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.