Thursday, March 26, 2015

Teach Us to Pray, Part 5

[This was shared during this evening's midweek Lenten worship service at Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio.]

James 1:12-16
Luke 4:1-2a
Tonight, we’re focusing on the sixth and seventh petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.”

Someone has said that the easiest thing to empirically prove about the witness of Scripture and Christian belief is the reality of sin and evil. The Bible asks us to accept as matters of faith, among other things, the existence of God, Jesus' birth to a virgin, the divinity of Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, the true presence of Christ's body and blood "in, with, and under" the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and eternity as a reality that will be experienced by all who repent and believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. But it requires no leap of faith for us to believe that each of us is a born sinner or that, except for the God-man Jesus, sin is endemic to the human experience. Each of us can testify to the reality of sin and evil from what we see in the headlines, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

My home pastor used to tell us, “If you doubt the existence of original sin, put two 2-years olds in a locked room with a single toy.” Our natural impulse is to be wrapped up in ourselves, to love ourselves but not God and not neighbor. Our inborn desire to be in control of the universe, to “be like God” is something we all share, no matter how hard we may try to hide it from others...or ourselves.

But after the Christian has prayed that God’s name will be hallowed, God’s kingdom will come, God’s will is done, God will provide our daily bread, and God will forgive us our sins as we forgive others who have sinned against us, Jesus tells us to pray for what may be the biggest miracles of all! Jesus teaches us to ask our Father to “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Think about that: Jesus is teaching us ask God to militate against our inborn impulse to do be our own gods and ask God for the power to not do all the selfish, hurtful things which, inside of us, we want to do. That the Holy Spirit actually moves us to pray for such things, let alone give us the power to mean the requests, is a miracle!

Of the sixth petition, "Lead us not into temptation," in The Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory.”

In this petition then, we do ask God for a miracle. But that’s OK; God can handle miracles!

On the First Sunday in Lent each year, we remember that Jesus, though sinless, shared the human experience of being tempted to sin. Hebrews 4:15 tells us, in Jesus, “...we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Jesus’ successful resistance of temptation in the wilderness--along with His life-long avoidance of sin--was a miracle of God’s compassion and grace. Jesus didn’t take the easy or the selfish or the safe way out. He endured in His faithful obedience to the will of God and because Jesus endured, He can help us to endure faithfully in the face of temptation and evil.

But we can do more than endure. The God Who has shared our life experiences has also conquered our temptations, our sins, and death itself through Christ’s cross and empty tomb! Whenever we ask God to “deliver us from evil,” we express our conviction that no matter what temptations bedevil us and whatever sins we need to confess in Jesus’ Name, those who entrust themselves to Jesus can be raised above all evils.

During our lives on this earth, God will minister to those who truly seek to walk with Him, just as God the Father sent His angels to serve Jesus during His forty days of temptation in the wilderness. To pray, “Deliver us from evil” is to pray for more than the power to resist evil in this life. God will give those who ask the power to live faithfully to God. In Matthew 24:13, Jesus promises those who follow Him: “...the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” It was no doubt with passages like this in mind that Luther wrote of the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer—“Deliver us from evil”: “We ask in this inclusive prayer that our heavenly Father would save us from every evil to body and soul, and [this is the much more Jesus teaches us to confidently ask for]  at the last hour would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to Himself in heaven.”

In teaching us the sixth and seventh petitions, as is true of all the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to trustingly live in the glory of two transcending Christian realities: Surrender and Triumph! When by faith, we surrender to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit makes it possible not only for us to confess our faith in Jesus’ Lordship, but also to be empowered to relate to God as “our Father,” our intimate and loving parent. We can speak honestly to God about our desires, our hopes, our requests, our troubles, and our temptations and our sins.

Pastor and author John Ortberg notes that to the world, surrender is equated with defeat. But for the Christian, surrender is the first step to life. In all twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step to freedom for the addict is admitting that they have a problem too big for them to control or overcome. That too, is the first step to freedom from sin and the freedom to truly live for all of us: We must admit that sin and temptation, even blessings, gifts, good things, and life itself are too big for us to handle on our own. We need help and we need to surrender to the only One Who can provide it, our Father in heaven.

Surrender is a hard pill for us to swallow. But as Ortberg points out, when we play God, when we think that we must have things under control, take responsibility for something over which we have zero control: the outcomes of life. We need to remember that all our times, as well as our eternities, are in God’s hands. When we surrender our lives to God though, God gives us the freedom to live day by day, working, loving, and living faithfully and leaving the outcomes in the hands of God.

The Christian who surrenders to the Father in faith also shares in Jesus’ triumph over temptation, sin, evil, the devil, and death. The person who asks their Father to deliver them from evil is claiming their share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Surrender to Jesus Christ brings triumph as God sets us free to be our true selves, our best selves, our God-ordained selves!

The seventh petition brings us to the close of what Jesus taught when His disciples asked Him, "Teach us to pray." "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever" is a doxology we've added to it. I'm glad that we do. But we also usually same something more at the end of this and other prayers.

We say, Amen.

Luther says about that word: “Amen means Yes, it shall be so. We say Amen because we are certain that such petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven and are heard by Him. For He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us.”

When we say, "Amen" in our prayers, we take Jesus up on His offer of new life to those who surrender to Him and walk in the triumph of new life for all who repent and believe in Him!

So, as we close this Lenten series on prayer, let's do something different. Let's pray, trusting that as we pray that God's will be done, what we pray for shall be so.

Lord Jesus: Teach us to pray as You have taught us and to live our lives in surrender and triumph through the power of Your death and resurrection. In Your name we pray. Amen!

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