In the lower level (er, basement--no windows!) of a medical building is a glassed-in Sleep Study unit. I had an appointment there this morning. The doctor (who I swear is the same age as J, and is approximately half my size!) was talkative and cheerful, over-enthusiastic about my being a writer--"Maybe you'll become famous then I can tell people I treated you!"--and had the same malady most doctors have: he thought I was far less intelligent than I am. Repeated his instructions several times, as if he hadn't been speaking English to begin with, made a diagram of said instructions, then even typed them out for me. Instructions were as follows: Don't go to bed until I'm falling asleep in a chair, even if that's 3:30 in the morning, and get back up if I haven't fallen asleep in half an hour. Never read in bed, write in bed, or anything else... Get out of bed the moment I wake up, and, no matter what, don't nap during the day. And stop drinking caffeine. And I remembered them without even looking at his redundant list.
I followed him down the hall to the 'sleep-study' bedroom, where I'll 'get' to spend the night in a couple weeks. "Come at 8 pm," he said. In the room is a bed, TV and reading lamp. "I thought I wasn't supposed to get into bed until I'm dosing off?" I said. "Don't worry, we'll get you to sleep." "Drugs," I asked. "No," he answered. "But we always get people to fall asleep." Oh sure, I thought. I can't get to sleep most nights by 1 in the morning, but I'm supposed to get into bed by 8, watch a little stimulating TV, then drift away at all? I'll let you know how that goes--on February 26th (or the 27th, I guess); I put it off as long as possible.
Needless to say, I'm skeptical. Do you know how long I've been reading in bed? I think my mom put me down for naps with a book when I was a toddler. Writing in my journal? How long have I been able to hold a pencil? Spending time with the Lord before I go to sleep? I became a Christian 37 years ago, so you do the math! I wrote most of my book sitting against the headboard of my bed. I'm telling you, this stuff is written on my DNA. So for some tiny, (I'm talking skinny) little man to tell me my 'homework' is to follow his instructions...
But I was born compliant (Beve wouldn't agree with this assessment, but I really am. I mean it!), and I do want to sleep more soundly, so I suppose I'll give it all a shot. I left the office, got in my car, and sat looking at the travel mug I'd brought with me. I'd intended to stop for a vanilla latte afterwards. And, after that appointment, it was certainly tempting. But, shaking my head, I put the car into gear and drove toward home. Then, at a specific roundabout corner, veered (almost without thinking), toward a familiar drive-through coffee stand. And I'm telling you, that vanilla latte tasted wonderful. I was tempted, and I caved.
Temptation. "Lead us not into temptation," Jesus tells us to pray, but He can't possibly be implying here that God might, without such a prayer, actually lead us that direction. After all, scripture tells us that God Himself tempts no one ("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), therefore, He doesn't need coaxing to resist tempting us. So on the face of it, this is a pretty strange petition. But the meaning of this word has to do with the temptation inherent in a fallen world. All of earthly life has temptation in it. One way or another, our everyday lives 'lead us into temptation'. Even the right thing can be done for the wrong reason. So this prayer, in which we beseech God to lead us not into--or away from--such worldly, sinful temptations is entirely appropriate. Think of Satan asking God for the right to test Job. Think of Satan testing Jesus in the wilderness, and of Paul asking God to be delivered from the thorn in His flesh, which He knew was a messenger from Satan (2 Cor. 12:7). Jesus understood that the enemy is a roaring lion who prowls, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). If Satan has his way with us, we are doomed. So this prayer is not only entirely appropriate, but actually keeps the roof on our lives. It keeps us from being attacked by all the powers and principalities that want to war against us.
We live in a world that Satan wants, that he's working overtime to try to control. Though I know that many people have difficulty believing in Satan and his work against us, that blindness isn't possible for those of us who read the Word, and actually, that disbelief plays right into his hands. No, we must--MUST--name our enemy, and deal with him.
In a nutshell, the second clause of this petition says what we need from God in terms of Satan--"Deliver us from the evil one." We need to be rescued. The truth is, God already gave us THE one thing we need to be rescued from such temptation, from the tempter himself. Jesus Christ is ALREADY victorious over this 'roaring lion.' If we have given our lives to Him, we have triumphed with Christ because of His sacrificial death.
But we still need to pray these words. Our own sin tempts us, the world tempts us, the enemy tempts us. I think I need to pray more diligently against the temptations in my life. I don't have to be overcome with such temptations. God provides a way out. "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. 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." (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Whether that's about coffee or pornography, sloth or murder, He IS the way out.