20/02/2016 - Matthew 6:14 'And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.' (KJV)
I don’t know how many times I stood in a school assembly and prayed this prayer and many of you will pray ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ regularly. When Jesus gave us this ‘model’ prayer he was saying, ‘these are the kind of things you should be praying about.’ If that is the case how many of us, outside of reciting this prayer, have actually prayed, ‘Please Lord, don’t lead me into temptation today’? If it wasn’t for this prayer would it ever have occurred to us that God would lead us into temptation anyway? Isn’t that the Devil’s job! And didn’t James write, ‘When tempted, 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 going on here?
When you come up against something that appears contradictory, instead of sliding over it, start digging and you will find the most precious truths. Firstly ‘temptation’, more often than not in the New Testament, means ‘sufferings which test or try’ so the issue isn’t that God would lead us into sin.
But do we still not have a contradiction? In an earlier Insight we thought of how, straight after victory over the Egyptians (Exodus 15-16), God took Israel into a time of testing at Marah. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit coming upon him we read that, ‘Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Devil’ (Matthew 4:1). How can you pray that you won’t be led into testing when clearly the Israelites were and so was Jesus? And doesn’t James write that ‘when all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! (James 1:2 Phillips). He then goes on to elaborate on how those trials develop character.
So why should we pray for something not to happen that clearly does us so much good? What I love about the Bible is that it lets us be truly human – fully, deeply, even embarrassingly human. Didn’t Jesus pray, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me’ (Matthew 26:39)? That is the equivalent of ‘lead me not into temptation’. He didn’t want to go through suffering and the cross any more than you or I would have done. So he cried out to God in his anguish of heart. We can equally pray that we will be spared from the trial – as long as we have Jesus’ attitude, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Acknowledge what you feel but don’t base your decisions on it. But this doesn’t take us all the way. Clearly Jesus means this request of not being led into temptation to be part of our regular praying – and yet we don’t pray it. It is one thing to find ourselves heading towards a dark time and to cry out that we will be spared the test and quite another to pray this consistently. Perhaps this is another part of being human. Hands up all of us who fancy a test today? A little test – or a real tough one? I prefer to give them a miss altogether. Let’s get out there and enjoy life. Perhaps what Jesus was encouraging us to pray was, ‘thank you Lord for this life, it’s good and we don’t want anything to spoil it today; we certainly don’t want the miserable Devil to take us off down the wrong road.’ Doesn’t that capture the prayer?
I remember calling on a Christian couple and all they went on about were trials and struggles and I remember thinking, ‘this theme is not meant to define us.’ We can end up believing we are not meant to enjoy life and that nothing of significance is happening unless we are struggling with some trial. There is no merit in being miserable and heavy. We follow the One who came to bring life – ‘I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure’ (John 10:10 CJB). I want to enjoy life, with all its fun, relationships and responsibilities. If trouble comes I can be positive about it because God will use it for my good – but I won’t go looking for it. In fact, I am going to develop an even more positive attitude to the blessing of life by praying that I will not be led into any kind of test today. You try it – regularly – and the chances are that with such a positive attitude we will completely avoid some of the tests and the ones we have no choice in we will see for what they are and come through with flying colours!
10/02/2016 - Exodus 16:4 'In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.'
God either has a mischievous sense of humour or somehow details matter. For example, when it comes to manna he couldn’t have been more specific (Exodus 16): ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’ Some tried it - ‘but it was full of maggots and began to smell.’ God told them to gather twice as much on the sixth day as there wouldn’t be any on the Sabbath to collect. This time the manna kept overnight – no maggots!
Detail matters because you have to listen if you want to understand. You have to engage, to be specific and to act on what you hear. There is no vague jollying along – you have to be focused.
Put the details together like pieces of a jigsaw and you get the beneath the surface. Fans of murder mysteries are looking for the tiny details that point to the perpetrator of the crime. When the detective gets enough of those clues he rounds up the suspects and points the finger. As Arthur Conan Doyle puts it, ‘It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.’
Stopping long enough to give the detail due weight will force us to depth. The details are like openings in the earth’s crust that provide channels into a place of depth – like potholes that we explore that open up into wonderful vast underground caverns and lakes. There is another world down there and we have to find those narrow openings to access it. That takes time, patience, application, commitment. What does it look like? It is the voice of a child trying to explain something that we could so easily brush aside as trivial. It is a look on a friend’s face that we pretend we haven’t noticed. It is a wife’s desire to convey her heart to her husband but cannot find the words. All he sees is lips moving. To him, it is detail overload.
If that child is going to be secure she needs to be heard. If your relationship with your friend is going to be more than superficial you will have to get behind that fleeting expression. If your wife is ever going to know you really love and value her then you will have to engage with the detail. We want to empathise, to put ourselves in the other person’s terms of reference. To do that we need detail. Not the detail of over-analysis but the detail of whole-hearted application. After all, we are loved by a God who knows exactly how many hairs are on our head and every time an insignificant part of his creation, like a sparrow, hops to the ground. We are in safe hands. Are the hearts of those entrusted to us in equally safe hands?
To explore these thoughts further listen to John's talk 'Attention to detail' on 25/01/2016 - click here to listen.