As I have been working through the passage we are going to study in the services this week I have run across an old problem that I think I might just have resolved in some limited capacity.
Let me tell you about the problem.
In the model prayer given by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13), there is a line toward the end that has been something of a challenge for me for a long time.
Here is the whole prayer as found in the New International Version 2011:
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’
The problem that I have just learned over time to live with is found in verse 13.
It is the idea that I need to ask God to not lead me into temptation.
I have never liked the idea that God would be actively presenting me with opportunities to disobey him and to rebel against him in sin.
I have always struggled to reconcile this request with the teaching of the New Testament letter of James which says the following about God and temptation:
James 1:13-15 (NIV 2011)
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Sin is by definition the product of my own desire and decision.
God is not the author of sin and evil, I am.
I accept this to be true as I have LOTS of evidence to support my status as a fantastic creator of sinful desires.
And as James makes clear, God cannot be tempted by evil nor does God tempt anyone.
So then why does Jesus appear to be asking me to pray that this self-same God would stop leading me into temptation?
Thus my conundrum.
Then, as I was working through the passage I will be preaching through for this week, I had my eureka moment of biblical insight and clarity. You can read the passage below:
1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV 2011)
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Now you can be excused if you did not also have your eureka moment as well. I am afraid I was actually working through the Greek text for this passage when I spotted something special.
The term used in 1 Peter 1:6 to reference the source of the church’s suffering and grief. They were experiencing hardship because they were undergoing a… TRIAL. And as we hear in verse 7, these trials are both painful and useful for the follower of Jesus.
The trial is said to refine our faith, to test the strength and purity of our faith in Jesus Christ. And the end result of this refining process is a faith that results in praise, glory, and honor for God and for his child.
Here God is seen using these painful circumstances to mold and shape the faith of his beloved and adopted children.
He works through our suffering to create true Christlike strength and character in us. While the evil action being done to us is not God’s action, the Lord can and will use this external force to help his church wake up and see that God is with them and using them even in this hard trial.
Now the Greek word being translated in 1 Peter 1:6 as trial is that of periasmois (πειρασμοῖς).
This word is used a bunch in the Greek New Testament. And in all but three uses, the word is most often translated into English as some form of trial or testing. In the rare times that this word is translated to refer to temptation, they seem to be related to this issue of praying to God.
Here are some examples of occasions where the term is read as a trial:
Luke 22:28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials.
James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trialsof many kinds,
1Peter 1:6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
And here are some occasions where the term is presented as temptation:
Luke 11:4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ’ ”
Luke 22:40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
Luke 22:46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
I think that it is odd that so many English translations translate periasmois as temptationrather than the more common use of trialin the Lord’s prayer.
The following translations use temptation in Matthew 6:13:
KJV, NIV, ESV, HCSB, ASV, and NLT.
Alternatively, the following translations use the idea of trialover temptationin the same verse:
NRSV and the Bible in Basic English.
So what is the answer? Is it temptation or trial?
Is Jesus Christ asking his followers to pray to the Heavenly Father asking:
1- Don’t lead me into temptation…
2- Don’t bring us into times of trial or testing…
So here comes my eureka moment.
If as James says, God does not tempt anyone then why ask God to not tempt you?
But if as 1 Peter says, God uses our times of trial and testing for his glory as our faith is refined during these periods of stress, then it seems much more likely that we might need to pray about these times of God sponsored testing.
There are loads of examples in the Bible of people who underwent trials and experienced hardships along their God sponsored paths.
Here is a short list:
Abraham– Sacrifice of Isaac.
Isaac– the struggle to get the right wife.
Jacob– the issue with Esau and the blessing.
Joseph– Wow. Too many to count.
TheHebrews– 400 years in captivity.
Moses– Birth, life, death.
Joshua– Leading the people into the promised land.
TheJudges– All of them.
Ruth– New land, new family.
Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon… Where to start?
TheProphets? – Seriously? Testing and trial everywhere.
Joseph and Mary– Miracle baby and a hostile king.
Jesus of Nazareth– Tested in every way possible.
The Early Church– Persecution and contempt.
Paul– Prison and suffering.
Peter– Prison and suffering.
The future church– Much of the same.
In all of these examples, the Lord used the pain, suffering, hardships, trials, and failures of all of these people to bring about his own purposes.
The Lord used all of them to point the way to the final solution to our sin problem… the gift of grace as seen in the work and person of Jesus Christ.
In all of these occasions, the Lord used the trials and hardships of his people to wake them up to their need for his help, his comfort, his leadership, his gift of mercy and grace.
Trials and testing have a purpose in my life as well.
· I have discovered that when life is smooth…
· When life is easy and all is going my way…
· I can and do become less awake, less aware of my need for God.
And when I take my eyes off the Lord, or I close my eyes and nod off spiritually, it is never too long before I am made wide awake and fully aware of God’s presence and reality in my life through some form of… periasmois… some sort of trial or point of testing.
And so this is the reading of Matthew 6:13 that makes sense to me. This is my ah-ha moment.
· I want to… need to… pray and ask the Lord to help me wake up.
· I need the Lord to help me keep my eyes on the cross and not on the world.
· I need the Lord to help me be alert and awake spiritually…
I do not want to nod off and need the Lord to bring me to the place of trial.
Instead, as I pray Matthew 6:13, I am reminding myself to wake up so that God does not have to wake me up.
I need to pay attention to the Lord before the Lord demands my attention through a time of periasmoisor trial.
So in response to all of this personal insight, I am seeking to pray the following in my life:
I do not want to lose sight of your will for me.
I do not want to be lulled to sleep by the apathy of the world.
I do not want to turn away from you in any way.
I confess my need for your Spirit to keep me awake spiritually.
I recognize my need for your Word to teach me and shape me.
I accept the gift of your church to help me keep focused on you.
In all this I pray that I will not need to face the crucible of the periasmois…
But instead, I submit to your plans and your will as far as I am able.
Thank you Lord!