As I write, (15th March), we are almost at the midpoint of Lent 2020. In my last post I said that Lent is traditionally a period of fasting which focuses on the themes of self-denial, self-discipline, repentance and deliverance from temptation.
In this post I’m going to say a brief word (or two) on deliverance from temptation. It’s part of the prayer cry the Lord Jesus taught His followers to lift up to our Heavenly Father: “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13) – why did He teach us to pray that? The answer is found in what He told Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and Pray so that you will not fall into temptation. For the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).
Jesus wants all His disciples to wake up and smell the coffee; to acknowledge the reality of how sinful, and susceptible to sinning, we are. For all our intelligence and good intentions, we are nevertheless weak in the face of temptations which compete for our attention and loyalty. There is a constant battle which rages in our minds pulling us this way and that - despite often knowing what we should do, what we need to do (or to think or to say), we are entertained by enticing thoughts that life could be so much easier or more pleasurable if we chose a different path. We have to fight to stay on the right path.
The Anglican theologian, Richard Sibbes, pointed out that "Satan gave Adam an apple but took away Paradise. Therefore in every temptation let us consider not what's on offer but what we stand to lose." How fraudulent yielding to temptation is!!
When Jesus warned His inner circle of disciples at Gethsemane, their immediate temptation was to choose sleep over their responsibility to give prayer support to Jesus in the shadow of His arrest, trial and crucifixion. Beyond that the greater temptation they faced was that of denying Jesus altogether once everything kicked off on that monumental weekend. Not facing up to our various responsibilities and denying Jesus as Lord are temptations we all face - more often than we may care to admit.
Jesus also faced temptation - many times. His greatest temptation was to refuse to do His Father's Will by dying on the cross for the salvation of all who would put their faith in Him. The suffering, sacrifice, loneliness and humiliation of the cross would be great - and would involve God the Son crying out to God the Father, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Such level of suffering is beyond our fullest understanding. Jesus could have rebelled. He could have been selfish and chosen to "do a Jonah" by running in the opposite direction. Thankfully He resisted temptation and chose to do what was needed to be done. He willingly chose to follow through on His responsibility and mission as the Saviour of the World.
The question is: How did He overcome temptation (in His case, every time)? The answer: He prayed. He relied on God's help; the power of God the Holy Spirit to strengthen His heart resolve.
This is why Jesus commands us to pray. We cannot resist temptation by ourselves. We need power from on high to enable us from within.
What temptations are you facing today? Is the socio-economic impact (+ hype) of the coronavirus pandemic causing you to question your faith? Do you doubt God's love? His faithfulness? His sovereignty over all things? Are you tempted to make wrong choices at work, among friends, concerning food or sex or money or television? Maybe you are tempted to gossip or slander or to say the wrong thing? Maybe your greatest temptation is to worry or to panic? The list of possible temptations seems endless but the solution every time is the same: Pray. Pray. Pray!
Our teacher and example in this is Jesus Christ but we can turn to the rest of the Bible (as Jesus did) for advice and reassurance. So, as I wrap up this short article, I turn the focus on Psalm 141 – a prayer for deliverance from temptation:
A psalm of David.
1 I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. 2 May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. 4 Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.
5 Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.
6 Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs, and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken. 7 They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”
8 But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death. 9 Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me. 10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.