The testing request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re finishing up the second set of requests of the Lord’s prayer today, which have to do with our needs and concerns.

As we’ve seen we need the food, clothing and shelter necessary to sustain us day by day. We also need regular forgiveness and grace to maintain our relationship with God – and as a part of this we also need to give forgiveness and grace to others.

And then today we have before us what I’m calling the testing request; the final petition of the Lord’s prayer. It comes to us in two forms:

  • “And do not lead us into testing” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” – Matthew 6:13

Now, these are the same, except for the additional phrase that Matthew has, which is really just saying the same thing in the opposite way (antithetical parallelism). As we’ll see, to not lead us into testing is to deliver us from the evil one, who tests us.

Let’s begin with –

Three clarifications about this request

And first, we deal with a matter of translation. You are no doubt used to hearing this request with the word “temptation” in it, that is, “lead us not into temptation.” So, should it be “temptation” or “testing”?

Well, the Greek word here (πειρασμός) can mean temptation. But more broadly it means a test or trial. The reason I prefer the translation “testing” is that it refers to the whole process of faith testing.

You know how it works – we find ourselves in a difficult situation and then we have to make choices about whether we will be faithful to God or not. And this request doesn’t just refer to the moments of temptation, but to the whole situation of difficulty; the trial we’re going through.

A second clarification, God does allow us to be tested. We wouldn’t need to pray this, if God didn’t. So God may or may not lead us into times of trial, and we ask that he not do this. Here are just a few examples of God’s testing:

  • God tested Abraham. Genesis 22:1 says, “after these things God tested Abraham,” referring to when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.
  • God tested Israel in the wilderness – Deuteronomy 8:2, specifically with regard to being hungry and relying on God for daily food.
  • And God tested Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry – Matthew 4:1-11.

As Proverbs 17:3 says more generally, “the Lord tests hearts.”

Why does God test us? God wants to know what’s in our heart; whether we will be faithful or not. This is what Deuteronomy 8:2 tells us.

Also Hebrews 12:10 tells us that God tests us – “for our good.” It’s not that we’ve done something wrong, although God can discipline us in this way. It’s that God wants to train us and help us grow in our faith and in our relationship with him.

And as he tests us, God is on our side. He wants us to succeed. And God is with us and helps us by his Spirit when we go through difficulties.

Third, in Matthew’s extra phrase, “deliver us from the evil one” should it be “evil one” referring to Satan or simply “evil/harm”?

 It’s true that tests always involve some kind of difficulty or suffering – so there’ harm to us. Faith testing does involve going through a hard time. The reason I prefer the translation “evil one” is because it’s broader. It includes both ideas. In a test we suffer hardship and the evil one is the instrument of the hardship.

For although God allows us to be tested, it’s actually Satan who tests us. He is called the “tester” – in Mark 1:13. It’s one of his names. And how was Jesus tested in the wilderness? “Jesus was . . . tested by the devil” – Matthew 4:1.

Satan asks to test us and God either allows it or doesn’t.

  • This comes out clearly in Job 1-2 – Satan asked permission to test Job.
  • And In Luke 22:31 Jesus says that “Satan demanded” to test the apostles when Jesus was arrested.

Why does Satan test us? He wants us to fail. He wants us to sin so that he can condemn and judge us (Hebrew 2:14). Peter tells us that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8

So faith testing is a high stakes situation. God wants us to succeed and grow, but Satan is ever lurking to destroy us.

What this request means

It’s a bit strange, really. Even though we’re promised in Scripture that we will be tested (1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22), and even though God uses testing for our own good, what Jesus is teaching us to pray for here is “spare us  testing!” Spare us trials, spare us suffering, spare us pain. “Father, have mercy!” “Deliver us from the evil one who wants to test us.”

When we understand how this works, we understand that to be delivered from Satan is to be delivered from testing.

So this is what’s going on: Satan comes before God to seek permission to test us. And we pray that God not allow it. “Don’t listen to Satan!” We’re countering his petition to test us.

Why pray this?

1. Because hardships are painful and distressing. And if you’re anything like me you should be highly motivated to pray this request. For, I firmly believe, when we pray this God does hear us and spares us testing that we would have otherwise undergone, if we didn’t pray it. So, unless you just like trials, you should have every incentive to be faithful in praying this request!

2. Because we’re weak and might fail God. This prayer is based in a sober awareness of our weakness and vulnerability to fall. In the context of encouraging his disciples to pray this prayer request just before his arrest, Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38.

Yes, God gives us his Spirit to help us, as Jesus also said to them, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 14:38. But our request comes from humility. So we call out, “Have mercy on us in our weakness.” “God, we might fail the test and bring condemnation on ourselves and dishonor to your name. Spare us!”

Now, God will not always grant this request. He told Jesus no in the garden of Gethsemane and he will tell us no at times also. But even in this situation, we know that we have at least reminded God of our weakness and we can know that God will have mercy on us in the test. He will not allow us to experience the full assault of the evil one that would surely overwhelm and destroy us (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Some final thoughts

1. You can also pray this when you’re in a test, that it might end. So the sense is, “Do not lead us into further testing.” The request is not just preventative. “This test is very hard, God, please let it stop. I’m barely hanging on.” I have prayed this many times. (See Philippians 1:19)

2. The Lord’s prayer is “circular.” We pray to be spared testing – the last request, but also we go back to the first two petitions – Your name be hallowed, Your will be done. The end loops back around to the beginning. “God, if this test honors your name and is your will – may it be so.”

What I’m saying is that sometimes the first two petitions trump the last one, and we’re tested nevertheless.

  • When facing the cross Jesus prayed “remove this cup from me” in Mark 14:36, which is another way of praying “lead me not into testing.” But he also prayed the first petition, “your name be glorified” in John 12:28 looking ahead to the cross.
  • Jesus prayed to be spared in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he also prayed right after this, “yet, not what I want, but what you want” in Mark 14:36, which is another form of the second petition, your will be done.

We ask to be spared, but we submit this request to the first two requests – “your name be honored, your will be done.”

3. This is a corporate request. We pray “don’t lead us into testing,”  not just “me.” As we pray this we’re also praying for fellow believers in our congregation and throughout the world, many of whom are suffering greatly in times of testing – through poor economic conditions and political and religious persecution.

4. We should pray this diligently. We need to understand that we’re in a spiritual battle. Through baptism you declare yourself for the kingdom of God in a war between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of darkness. And so you become a target of Satan’s wrath.

Satan appears before God’s throne to seek to test us; to destroy us. And it’s God’s plan that we come as well and make our counter petition, “spare us.” Satan is not lazy, but persistently seeks our demise. But how often are we more like the disciples in Gethsemane, who don’t know what’s going on, who are not alert in prayer, and we fail.

We need to be diligent in our prayers and in praying this request.

The forgiveness request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re continuing on in our study of the Lord’s prayer, remembering that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray in Luke 11:2 – the Lord’s prayer is what he taught them. And so as we learn to pray the Lord’s prayer we’re learning how to pray.

Last time we started into the second section of requests that have to do with our needs and concerns. And we saw how to pray for daily bread is to pray for what we need of food, clothing and shelter to sustain us day by day.

Today we have before us the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer. And it comes to us in two slightly different forms:

  • “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12

[Notice that Luke has “sins” for “debts” in the first phrase. Also Luke has “for” instead of “as” in the second phrase, although the meaning is basically the same. Finally, whereas Matthew has “we have forgiven” past tense (aorist), Luke has “we ourselves forgive” or “are forgiving” which is present tense. A different emphasis.]

Alright, let’s dig in and see what we can learn from this –

First, this request is all about relationships

It deals with our relationship with God and also our relationships with all other people. And the focus is on maintaining right relationships. So, really, every time we pray this prayer we’re checking in to make sure that we’re right in our hearts and lives with God and others.

  • Each time we can pause and examine our relationship with God. What needs to be taken care of? Is God close? Is there some barrier that I’ve erected?
  • And each time we can pause and examine our relationships with others. Specifically, am I holding a grudge? Is there bitterness? Do I have wrong feelings and attitudes toward someone else?

We need to maintain our relationships with God and others.

I’ve already told you that of all the things Jesus could have chosen as the most important things we can pray for; our most important needs – he chose this as one. So this is a real priority. First keeping up with our relationship with God and then with others. And as we’ll see in a minute the two are interconnected.

This request assumes we will not be perfect

We will fail at times in our commitment to God and in our relationships with each other.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an excuse to sin, you know, “we’re going to fail anyway, so why try?”God has given us everything that we need for a life of godliness – 2 Peter 1:3. There’s no lack from God’s end in terms of his power and grace given to us.

But, the fact that this request is in the prayer shows us that we do still fail, we still struggle, we make mistakes, we choose to do what is wrong, we often take the easy way – that is not God’s will for us. Like daily bread, we need regular grace and forgiveness in our lives. Again, we see that this prayer is supremely practical and connected to our real life experiences.

It teaches us something about the meaning of sin and forgiveness

In both versions, the word “debt” is used to talk about sin. (Luke also uses the word sin and Matthew in 6:14-15 uses the word trespasses to make sure we get that debt here means sin). Jesus is using a financial metaphor for sin and forgiveness. This was not uncommon in that day (also Matthew 18:23-35).

It goes like this – because God created us, we owe God everything. We have obligations to God. Specifically we owe God honor and obedience as his servants. When we don’t give God what we should, we incur a debt to God, which is what sin is.

This same idea is true in our relationships with each other. We owe each other to treat each other well. And when we don’t give this to someone we incur a debt to that person; we have sinned against them.

Forgiveness, then, is the release of this debt by God or another person. And indeed the word “forgiveness” in Scripture means “to release” someone from an obligation – whether legal, financial or moral. Have you ever had a financial debt you couldn’t pay? One with disastrous consequences? Can you imagine having it forgiven? Well that’s what sin and forgiveness is like. That’s the picture this request uses.

Next, even though it may appear that all we’re doing here is asking for forgiveness from God, biblically . . .

Asking for forgiveness assumes confession and repentance

In other words, asking for forgiveness is part of a series of actions that lead to finding true forgiveness from God – all of which are necessary to be forgiven.

The assumption here is that if you’re asking to be forgiven you are acknowledging that what you did was truly wrong, which is confession. And you are committing to not do it again, which is repentance.

But yet we do sometimes simply want the benefits of forgiveness – peace and relationship, without the hard work of confession and repentance. But this doesn’t work!

  • 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the connection between forgiveness and confession.
  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people who are called by my name (talking about the the people of God here or the church today) humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Notice the connection here between forgiveness and repentance – turning from our wicked ways as God’s people.

To ask for forgiveness without confession and repentance is presumption upon God’s grace, and we should not expect such a request to be received by God.

We’re not just asking for ourselves, but for all the people of God

This is a corporate prayer, “forgive us,” not just “forgive me.” This may seem a bit strange to us, but it was common in biblical times to think and act this way. They had a stronger sense of community and communal identity.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Daniel says in Daniel 9:20 – “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel . . .” He confesses his and his people’s sins.
  • Nehemiah prays in Nehemiah 9:33 – “we have acted wickedly” – talking in context about things that other Israelites have done, not what he has personally done.

So when we pray this request, we pray for forgiveness for ourselves, but also for God to forgive all of his people who turn to him in repentance. We’re asking, “God have mercy on your people. Forgive, heal and restore.”

Here I would just mention, that yes, Jesus could pray this prayer request. Some say that we shouldn’t call the Lord’s prayer the Lord’s prayer because Jesus couldn’t pray this petition since he was sinless. But he could pray this petition for us.

Finally, if we don’t forgive others, God will not continue to forgive us

Jesus makes crystal clear that our relationship with God is interconnected with our relationship with others. That’s why this request for forgiveness from God has the additional phrases:

  • as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12
  •  “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4

 The “as” and the “for” point this out. God will forgive us, but we must also forgive others who sin against us. There’s a connection. And every time we pray this we’re reminded of it.

In Matthew, this point is emphasized with an additional comment at the end. Jesus says this in 6:14-15 – “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Let’s note here that we’re not earning our forgiveness by forgiving others. Jesus doesn’t mean that if we forgive someone first, then God has to forgive us. We do something and then God is obliged to respond.

No. To pray this prayer is to have already first received God’s grace. That’s why we can say, “father.” We’re God’s child by grace. God’s grace always comes first. We don’t earn it. (Also in Matthew 18:23-35.)

But this petition does teach us that those who receive mercy from God, have to pass it on to others. And if we cut off mercy to others, it will be cut off from us by God.

This is a common theme in the teaching of Jesus:

  • Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” To judge or condemn is to withhold forgiveness from others. If we do this we will be judged and condemned by God (see also Matthew 18:35). But if we forgive others, God will forgive us.