“Back to the basics: And lead us not into temptation”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
A little over a hundred years ago, back in April of 1912, even though it was well past her bedtime, a woman just couldn’t get to sleep. For some strange, inexplicable reason, she felt overwhelmed with fear.
You see, at that very moment, her husband, retired Colonel Archibald Gracie, was on his way home from England where he had been doing research on the War of 1812. And he was about four hundred miles to the east, crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner.
So since Mrs. Gracie couldn’t find any other way to push all those frightening thoughts away, she did what she always did. She got down on her knees and prayed. She took her cares and her worries to God.
So what could possibly be the problem? After all, her husband was on a brand new ship, the safest ship that had ever been built, three football fields long--the Titanic!
Yet it was at the very moment she felt the need to pray that the ship struck an iceberg and began to sink. Within moments, panic began to break out as people realized there weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on board.
Now Colonel Gracie was a first-class passenger and had every right to secure a seat on a lifeboat. But he was a Christian and he felt it was more important to save women and children first and himself last. So over the next two and-a-half hours, as the ship slowly sank deeper and deeper into the frigid waters of the Atlantic, he stayed on deck, doing everything he could to save as many people as he could.
Finally, as the ship went down at twenty after two in the morning, he jumped off the stern into the water. But while trying to swim free of the ship, the suction caused by the ship dragged him down, along with hundreds of other passengers, to the dark ocean depths. He held his breath till he couldn’t hold it anymore.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Gracie was still on her knees in prayer. And after praying for two solid hours, she still didn’t have any peace, so she kept on praying till five o’clock in the morning.
And that’s when, miraculously, after her husband had managed to reach the surface and catch a second breath of air, that he caught hold of an upturned lifeboat where he and a small group of men hung on for dear life. And together they prayed the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
Later he wrote, “Our voices with one accord burst forth in repeating that great appeal to the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, and the only prayer that every one of us knew and could unite in, thereby manifesting that we were all sons of God and brothers to each other, whatever our sphere in life or creed might be.”
Finally at five o’clock in the morning, when he was picked up by another boat and carried to safety, Mrs. Grace felt a peace rush over her soul. And as she remembered the words of Jonah chapter 2: “In my great trouble, I cried to the Lord and He answered me; from the depths of death I called, and Lord, You heard me!” (Jonah 2:2), she was finally able to fall asleep.
If you want to know more, you could read about it in his book, The Truth about the Titanic.
Throughout these past couple of months, we’ve taken time to study the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And it’s good that we do that, for there is nothing more important to our Christian faith and life than prayer. It’s our spiritual lifeline, our doorway into the very presence of God.
And I hope we’ve learned our lesson well, for our Teacher has been none other than the Lord Jesus Himself.
As He said in the book of Matthew chapter 6: “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation…’” (Matthew 6:5-13).
In his book, The Father’s Love Letter, author Barry Adams wrote this: “My Child, you may not know Me, but I know everything about you. I know when you sit down and when you rise up, for I am familiar with all your ways. Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. For you were made in My image. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
“Because you are My child and I am your Father, I offer you more than your earthly father ever could. I am your provider and your greatest encourager. And you are My treasured possession.
“I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles. When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you. And one day I’ll take away all the pain you’ve suffered on this earth and I’ll wipe every tear from your eyes.
“My Son Jesus is the exact representation of My being. He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you, and so that you and I could be reconciled. His death was the ultimate expression of My love for you. I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love.
“If you receive the gift of my Son Jesus, you receive Me. And nothing will ever separate you from My love. Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen.
“My question is…will you be My child?”
Now today, we come to the fifth petition: “Lead us not into temptation.” What does it mean?
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “God indeed tempts no one. But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “While we live in the flesh and have the devil about us, no one can escape temptation and allurements…but we pray that we may not fall and be drowned in them.
“Therefore, we Christians must be armed and daily expect to be incessantly attacked and at all times expect his blows. For though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never desists nor becomes tired, so that when one temptation ceases, there always arise others and fresh ones.
“Accordingly, there is no help or comfort except to run and to take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and thus speak to God from the heart: ‘Dear Father, Thou hast bidden me to pray; let me not relapse because of temptations’…For the devil has a serpent’s head, which if it gain an opening into which he can slip, the whole body will follow without check. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back.”
Now we have to admit that there’s a little problem with those words, “Lead us not into temptation,” for not only does the Bible say, “Lead us not into temptation,” it also says, (in the book of James), “No one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (James 1:13).
So what is it? Does God tempt us or not?
The answer’s found in that little word, “temptation.” “Lead us not into temptation.”
You see, you can translate it as “temptation,” but you can also translate it as “to try” or “to test.” In other words, not only can you say, “Lead us not into temptation.” You can also say, “Lord, I pray, please don’t lead me into a time of trial or testing. And if for some reason You choose to try me and test me, please don’t give me more than I can handle. Don’t ever give me too much.”
I don’t have to tell you that there are trials of all kinds. Consider our natural world where we’re constantly at the mercy of wind, weather, earthquakes, fire, floods, sickness, accidents, disease, and death. We’re surrounded by it and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Think of our emotional world--there’s headache, heartache, grief, anxiety, and depression of all kinds. Envy stings us, hate embitters us, and greed eats away at our heart. The rich rob the poor and the poor steal from the rich. Prisons, hospitals, and mental institutions are filled with those who are emotionally torn apart.
And think of the spiritual world, what’s the thickest and blackest of all. Not only are we fallen, but Satan attacks us relentlessly. We’re faced with an overpowering evil and we’re completely unable to do anything about it. And so the cry of our heart is, “God, please protect me. Lead me through this time of testing and out of this sick and sinful world.”
But God, in His wisdom, allows things to happen to us, to test us and to make our faith stronger. That’s what James wrote in his epistle: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3). And he wrote, “So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:4).
So as we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we’re saying, “Father, dear Father, I am overwhelmed with tests and trials of all kinds. A sinful, fallen world is tempting me and even pounding at my door. I’m consumed with fear on the inside and Satan on the outside, and I can’t resist the evil that’s all around me. So please, please, dear Father, help me find refuge in Your everlasting arms.”
Today, we can’t help but smile when we think about it. But at the time, I’m sure no one thought it was funny at all.
You see, Jesus had just finished a long day of preaching beside the Sea of Galilee. The Bible says that such large crowds had gathered around Him that He got into a boat and all the people were standing along the shore, just to hear Him speak.
Then later, when evening came, He said to His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” And leaving the crowd behind, the Bible says they took Him, just as He was, in the boat.
That’s when, all of a sudden, a furious squall came up. Wind rushed down the narrow ravines, hit the water, and went off like a bomb. Luke wrote that “the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger” (Luke 8:23). Even the disciples, experienced men of the sea, couldn’t help but cry out, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” (Luke 8:24).
And what was Jesus doing as the wind and the waves beat against their boat? He was sound asleep, resting in the power and the presence of God.
But just as soon as they woke Him, He rebuked the wind and the waves. He said, “Peace, be still!” And to their complete astonishment and amazement, the wind died down and it became completely calm.
It’s true that we’re surrounded by trials and tests of all kinds. As long as we’re in this world, that’s how it’s always going to be.
But as Jesus is with us, as He stands in our boat, there’s a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that passes all understanding, and a peace that keeps our hearts and minds resting confidently in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sometimes, dear Father, the tests and trials that surround us are more than we can bear. So we pray, in this petition, that You would lead us out to a place of rest and safety in You. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen