Lead Us Not Into Temptation
By Don Umphrey
(with scriptural citations from the NIV)
The Lord’s Prayer in the wording of the King James Bible is recited in unison as people join hands at the conclusion of 12-step recovery meetings. We will zoom in on some sections of the prayer that play key roles in helping people stay clean and sober.
First, here is the prayer in its entirety:
“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
The Source of Temptations
The formerly addicted people who attend recovery meetings want—at all costs—to avoid giving into the temptation of returning to their addictions. This is known as “slipping.”
“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).
Where, then, do these temptations come from?
Wolf Larsen Responds
I’ll initially answer that question through the words of Wolf Larsen, the brutish captain of the seal-hunting vessel known as The Ghost in Jack London’s 1904 novel, The Sea Wolf.
“For look you,” he was saying, “As I see it, a man does things because of desire. He has many desires. He may desire to escape pain or to enjoy pleasure. But whatever he does, he does it because he desires to do it.
“But suppose he decides to do the opposite things, neither of which will permit him to do the other?” Maud interrupted.
Wolf responded “… It is the desire that decides. Here is a man who wants to say get drunk. Also he doesn’t want to get drunk. What does he do? How does he do it? He is a puppet. He is the creature of his desires, and of the two desires he obeys the stronger, that is all.
Wolf’s reasoning reflects the first name that Jack London gave this fictitious character.
Acting Like a Puppet
Not being made in the image of God, animals are slaves to their instincts. People can act this way, too. For example, Biblical King David became a puppet of his sexual desires in his relationship with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his best soldiers. (See 2 Samuel 11.)
Formerly addicted people understand conflicting desires and acting like a puppet when they answered to the call of their idol.
Restating the original question as to the source of temptations:
“The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood and becomes a real killer” (James 1:13-15, The Message).
A Good Example
“Lead us not into temptation” has been summarized like this: “A mother takes her young children grocery shopping and comes to the candy aisle. She knows that taking them down that aisle will lead to bouts of whining and pouting. In wisdom, she takes another route—whatever she may have needed in the candy aisle will have to wait for another day. In this way the mother averts unpleasantness and spares her children a trial. Praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” is like praying, ‘God, don’t let me go down the candy aisle today.’ It’s recognizing that we naturally grasp for unprofitable things and that God’s wisdom can avert the unpleasantness of our bellyaching.’”1
David stated this same idea in the following verse: “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 (Psalm 141:4).
“… Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew 4:1-2). Then Jesus was tempted three times by the devil. With each temptation, a part of the Lord’s response included “It is written.” See Matthew 4:3-11.
We can follow the Lord’s example by studying the word of God. So when temptations come—and they will—we will recognize them for what they are and respond in a way that is spiritually positive.
The Lord’s Prayer also includes “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Living in the present, we won’t allow ourselves to get bogged down in the regrets of yesterday and the worries and concerns about tomorrow.
Yet another part of the Lord’s prayer focuses on forgiveness. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Standing out big here is the fact that our forgiveness from God is dependent on the extent to which we are willing to forgive other people we perceive have harmed us.
Failure to forgive often leads to resentment, a word from the Latin “sentire” which means to experience or feel. Resentment means to re-feel or mentally re-experience something that was hurtful. The English word has become synonymous with anger, spite, and holding a grudge.
The AA “Big Book,” officially known as Alcoholics Anonymous, zooms in on the seriousness of this problem: “Resentment is the ‘number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”3
What Worked for Me
Here are three things that helped keep me from slipping during the early days of my sobriety:
1) This, too, shall pass. When I had anxieties or fears of impending doom while still using alcohol, I would drink them away. I assumed that they would continue to escalate to the point where I would completely lose control. After I sobered up I found this notion to be bogus.
2) God will never give me any more than I can handle. This is based on 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13).
3) A drink will always make it worse—never better.
Temptation vs. Testing
“God does not tempt us but God does test us, or a better way to put it is that He entrusts us. What's the difference? Temptation is being enticed or allured to sin. God will not tempt us with sin because He is good and no evil is found in Him (James 1:13). Testing, on the other hand, is God trusting us to make the right choice.
“God gave the Israelites a choice, ‘This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live’ (Deuteronomy 30:19). He presented them with a choice, but He also gave them the answer, "now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Then He gave them the reasons, ‘that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’” (Deuteronomy 30:20).
“In the same way, the Lord provides us with choices as believers wanting us to make the right decisions, as well. This is not to say that if we don't choose wisely He will punish us. But He entrusts us with kingdom principals watching how we respond and act. Faithfulness in these tests is the road to promotion in His kingdom because He knows He can trust us to do what He has instructed. Money is a good example of this type of testing.”4
"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).
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© 2023 by Don Umphrey
“New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.
3. Alcoholics Anonymous, Third Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. New York, 1974.