The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that, in praying this part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are saying, “By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. And our sworn enemies— the devil, the world, and our own flesh—never stop attacking us. And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.”
Psalm 141 can assist us in voicing this kind of prayer. In this psalm, we hear the psalmist, David, expressing an awareness of his own vulnerability to temptation. Deliverance from temptation is not something he can wait to develop gradually in his life. He is so aware of his likelihood of falling that he cries out for the LORD to “come quickly” (v. 1). We should learn from David’s example to take seriously our need for God to keep us from wandering in the wrong direction. Terry L. Johnson writes, “If even the man after Gods own heart, the writer of so many Psalms, that great King, David, could fall, then so can we…. We pray [for deliverance from evil] because we know our extreme weakness. We are utterly unable to keep ourselves from sin without the help of God.”
Many of the temptations we face come from sources outside us. In verse 4, David talks about the subtle influence of “evildoers” whose offer of “delicacies” might influence him to “take part in evil deeds” with them. In verse 9, he talks about wicked people who lay “traps” and “snares” for him, deliberately trying to trip him up. Like David, we live in a world filled with evil influences that constantly seek to pull us away from obedience to God. The Bible teaches that behind the dark influence of the world is the work of the devil – “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:2b).
But temptation does not only come from outside us; it also arises within us, growing out of the desires of our fallen nature. David acknowledges that his “mouth” and his “lips” might cause him to sin, and thus require God to “guard” them (v. 3). He also talks about the tendency of his “heart” to be “drawn to what is evil” (v. 4). He, thus, needs God’s protection not only against the world and the devil, but also against the deceitfulness of his own flesh. This points to what James teaches about temptation when he writes, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
How comforting it is to know that we have a loving Father to whom we can turn in prayer, to seek help against all that wars against our souls.