“Lead us not into temptation.” “Save us from the time of trial.”
Familiar words from a familiar prayer, however you’re most used to praying them. They come from Jesus, who taught his disciples this prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. What is temptation, or trial? Let me tell you.
A week ago, I went to Target with my kids to pick up milk and return a pair of shoes. As we walked in the door, an enthusiastic red-shirted employee asked my kids: “Do you want a toy catalog?” That, siblings in Christ, is temptation. Within moments, my four-year-old was eagerly flipping pages, asking in his most winning voice, “Could we PLEASE get toys TODAY instead of waiting for Christmas?” The answer from his loving but determined mother was firmly: “No.”
Our temptations might not come in the form of toy catalogs (unless you count Best Buy, Menard’s, or JC Penney as toy stores, of course), but we certainly are good at wanting what we don’t need and isn’t good for us. It might be a thing, or many things, as we try to buy our way to happiness. (This does not work, and it’s very expensive in the meantime.) Our temptations might come in the form of just one glass of wine, then two, then a bottle every night, just in the name of relaxing. (This also does not work, and it gets risky quickly.) Our temptations might come in the form of craving the approval of others, whether it’s in public recognition or just one more “like” on Facebook. (To no one’s surprise, this also does not satisfy.)
Temptation gets at us so easily because it uses good things for evil ends. There is nothing evil about toys, wine, credit cards, or social media. There’s no problem with enjoying something. The temptation comes when priorities get mixed up. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11), Satan offered good things: bread, safety, leadership– but the cost was that Jesus would have to put those things ahead of his mission to save God’s people.
The power of temptation is that it lies to us about what matters most. It tempts us to get our priorities wrong– to put love for ourselves ahead of love for our neighbor, to treat our belongings like our beloveds, to look for life from sources that cannot offer it. When we pray that God would deliver us from temptation or save us from times of trial, we are asking that God would stay as our first priority, and that all other priorities would stay in the right order.
After all, we pray to God by the name “Father,” asking that God act like any good parent: to help us avoid temptation and to give us the good things we need.
God, parent of us all, save me from trials and temptations. Keep my priorities in order, and keep my heart focused on you, the only one who can give the life that satisfies. Amen.
By Pastor Beth Wartick
Trinity Lutheran Church