James’s Blog: And Lead us not into Temptation, but Deliver us from Evil.

Last week our church had a Week of Prayer and asked a few people to write a short, daily reflection on one line of The Lord’s Prayer.  I’m re-posting mine here.

For those of you who woke up this morning and said, “You know what I want – a random e-mail discussing the merits of various Biblical translations” can breathe a sigh of relief. Your prayers have been answered.

Today’s verse is often translated as above (“And lead us not into temptation…”) which is accurate enough, but can be misleading. As written it sounds like God is the one who leads us into situations where we’re tempted to sin. If you flip forward a chunk of pages in your Bible you’ll come to the letter written by James, and before you’ve finished his first chapter you’ll have been told that no-one should say “God is tempting me” because that’s not how God operates.

Better, or at least more helpful, translations don’t mention ‘temptation’ but use terms like ‘hard testing’ or ‘time of trial’, which get across that idea that we’re not praying for God to stop tempting us, but rather we’re asking God to keep us from those difficult and awkward times where we are more likely to fall into sin. I quite like The Message translation here, “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil,” which captures nicely the idea that in times of hard trial, our enemy is not God but our own weakness.

But we have another enemy of course, whom we’re to pray about. Believing in a personal, literal Devil can seem superstitious these days, but you can’t read the New Testament without coming away with the clear message that there is a personal force trying to work against what God is doing in the world. There are those who are too busy to pray, and there are those who are too embarrassed to pray as though the Devil is real. Jesus was neither of those.

I think that in one line of prayer, Jesus is cleverly reminding us not just to bring our struggles before God, but also that we are fighting a spiritual battle against two foes – our own fallen nature, and the evil around us that is constantly trying to undo the victory that God has already won. But perhaps the reason why this is the last thing that Jesus tells us to bring before God is because it shouldn’t be our primary focus. A healthy spirituality acknowledges the reality of both the internal and the external struggle, but is obsessed with neither.

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