Summary: God enables us to persevere through trials and testings.
"Preserve us in Testing"
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
An Army buddy of mine sent me a postcard that read, "I can resist anything but temptation." Some people don’t need to ask "Lead me not into temptation"--they can find it on their own!
I don’t want to turn this into a Greek class, but it’s important that we understand what the word "temptation" means. The word, peirasmos, is a neutral word--it can mean, based on the context, either temptations, testings or trials.
A temptation is an enticement to evil. So why would we need to ask God not to do something He would never do? God leads us in the "paths of righteousness" (Ps 23); James says that God doesn’t tempt anyone (1:13). One explanation is that the phrase "lead us not into temptation" is a figure of speech, meaning, "lead us into righteousness."
When we’re tempted, it’s easy to offer excuses: "It’s someone else’s fault"..."I couldn’t help it"..."Everybody is doing it"..."I made a mistake"..."Nobody’s perfect"..."I didn’t know it was wrong"..."I was pressured into it"...or "The devil made me do it". Paul says to the Corinthians, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything" (I Cor 6:12).
Let’s clarify one thing right away--the devil may tempt us, but we decide whether to yield to temptation. Our sin is no one’s fault but ours. We are responsible for our actions. When we sin, we need to admit and confess to God.
A mark of genuine faith is a changed outlook on sin. We all have areas we struggle with, and we may try to rationalize or justify certain things, but for the most part we recognize sin for what it is--rebellion against a holy God. If we were repelled by sin it wouldn’t be so tempting. When we take on a Christian worldview, we regard wrong-doing differently. Our sinful desires aren’t eradicated, but they are aligned more with what is right.
Most temptations begin on the inside. We have inner urges which can lead to sinful choices. A Native American explained that he had two dogs inside him, a good dog and a bad dog. They were constantly fighting with each other. When asked which dog usually wins, he answered, "The one I feed the most."
I’d like to propose what I think is perhaps a clearer translation: "Preserve us in testing." In other words, "Help us while we’re facing the inevitable hardships and enticements of life." A test is a challenge to prove the character of our convictions. Paul assures us that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Cor 10:13). When we pray this prayer we’re asking God, "Please spare me this trial, but if I must endure it, strengthen me and protect me from any potential sin." We can turn trials into temptations. God tests us so we can know how strong we are, and need to be. They also show the genuineness of our faith.
Our ability to respond to a Nor’easter was tested this week. We showed that we were prepared. When the storms of life come they interrupt our lives and frustrate our plans...and they cause us to trust more in God.
We close our service with a hymn, not a pop-quiz. I don’t give tests after my messages, but God does. If God issued letter grades, would we find ourselves on the honor roll or in need of remedial help? We don’t think of tests as beneficial, but they help our spiritual growth and character development. God can keep us steadfast when our faith is tested.
Tomorrow we may be faced with an ethical choice and torn between two options. This moral dilemma might be a temptation from Satan, or a test from God. The difference is the intent. Satan wants us to yield and fall; God wants us to resist and triumph. In the Lord’s Prayer we’re not asking God to keep us from testing, but to help us pass the test. Job, the most tested man in history said, "When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold" (23:10). Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can approach tests with confidence.
There are tests, temptations...and trials. A trial is adversity, suffering, affliction. It’s been said, "Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." Trials build character; they transform common Christians into uncommon saints. Trials are part of God’s plan for us. They aren’t especially welcome, but they can and do increase our faith.
A trial could be an illness or disability, a financial set-back, a hardship, or a traumatic event. I’ve received training in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Victims of crime, natural disasters, accidents, assaults, or war often struggle with recurring nightmares, fears, aggression, sleep disturbance, hyper sensitivity and depression. When we go through trials we need to be able to "tell our story" to others; we need validation-assurance that our response is understandable/normal, that we’re not going crazy. One factor in recovery is the spiritual dimension-victims often feel defiled and need to feel cleansed. God stands ready to help us to heal from life’s hurts. He also offers us victory.