baptism, he was “led into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1, KJV). Such a trial is no joke.

Jesus was always clear that trouble would come, and some of those troubles aren’t just run-of-the-mill difficulty; they are trials. His own life makes it evident that at times, God will lead us into them.

But Jesus actually teaches us to pray that this will not happen. There is power in prayer; we are allowed to ask for a multitude of things. Protection from trials is one of those things.

The enemy would like to keep us in a constant state of trouble, trial, and temptation. His goal is that we will fall.

God will allow trials at times and empowers us for them. He will work victories through them. If you are going through a trial, you can know one thing clearly: your life matters, or the enemy wouldn’t bother; and when you come out of the trial with your faith intact, it will accomplish something significant for the kingdom of God.

But it’s not the will of God that the trials be never-ending. That’s why we exercise our right to influence the permissions of heaven through our prayers.

Better Things

God wants better things for our lives than constant, unending battle.

It’s important for us to learn healthy, biblical attitudes toward suffering, and those attitudes include a measure of acceptance, surrender, and even rejoicing in grief and pain. But Jesus’s prayer keeps us from tilting into an unhealthy expectation of only-bad-all-the-time, as well as from spiritual masochism.

If God allows us to suffer, he also promises us comfort, restoration, and victory. The entire Bible assures us that God is good and that his will for his people is good. And we don’t have to write a special definition of “good,” in which good becomes evil and vice versa, to believe that.

If you are blessed: Ask that God will not lead you into trouble.

If you are in trouble: Declare your loyalty to God and ask him to give you victory and lead you out.

Expect goodness. Expect deliverance. Expect that trials will be limited both in time and in scope (as Job’s was, and Jesus’s).

And ask God what better things he has for you today. Make the most of those times when you are not undergoing trial, when you’re free, happy, blessed, prosperous, and having fun.

We don’t have to expect the worst. We don’t have to pray that we’ll suffer and have a hard time. We can pray “Lead us not into trouble.”

It is God’s good pleasure to answer that prayer.

(This is Part 66 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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