Monthly Archives: February 2016
How Should We Pray?
Desires are part of being human. We desire to have relationships, to love and be loved, to be made to feel important, to achieve goals, and so on. Besides these philosophical types of desires, we also have even more basic physical desires. Desires such as the need to be clothed, fed, and sheltered are basic human necessities originating from the needs of our flesh. While desire is a natural part of the human condition, there is also something about us, about our flesh, that allows these natural desires to sometimes become corrupted and to descend into baser desires.
Such was the case in the Garden of Eden, at the epicenter of all human sin. In Genesis 2:16-17, God gave Adam and Eve permission to eat of every other tree in the Garden, except one. Reading this, we quickly realize that eating of the forbidden tree was not necessary for food and life. After all, they had every other tree to eat from. As such, Genesis 3 reveals the very first instance of a human descending from natural desires and onto sinful desires. I specifically point out desire because Adam and Eve did not simply eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; no, first, they desired it. After Satan manipulated the commands God had given Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-5), they suddenly perceive the tree in a new light; through fleshly desire. Look at Genesis 3:6. . .
Have you ever wondered what is it about us that wants the one thing that is bad for us; the one thing we cannot have? 1st John 2:16 seems to categorize sin into three categories, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Do you notice how well these three categories correspond with Genesis 3:6 above? The pride within us, the things our flesh hunger for, and the things our eyes see and, therefore, our heart wants; these three things act as a sort of clean way of categorizing the sinful desires within us. From the very moment Adam and Eve desired the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, these three root human desires began leading humans into a world of sin and warring against godliness in our lives. Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7, when he says,
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
While we might find the wording of this passage confusing, the message is clear. Paul acknowledges that there is an inner struggle within mankind, born out of the desires of our flesh. Paul describes desiring to do the good things of God, and wanting to avoid sinful things, but his flesh was at war within him. If this was true of Paul, then it is certainly true of everyone else. So, what do we do about these baser desires? Do we simply give in to our baser desires? Is God okay with sin in our life, so long as we are saved? Is it even possible to fight against the struggles within us? And why should we fight for purity? With these questions in mind, let’s begin our final lesson on the Lord’s Prayer. (For a refresher, click here).
The Lord’s prayer:
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
I have to admit that I have had great difficulty finishing this series on prayer. I’d like to say that it is just because my life has been particularly busy in the last year. With the release of my book, the birth of our third child, finding out our third child has cystic fibrosis, and deciding to further my education, I have certainly found other things to occupy my time. However, I also have to admit that I am the type of person that avoids things I’m not excited about doing. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing Bible lessons (I’ve been doing it for a living for 2.5 years now). I just knew this was going to be a particularly difficult lesson to write.
I say this because the final verse in the Lord’s Prayer brings to mind three specific points that I wanted to make.
- God is not okay with sin. There is a popular notion that since Christians are saved, they do not have to worry about sin. However, Scripture makes it clear that those who are alive in Christ are dead to sin (Rom. 6). This is an interesting topic, but I have already covered it in How Should We Pray, Part 5. This question was also discussed under the section “Your Walk” in What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual (more to come on this lesson in a second).
- Eternity is worth more than any temporary pleasure, wealth, or status, etc. While we have difficulty seeing past trials or temptations of this life, scripture makes it clear that eternity is of far more worth than anything on earth. As such, Christians need to seek God, and walk in His ways, remembering that this world will pass away, but God’s things last forever. This is another admirable topic, but I have already covered it under the section “Woe to the Rich – Happiness, Hope, and Temporary Treasure” in For the Love of Money, Part 3.
- You can choose to refrain from sin. While passages like Romans 7 (above), might make us think we have some insatiable internal sinful nature that we cannot over come, scripture makes it clear that purity (walking in the Spirit) is a choice. This is yet another worthy topic, but I have already covered it under the section “Your Walk” in What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual.
I hope you see my difficulty. I have zero desire to write a lesson twice, and I’m sure you, as a reader do not want to read the same thing twice. As such, I have finally decided that to avoid wasting either of our time, and to bring this hefty study on prayer to a conclusion, I just need to assume that you, the reader, will either accept these three points, or you will go research them further at the places listed above. With that in mind, I’d like to close out our study on the Lord’s Prayer by explaining our last verse, Matthew 6:13, and then discussing one final passage that beautifully captures the truths of the three points above, which will hopefully make us all see our own desires in a new light.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
– Matthew 6:13a
The first part of Matthew 6:13 should make it clear that God is not okay with sin. In this verse, Jesus is specifically calling for God to remove us from those trials or temptations that might bring us to evil. I specifically mention trials, and not just temptations, because some might point out that there are at least two meanings for the word “temptation” in the New Testament. The first is the normal meaning we think of for temptations; i.e. something that leads us to lust and/or sin. The second meaning, however, is synonymous with trials. I think it is fair to say that God would absolutely lead us into this second type of temptation (a trial of the faith), in order to test our faith (see Job). In fact, in James 1:2-4, James teaches that we should actually be joyful when we fall into various “temptations/trials.” Interestingly, James uses the exact same Greek word for “temptations” as Matthew 6:13, and the context of James chapter one indicates that temptations are meant as trials that test our faith.
While the context in James seems clear, commentators disagree on which type of temptation Matthew 6:13 refers to. I’m not going to bog us down in the minutia; however, it seems to me that “temptation” in Matthew 6:13 is sort of a combination of the two. I won’t argue dogmatically with someone over this interpretation, but the fact that evil is mentioned put the verse in a context of sin, since not every trial is necessarily evil. Therefore, the first meaning for temptation (i.e. lustful desire) seems correct. However, the first part of verse 13 is worded in such a way as to make us think that God could lead us into these “temptations.” I mean, it specifically says, “lead us not into temptation.” This makes the word “temptation” seem like it is referring to a trial. I make this jump in reasoning because the Bible is clear that God does not lead us to sin.
James 1:13-15 says,
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Therefore, I’m left to assume that “temptation” in Matthew 6:13 is referring to any type of trial of or situation that could either strengthen our faith, or overcome us in such a way that our desires lead us to sin. Notice that I say our desires lead us to sin; not God. What might this look like? Once again, Adam and Eve serve as a good example. Is there any doubt that the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden (Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) was a trial for Adam and Eve? Why else did God put it there? I mean He’s God, the creator of the universe. Was there really no other place to put the tree? Of course God could have put the tree somewhere else. As such, I’m left to assume that He must have placed it there for a reason. I believe God’s reason for placing the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was to test the obedience of Adam and Eve. So here is the careful line we must walk. God indeed provided an opportunity to test the obedience of Adam and Eve, but the actual temptation, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, was all on them. The test was God’s, but succumbing to sinful desires was all their fault. For us, God might lead us to a trial of faith, but if we are seduced away from purity, or from faithfulness, or whatever, then the actual temptation of sin is all on us.
But where does that leave God in the equation? Just as Jesus’s prayer indicates, God is our way out!
When Jesus says, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” Jesus is demonstrating who we should turn to for help in trials and temptations. . . God! God is the one who can lead us to righteousness and away from sin! It is God that can give us the strength and the wisdom to get through a trial of faith (1 Cor. 10:13; James 1:5). In Part 1 of this series, in the “Therefore Pray” section, I stated it this way:
When bad things happen in life, when temptations arise, when we are facing a spiritual crossroads, what will help our faith to stand firm? Prayer! How could I get through a tragedy with my faith in tact if I ignore God (Matt. 5:4)? How can I make an important decision if I do not ask the only wise counselor (Prov. 3:5-6, Col. 2:2-3)? Where do I run when I flee from temptation, IF NOT TO GOD (1 Cor. 6:18)? He is my refuge when I am in danger. He is my deliverer when I need help (Ps. 9:9). He is my rock, my strength, and my fortress (Ps. 18:1-2). It is in Him that I will trust (2 Sam. 22:3). It is to Him that I must run when temptations are more than I can handle. It is behind Him that I must hide when an enemy is greater than me. It is on His stable ground that I must stand when doubt comes for me (Ps. 62:6-9; Matt. 7:24-27; 1 Cor. 3:11). It is in His arms that I must rest when my pain is too great for me to bear (Matt. 5:4; 11:28). Faith is trusting in the promises of God. If you really trust God, then you will turn to Him when your faith needs help! Prayer is the fuel that fans faith’s fire. We MUST PRAY!
This shows that although God might allow us to be tempted or our faith to be tested, God always provides us with a way out. In other words, no matter what situation we are in, we never have to sin; we undoubtedly will sometimes, but we never have to. We always have a choice, and we always have God who is waiting for us to run to Him to ask to help us walk in purity and faith. The Apostle Paul speaks about this type of circumstance in 1st Corinthians 10:13, when he says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
That is a refreshing promise. So to the first portion of Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” I say, if you find yourself yielding to one of your baser desires, look to God, pray to God, and He will show you the way out.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
While there might seem to be two topics in verse 13 above, there are really just two contrasting parts. You might look at the verse this way: the first portion deals with the temporary (trials and temptations) and the second portion deals with the eternal (God’s stuff). In my recent studies, I’ve come to have a great appreciation for a very common word. In the Bible, the word “for” often times serves the very special purpose of joining a claim with a reason. That might sound a little complicated, but it really is as simply as a school kid saying, “I like summer for I am free during that time.” I realize that no one speaks like that anymore, but the Bible often does (depending on what version you use). Notice in our example sentence that the claim is “I like summer.” The reason why the student likes summer is that they are free during that time. The sentence is linked together by an easy to overlook, but ever important, conjunction; for. Similarly, without the “for” in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” would be isolated from “thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” And if they were separated, an important contrast would be missed. “For” (Hoti in the Greek) is like saying, “I say this because.” Because of for, we can read Matthew 6:13 like this, “Keep us from sin, because the kingdom, the power, and the glory are all Yours God, forever.”
Do you see the importance of “for“? It glues the statements together. It contrasts the temporary with the eternal. While I spoke of refraining from our baser desires in the section above, the second portion of Matthew 6:13 tells us one of the main reasons why we should refrain from our baser desires. The reason? Because eternity should be valued far above any temporary temptation or trial. There is no indulgence in sin that is worth what heaven has in store for us. This is an important point because I believe we live in a world where people are constantly looking for satisfaction, and yet they are constantly being disappointed. We run from temporary pleasure to temporary goal to temporary hope, and we are nearly always left empty. Matthew 6:13 is a reminder that God’s things put to shame any temporary desire you might have on this earth. To illustrate this point, let us look at our last passage of Scripture for this study; James 4:1-10.
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. 5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? 6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Let me break these wonderful verses down by asking questions and paraphrasing answers…
1 – From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Do you ever stop and think about why people fight? Let’s be clear, people don’t fight because they are too loving. People fight because of conflicting desires. This is what James says. He says that fights originate from an internal struggle within each and every one of us, and that internal struggle spills out into the world around us. This is the battle between our flesh and the Spirit. If we succumb to our fleshly desires, then often times those fleshly desires will conflict with someone else’s fleshly desires. The result? Wars and fighting among us.
2- Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Saying we “lust, and have not” takes a little explanation. Certainly we sometimes get the things we lust after. However, this verse implies that the thing we lust after is a means, not an end. The end we are actually looking for is satisfaction. As such, when we lust, we desire satisfaction, and so we chase after things that we think will fill our sinful desires, but James says when we do this, we “have not.” Meaning, we are not satisfied. James uses some tough language talking about killing and fighting and warring, and this can be seen as the efforts to which humans will sometimes go in an attempt to satisfy their desires. Certainly all desires don’t lead as far as murder and war, but the point is that even if someone does go as far was murder and war, their desires still will not be satisfied. Why not? Because if we are looking for satisfaction out of earthly things, then we are looking in the wrong place.
3- Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. As stated in verse two, we often seek to satisfy ourselves through earthly things, instead of God, but here James goes a step further saying that even when we do go to God, we come to Him in an incorrect manner. That should cause us to pause for a moment. James says that when we ask God for something, we are often doing it only so that He will satisfy our earthly lusts. If you are examining yourself as you read these verses (as we all should be), ask yourself if your prayers to God are about you, or about Him. Don’t get me wrong, God wants to hear about our troubles, but He also wants our hearts centered on Him, and His will. James is saying that when we come to God, it’s often out of simply seeking to fill our desires. Instead, when we come to God in prayer, our primary goal should be that we gain a closer relationship with Him. If you want satisfaction, it won’t be by hoping that God becomes a genie and starts granting all of your earthly wishes. Satisfaction will come through a true relationship with God that develops over a lifetime and lasts for an eternity. Seek Him for your satisfaction.
4- Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. After we understand verses one through three, verse four becomes very clear. It asks, “Does the world have your heart?” If the world has your heart, then God doesn’t. The temporary things of this world are not all bad. There are lots of good things in this life; but nothing in this world can replace God. Nothing else deserves our heart, except God. This verse calls us adulterers and adulteresses because if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then He deserves your heart. Giving anything else your heart is infidelity toward God. Don’t let your sinful desires betray your relationship with Him.
5- Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? The Spirit living in us desires our faithfulness. When we desire the world we are unfaithful to the Spirit, just as a spouse is unfaithful when they commit an affair. Seek purity and seek satisfaction through Him.
6 – But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Perhaps the greatest thing about the Gospel is that it is available to all. While you have breath, it is never too late to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you are reading this and realize that you have put anything in this life ahead of God, then know this, He is waiting for you to come to Him and ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness requires humility, though. A proud person is one who cannot admit they are wrong, so this verse tells me that if I want God’s grace, then I need to put aside the pride of life, and seek God with humility.
7- Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. While temptation might be strong, if we submit ourselves to God, place our faith in Him, and make Him the master of our life, then God will always receive us (1 John 1:9). In addition to God receiving us, the devil will flee. While you might have addictions and temptations in your life that you feel are unconquerable, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). Don’t try to conquer sin on your own. Submit yourselves to God. Run to Him. Seek refuge in His arms. Resist the devil by running to the Lord.
8- Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. And as you run to God, He’ll draw you closer to Him. This is proactively seeking God; proactively trying to learn His ways and walk in them. It’s not just pushing away sin. Even someone who doesn’t follow God can put away bad habits. This is about filling those bad habits with a relationship with God. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil is a call for God to help us in a walk of purity. This should be the call of any Christian who struggles with a temptation or trial in their life.
9- Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. This is a hard one to understand. In the midst of talking about turning to God and getting rid of sin in our life, we suddenly have a verse filled with sadness: affliction, mourning, weeping, heaviness, etc. What could this mean? Brokenness over sin is probably not something talked about enough today. God’s love is focused on more than anything, but let us not forget that our sin is ultimately an offense against a holy God. If my post weren’t long enough already, then I’d add a more thorough explanation of Psalm 51 to this lesson. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer for forgiveness, upon having the prophet Nathan point out David’s adultery with Bath-sheba. It is in this prayer that David says, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest,” (vv. 3-4). When we come to God and ask forgiveness, it’s not simply to check a box. True repentance should come from a heart that recognizes that sin is an affront to a holy God. There should be some brokenness in our heart when we come to God and ask for forgiveness.
10- Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Although their should be brokenness from sin, God never desires to leave us broken. This passage in James finishes beautifully by showing that submitting to God, humbling ourselves before His eyes, mourning over our sin, ultimately leads to God lifting us out of our guilt and into restoration through Him.
Desires burn within us, but what do we try to fill them with? Are we like Adam and Eve, still seeking satisfaction through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life? If you want to continue searching and never be satisfied, then keeping trying to fill your fleshly desires with temporary things. This is a search that will never end. But if you want more, God is waiting for you. And just in case you still don’t think seeking Him will be worth it, just remember, that the kingdom, the power, and the glory are His forever. Do you know a place to search with better credentials than that?
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