As we move through the Lord’s Prayer as a model of prayer, the next petition has to do with our protection:
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
One of the problems people have with evil and darkness is that we don’t understand the nature of its power against us. Many underestimate the power of darkness. They think that evil exists only in bad people who do bad things. Others fail to see the power of seduction, manipulation and temptation as influences that are initiated and enhanced by forces outside of the human psyche. Some also limit evil only to those things that are immoral, illegal and produce tangible harm to others. People tend to discount the subtle evil that lurks “within.” They don’t see how things like pride, fear, worry, self-centeredness, entitlement, unbounded competition and other “harmless” vices can destroy lives and keep people in bondage, just as easily as the “greater” sins of stealing, victimization, and murder.
Others overestimate the power of darkness. They see a demon under every bush. They view every calamity, accident, illness and misfortune as a form of spiritual attack. Some see sin as a power they can never overcome in this lifetime and resign themselves to lives of “hanging on until Jesus comes.” Others see evil as being an equal power to good (and God). They think God will win in the end, but only after an epic battle that involves some risk of losing.
Neither of these perspectives is true. And the prayer model of Jesus demonstrates this.
Yes, darkness and evil are real and need to be recognized. The Bible identifies three main influences that want to cause us to sin and fall away from following Christ: the world (influences from our culture, 1 John 2:15-17), the flesh (influences from our fallen nature, Romans 8:5), and the devil (the active realm of darkness, Luke 4:1-13). We are foolish (and play into the hands of evil) if we think that any of these influences don’t exist. As Peter shares in his letter, the purpose of evil is to devour and destroy us (1 Peter 5:8).
However, God is not threatened by any of these forces of darkness – at all! He easily destroyed the power of darkness through the Cross of Christ. In fact, the Apostle John affirms that the presence of Christ in us is far greater than “he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
But we need to pray; not so much to activate God’s power against darkness, but so that we will be aware of His power as we face darkness and evil. We are so easily distracted, seduced, and influenced by the wily, insidious nature of darkness. The prayer puts our hearts on guard and places our confidence right where it needs to be: on our Sovereign, Omnipotent Lord.
The prayer is two-fold. First, it is proactive against “temptation.” God knows that the first line of defense must come at the temptation level. God does not “lead us” into temptation. But he knows how easily “we are led” into it. This first petition gives us the preventative awareness that “sin is crouching at the door” (Gen 4:7) at various opportunities in life. I find that when I pray this petition, I will be more likely to “nip things at the bud,” by turning the other way or diverting my attention away from temptation or offer up a quick prayer for help. The holy path of following Jesus is lined with the remains of a million temptations that have been “nipped at the bud.”
But the prayer also protects us from ourselves. When we give in to temptation, when we become helplessly bound to a destructive path, God also “delivers us from evil.” Salvation is not just for eternal deliverance. Jesus saves – all the time! He answers me when I call for help; whether it is a small yelp to get me out of a dilemma or a blood curdling scream for deliverance. As one who was saved from an addictive behavior, I know the God’s deliverance power.
So let’s not underestimate the presence of darkness and evil – nor its power to lead us down dark paths of destruction. But let’s especially not underestimate the power of God through Jesus Christ. He is always victorious for us over the darkness, when we abide in Him and call on His name.
How has God helped you fend off temptation?
How has God delivered you from evil?