His Prayer, Our Prayer: Talk Back To The Devil
My grandmother died the other day.
She spent 96 incredible years on this earth, and heaven is an even more glorious place now that she is there. I would not for one moment wish her back from the glory, but I do miss her for all the wonderful things she taught me.
For example, she made me a believer in the startling spiritual power of The Lord’s Prayer. We tend to rattle the words off by rote, not half paying attention to what we are actually saying, and not remotely aware of the power those words could trigger. But my grandmother genuinely prayed the prayer and she experienced the power. No one in my family will ever forget, nor should we, the time when my grandmother, at age 88, did battle with an intruder intending to do her harm. This man broke into her apartment, grabbed her, wrestled her down, seized a knife and prepared to stab her. Whereupon she immediately began to pray aloud the words of The Lord’s Prayer, building the volume of her voice with each phrase, so that she thundered out the words: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The assailant was frozen into inaction by the power of that prayer. My grandmother seized the moment of opportunity, bit him so ferociously on the arm that he dropped the knife and eased his grip on her. She bolted away from him, dived through the screen in her open window, tumbled five feet to the ground, scrambled up and ran to call the police. Afterwards she calmly attributed her escape to the miraculous power of her spoken Lord’s Prayer.
And there is power in this prayer, particularly in this sixth phrase of the prayer, as we shall see in a moment, after we pray…
Jesus says: “Pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'” In that single sentence, He teaches us about the nature of evil and temptation and He guides us in our response to evil and temptation. Look at it with me.
In the phrase, Jesus speaks to us here about the nature of evil and temptation.
The latter part of this phrase in The Lord’s Prayer can also be translated “Deliver us from the Evil One.” Of course, that’s Satan. The idea of Satan had an interesting development in Scripture. Originally the word referred only to an enemy. David, for example, was described as “the satan of the Philistines—the enemy of the Philistines.” Later the word took on the additional meaning of “liar,” and satan became that one who forges a fabric of lies and deceits in order to stymie the purposes of God. By the time of Jesus, satan had become nothing less than the embodiment of evil. And it is deliverance from this powerful force of evil that Jesus is referring to in this prayer.
I suppose that there are some people who would regard this as the most unsophisticated part of The Lord’s Prayer. They would agree that there is no point in believing in some personal devil who prowls about seeking to bring people ill. In fact, I remember hearing a minister, who was being examined as to his theological beliefs, declare that he did not believe in someone or something called “satan,” but he then proceeded to portray the power of evil at work in our world in such vivid and chilling terms that the only thing missing was the name “satan.” The more he talked, the more I realized that while he couldn’t call the name, for him the devil exists. Of course, I don’t see how you can look at our world today and deny the existence of the Evil One. We have churches of satan and black masses and orgiastic celebrations of evil, all of which led to perversion and violence and even cruel, sadistic murders. Little wonder that Jesus says: “Pray, Deliver us from evil and from the Evil One.”
And Jesus also gives us insight here with regard to temptation. You see, whenever you have evil and you have freedom, then you have temptation. If you have no evil, then there is nothing by which to be tempted. If you have no freedom, then you have no possibility of choosing evil and therefore there is no temptation. But we do have evil and we do have freedom, and therefore, there is temptation—and it is everywhere.
Did you ever stop to think that in the Book of Genesis we are told that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was at the center of the garden? It means that whatever path you might choose to take through the garden, you would always have to walk by the tree of temptation. There is no way to avoid temptation in our lives. It is everywhere. There is an old legend about a medieval monk who once went to the theatre and saw an illicit play. In the midst of the play, the devil attacked him and he said to the devil: “How dare you attack a saint of God.” And the devil replied: “How dare you trespass upon my territory.” Now that’s interesting, but it is not accurate. The devil has no territory. He works wherever he wishes to work. Consequently, we cannot be “conscientious objectors” in this war with temptation because temptation is on every hand.
It comes from within. The seed of sin is in every one of us and at no time in our lives are we going to rid ourselves of that seed. And the strange thing about this temptation that comes from within is that it tends to attack us precisely at those moments when we are feeling the strongest. It’s like your hair or your fingernails—always growing, but they grow especially rapidly right after you cut them. Well, temptation is like that. The very moment when you think you’ve got it mastered, it attacks you most vigorously. Look at Simon Peter. He was ready to defend Jesus with his sword in the garden, but just a short while later, he is defeated not by a man with a sword, but by the pointing finger of a lowly servant girl. That’s the way it works—at the moment we feel most strong, temptation strikes and leads us to believe that we can go it alone. And the moment we believe that, we have lost the battle.
And temptation also comes from without. There are those temptations that come from our times of hardship. When we are ill, when we don’t have enough of this world’s goods, when tragedy or difficulty strikes at the heart of our lives, then we are vulnerable to the temptation to rail against God for our misfortune. And then there are the temptations that come when everything is going well for us. We are vulnerable then to the temptations set before us by selfishness, by desire for material success, by lust, by desire for pleasure, by conceit and by indifference. The truth is that we can fall into the grip of evil in whatever circumstance we may find ourselves because temptation is both within us and all about us.
And no one is exempt. A college student was talking to me not long ago about the temptations he was experiencing in his life, and suddenly he said: “But you’re a preacher. You cannot understand what temptation is really like.” Well, he was wrong. No one is exempt. Not me. Not you. No matter where we are or what we do, temptation will be there as well, attempting to lead us into the destructive grip of evil.
But Jesus not only speaks of the nature of evil and temptation in this prayer, He also goes on to speak about how we respond to them.
The answer which we draw from Scripture may surprise you. It says: “Flee! Run away!” That may seem like an act of cowardice for we want to think that we ought to stand firm in the face of temptation and break it down. But, you see, that’s trusting so much in our own powers of self-control. Evil is very cunning. If you try to stand alone against it, I promise you, you will lose the battle. It is not an act of cowardice to retreat quickly to a better ground on which to fight. That’s an act of wisdom. Take Augustine. He was one of the great saints in the history of Christendom. But until he was converted, he led a very, very cheap life. One day, after his conversion, he happened to see one of former mistresses coming down the street. Immediately, he wheeled around and headed quickly in the opposite direction. She called out to him: “Augustine, it is I.” And without even breaking stride, he yelled back over his shoulder: “I know it is you, but it is not I,” and then he kept right on walking. That’s what we need—a fear of temptation, so much that when we see it, we will turn around and run the other way.
Of course, that’s only part of the answer. We need to flee from temptation, but we need to flee to Jesus Christ. The Scriptures make it plain that with Christ we can resist the devil and he will flee from us. That’s why Jesus says: “Pray, lead us not into temptation…” This is not a request to be spared from the experience of temptation. Temptation is part of life and no one is exempt. Even Jesus had to face temptation. Rather, when we pray this part of The Lord’s Prayer, we are saying: “Lord, when temptation comes, and come it must, do not abandon me to it; do not deliver me helpless into its power; stand by me in my hour of need” The prayer then is not for escape from temptation, but for victory over temptation. I love what Ted Nissen says. He says: “If we do not have within us that which is above us, we will certainly yield to that which is around us.” We are to flee from temptation, and we are to flee to Jesus Christ.
What you have here is the picture of a general who will not fight an opposing army on their battleground. Instead, he retreats, with the opposing army in pursuit, until he gets them on his home ground and then he makes his stand. Military strategy makes it plain: never deal with an adversary except from a position of strength. Therefore, when we are dealing with the adversary in life, when we are confronted with evil and its temptations, then we must always do it only from a position of strength—only arm-in-arm and shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus Christ!
Dwight L. Moody once preached in Dunbee, Scotland, and there he called on a man who at age 15 had been terribly disabled and had been on a bed of pain for forty years. Moody said to him: “Being here so long aren’t you sometimes terribly tempted?” The man replied: “Oh, yes. I see people I know riding by and temptation comes to me and says ‘What kind of God do you have that He would let you lie here in pain, when other people who may have little if any regard for Him, go their merry way?’ And then there are days when children come running and laughing by and stop to wave and then run on—and temptation says to me, ‘God doesn’t really love you if He would let you endure this.'” Moody then said to him: “What on earth do you do when that happens?” The man looked up at him and said: “I just run to Calvary. The devil chases me, calling out to me. But when I get there, then I talk back to the devil. I point to the wounds in my Master’s hands and feet and I say to the devil: ‘Can you still tell me now that He does not love me?’ You see, the devil got such a scare on the first Good Friday that whenever he sees it again, he always turns and runs away.” Dwight L. Moody said later that he believed that the very angels, as they carried out their ministry, stopped for refreshment at that bedside in Scotland. Here is the truth, my friends: We can whip temptation if we don’t try to whip it alone—if we go at it with Jesus Christ.
If you ever visit the city of Edinburgh, you will see the great castle which is built on a towering rock right in the center of the city. Stand at the base of the Castle Rock, down on Princess Street, when the sun is setting, and you will witness a daily event. From the castle ramparts, just as the sun goes down, they blow four trumpets—one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, one to the west. There is a legend that if you listen hard enough, you will hear the sound of a fifth bugle blowing. According to the legend it is blown by a soldier long ago slain who still blows his trumpet with his comrades-in-arms. Of course, that’s just a legend. It isn’t true. But I’ll tell you what is true. If in the face of temptation, you sound this trumpet call, “Jesus, save me,” then you will hear His trumpet call in response, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” Then He will come to you at the very heart and soul of your life and with the strength of His strong right arm, He will save you. That’s the power He brings when we pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!