Tony Evans - The Protection of Prayer
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil". This line in the Lord's Prayer is a request for protection. It is a request for God to protect you. To understand that, you must understand that when the devil brought sin into the world, he not only affected people, he infected and affected the systems of this world. So you and I need to be protected from every kind of influence that the devil has in every system to which he is associated, and he is associated with every system that exists.
So the prayer request is that we will be protected from the evil one and not led into anything that would keep us from experiencing what we have prayed thus far. If he leads us into temptation so that we adopt evil, we do not qualify to hallow his name. We will be unable to service his kingdom. We will refuse to submit to his will, which will interrupt our provision and dumb down the opportunity for forgiveness. And so, he is asking that we be protected from the evil one. Let me put it another way. Satan's goal is to break us up from fellowship with God, because if he can accomplish that he can mess up everything else. He says, "Lead us not into temptation".
Now, the concept of temptation in Scripture can be positive or negative. When we try to make the distinction, we use the word "trials" to describe positive, and we use the word "temptation" and generally we mean something negative. But it can be used either way and the context will tell you which way it's being used. We know it's being used negatively here because he's asking for deliverance from the evil one. But why would you have to ask God to lead you not into temptation? James 1:13 says, "God does not tempt any man," but here you're making a request for God to not lead you into a temptation, so let's go a little deeper. What God leads you into are trials. Trials are adverse circumstances, negative things that happen, that are designed to develop you spiritually.
A trial is a negative event that God causes or God allows, but every trial is only for one purpose, and that is to grow you spiritually, to mature you spiritually, to drive you to God at another level, and to take you to the next spiritual place God has for you. When God brings an issue in your life, not a sin you're committing but a circumstance that is not in your favor, you are to view it as a trial. You are to not mistake the hand of God for the hand of man. In other words, don't just think it's the people, it's the situation, it's the circumstance. If God let it go from his heart, through his fingers, into your life, you view it as a trial. Satan doesn't want you to look at it as a trial because then you'll miss the developmental purpose of God allowing it to happen.
The Bible is clear in Isaiah 38, verse 17, "Your afflictions are for your good". 1 Peter 1, verses 6 and 7, "In a trial, God is calling your faith to the witness stand". So a trial is designed to develop you. Now, a temptation by the devil is designed to defeat you. God has designed the negative experience to develop you. Satan brings temptation in order to defeat you spiritually and separate you (you'll see what I mean in a moment) further from God.
Now, here is the problem. Trials and temptations often happen around the same event. In other words, most of the things we deal with is not a trial over here and a temptation over there. Now, we know certain things, you know, they're just so obvious that they're temptations, but what Satan does is, he piggybacks on a trial to try to turn it into a temptation. So he will take something that God makes legitimate, mix with it, messes with it, to turn a trial that God wanted to develop us into a temptation in order to defeat us. So you say, "Well, I don't know whether this is a trial or a temptation". Assume it's both because God will often use the devil for a trial. And when God uses the devil for a trial, the devil takes God's use of him for a trial to try to use it for himself for a temptation.
Matthew chapter 4, verse 1, "The Spirit of the Lord led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil". The Spirit of the Lord led the Son of God into the dry place of testing in order for the devil to tempt him. So God put Jesus in Satan's territory for Satan to mess with Jesus. God's goal was to show Jesus passing the test. Satan's goal was to make Jesus fail the test. But it was the same test at the same time in the same place, okay? Job chapter 1, Satan said, "The only reason Job serves you is 'cause you give him stuff. You take away his stuff and I'll be you he will curse you". God says, "I'm gonna let you test him". But Satan tempted him. He tempted him to curse God.
Job was being tested by God, "Are you gonna praise me when things aren't going well? Are you gonna praise me when things are going left or are you going to let my test that I allowed Satan to tempt cause you to curse me"? So when life hits you and you're being tested and tempted, the question is, which way are you gonna go? Are you gonna go with God as a test or with Satan as a tempt? Because they often both happen at the same time. So then, what God is after is seeing in a test how serious your commitment is, and to, when you pass the test, take you to the next spiritual level. Satan simultaneously will use that or something else in order to drive a a wedge between us and the Lord so that we do not have the full presence and power of him with us.
So yes, I hate to tell you this, but God does use the devil to grow you. God does use the devil to grow you. You remember Peter? The Bible says in Luke 22, Jesus said to Peter, "Satan has asked us. Satan came to us and asked us to allow him to sift you like wheat". Peter said, "Well, that's not gonna happen to me 'cause I'm your main man". He says, "Everybody else will walk away from you, but not me". Jesus said, "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times. You are not all that and a bag of chips. So I am going to allow Satan to break you down so that I can raise you up, because until I break you, I can't make you. So I'm going to let the devil do my dirty work".
So sometimes you will say, "Why is the devil doing this to me"? It may be because God has invited him to, or at least allowed him to, because he will test, even using the devil, who will and simultaneously tempt. And the question you stand on is which way are you going to go. Are you going to follow God when it doesn't make sense, when you don't like it? That was Job's choice and Job had to make the decision. He said, "Shall I receive good from the Lord and praise him only during the good times, and not negative from the Lord and not praise him during the negative times"? And so he says, "Lead us not into any situation we can't handle". That's what, "Lead us not into temptation," means. Don't give me a trial where I will be overrun by a temptation. Or if I've already been beat up by the devil, if I'm already defeated by him, "Deliver us from evil".
So the first part is, "Keep me from getting into a situation I can't handle," and then second part is, "If I've already gotten into a situation I can't handle, get me out of this situation that I can't handle. Deliver me from evil". That is, from the evil one. Well, now that means we need to learn how temptation works. How does it work? James chapter 1, verses 14 to 15 lays it out. He says, "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin. And when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death".
In those two verses, he gives you the pattern of temptation. The pattern of temptation always starts with desire, enticed by his lust. The word "lust" means desire. What Satan does is he creates a craving for something outside of the will of God. He wants you to want it. In Adam and Eve in the Garden, God told them, "Don't eat of the fruit in the midst of the garden". But when Satan talked to Eve, it said, "When she saw I was delightful, and desirable, and was able to make one wise, she ate it," because he created desire. You have been assigned a demon. They know how you move, what you like, what you are geared to, what you are desirous of. They know what you are thinking and how you operate, so they know the precise time to bring that thing, that situation, that person, that problem into you to create a desire.
Now, what we do is we dumb down how bad it is, and so he starts off with desire designed to entice. Satan always has a hook tied to the delicious thing he happens to be offering you. But Satan is not gonna show you the hook. He's just gonna show you how well it tastes until he gets you hooked. And when he gets you hooked, he reels you in in order to slice you up. But he has to make it look good on the front end. Please notice something. In verse 15, "When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin". So he talks about a pregnancy, conceiving. Notice, he didn't call the desire "sin". He called when it conceives, it becomes sin.
Okay, so let me help make you feel just a little better. The fact that your flesh wants to sin is not the problem because that's what the flesh does. You cannot stop the flesh from wanting to be fleshly. He calls the decision to act on it the problem. So in one sense, you can feel a little better about the fact that your flesh can never become unfleshly. It can never become unfleshly because it's been trained that way. And to varying degrees as you grow, it loses its dominance but it never stops being the flesh. But when you act on it... wanting chocolate cake is not the problem. You don't gain weight from wanting chocolate cake. You gain weight from eating chocolate cake. When the flesh wants to sin, it's because that's what the flesh wants to do. But when you make the decision to act on it, he says that is when it's conceived.
No woman gets pregnant with an egg alone. There's got to be a conceiving that takes place for it to birth into something. And then he says, when Satan has accomplished his goal and temptation, you're gonna have a baby. And he gives the baby his name: death. Sin brings forth death (let me explain this) all the time. There are no exceptions to this. But when he says "death," he's not talking about being in a coffin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they didn't drop dead. They lived for many, many years after that. What happened when they sinned was they were put out of God's presence. They were removed from the Garden. So the word "death" in the Bible does not mean nonexistence. It means separation.
So when Satan can tempt us to sin, he then separates us from God. And when we get separated, even as Christians, from God, there is no power in our life, there is no victory in our life, there is no deliverance in our life, there's no answered prayers in our life because God is off in the distance because he can't fellowship with us in our sin. That raises a question. Here it is. Okay, what do I do? The prayer is, you pray, "Lead me not into anything I can't handle". You don't give sin the attention that it asks for, okay?
Chapter 1 of James, he says in verse 16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren". So he's talking to Christians, "My beloved brethren". This is for Christians. "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of his will, he brought us forth by the Word of truth so that we would be a kind of first fruits among his creatures". He's gonna say four things and they all revolve around one word, "focus". You must change your focus. What you are focusing on will determine what will control you. Focus. He says focus on four things.
Number one, focus on the goodness of God. "Every good and perfect gift cometh from above". When you see sin or the devil trying to tempt you to sin or you're caught in sin, he says recognize it, but that's not where you put your focus. We want you to put your focus on how good God has been to you. How do you focus on the goodness of God? You enter into a time of thanksgiving. Lord, I wanna thank you that you did this. Thank you that when I was almost killed, you saved my life back there. Thank you for this. Thank you for that. I wanna thank you for your... yeah, I got this sin problem. I got this Satan problem. But I'm gonna look at God and I just wanna enter into a season of thanksgiving on the goodness of God.
Number two, focus on the faithfulness of God. He said, "Because in God there is no shifting shadow," or as he puts it in the verse, he says, "The Father of light, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow". Okay, let's talk about light. There has never been a time where the sun has not and does not shine, so the sun is consistent. It's the turning of the earth that produces the shadow. He says if you're gonna have victory, you must focus on the God who does not move, not the circumstances that are always moving. You can't skip what you're dealing with, but focus on the sunlight so you're not controlled by nighttime.
1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13, it says, "And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but will with the temptation provide you a way of escape". He says here's how the faithfulness of God works when you're being drawn by Satan into sin, or even when God is allowing you to deal with a trial. Number one, he will control how long it lasts and how deep it goes, 'cause he will not allow you to be tempted above what you're able. So if you're in a trial, or in this case you're under an attack, you can assume something, that the devil is not "the devil," he's God's devil. And God got a leash on him and he's only gonna let him go so far. And whatever he's allowing, you can handle 'cause he promised he's so faithful he won't give you what you can't handle. He says and when he gives it to you, he says, "God is faithful and in his faithfulness he will not give you, but will with the temptation give you the way of escape".
I don't know if you just heard that. God has got a solution but he's not gonna let you see it until you pass the test, until God sees you tell the devil no, until God sees that you focus on him. But he will already have the exit sign at the very same time as the temptation. And when he does it, he says, "He will give it at the very same time," watch this, "so that you're able to endure it". Now watch this. The only way to finish a test or to get victory in a temptation, he says, is you must go through it. You can't get from where you are to where God wants you without going through the development.
The third thing, you focus on his goodness, you focus on his faithfulness, then he says you focus on his Word. Verse 18, "In the exercise of his will, he brought us forth by the Word of truth". You focus on what God says, not how you feel. You focus on what God says, not how you think. You focus on what God says, not what everybody else has to say. You go back, "Yeah, this is what I feel, but God, this is what you say. This is what I want, but this is what you say". And if you praise his goodness, trust his faithfulness, and quote his Word like Jesus did, Jesus didn't go back, "Well, you know, devil, I was here before you".
No, he said, "It is written: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.' It is written: 'He will call his angels.' It is written: 'You shall serve the Lord they God and worship him only". It's written, it's written, it's written. Why must you keep quoting the Word of God when you're being tempted? Because the devil is allergic to Scripture. When he hears Scripture, he goes, "Ahh-choo! Ahh-choo! Ahh-choo"! He can't handle Scripture. He loves to hear what you think. He loves to hear how you feel. But when you start quoting the Word to him, three strikes, you're out of here.
And finally, the fourth thing, you focus on his perspective. Look at the end of that verse. I don't want you to miss this. His perspective. He says, "So that," verse 18, "We would be a kind of first fruits among his creatures". Oh, first fruits, we normally talk about first fruits for giving, giving your tithe, your first fruits, but he's not talking about money here. He says you are the first fruits. The first fruit was the cream of the crop. It's what you offer God first because it was viewed as the most precious. It was honoring God to give God first. It gives him honor. So he says that you are first fruits.
In other words, don't let the devil dial back your dignity. You're not just another man, or another woman, or another boy or girl, you're first fruits. So I'm here to tell you today that God is a delivering God. Psalm chapter 50, verse 15 says he delivers. Psalm 107, verses 1 to 32 says he's a God who delivers. Psalm 91, verses 14 and 15 says he's a God who can deliver you. 2 Timothy chapter 4, verses 17 and 18, Paul says, "I'm looking for God to deliver me". He can deliver you from circumstances, situations, people, and the devil.
In a world of chaos and confusion, uncertainty and discombobulation, prayer just can't be an addendum. It can't just be a go-to when I've tried everything else. It's gotta be put on the front end, why? Because we need God on the front end. We don't just want him there as an emergency stopgap. We need him to guide us, to lead us, to direct us, to clarify for us, because if God doesn't work in our circumstances personally and collectively, then we won't be able to fix them. And yes, God does allow things to get out of hand so that we discover that without him, we truly can do nothing. So let's not just pray because we're supposed to, let's pray first because we absolutely have to.