By John A. Smith
In the beautiful and poetic instructive prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6, disciples are called upon to use prayer in their fight against temptation: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (v. 13a). We may not always easily discern the relation between prayer and our ability to say “no” in the face of temptation. Understanding the statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”) and relating it to our struggle with temptation may help us clear our spiritual vision.
Commonality of Temptation
First, Paul tells us that we will not face an uncommon temptation. That should help us in at least two ways. We are not alone and we are not the first person to face the situation in which we find ourselves. That takes away the “Why me?” lament. If others have gone through what we are facing, we have in them a rich resource of strength and encouragement. If others can conquer temptation and recover from failures, then so can I! Take heart.
Satan is said to tempt us in one of three ways: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). He does not have new tricks at his disposal. If I know how I will be attacked and tempted, I ought to be prepared to fight, surmounting every stumbling block put in my way.
What effect should this knowledge have upon my prayers? I believe that everyone striving to live above sin should pray for encouragement from their spiritually-minded brethren and for the vision to discern clearly the temptations put in his way. Thus prayer is a valuable tool in living above sin.
Not Beyond Our Ability
Second, Paul tells us that we will not be tempted beyond our ability to resist. Satan is limited as to how far he can push us and how severe the temptation can be. We need to pray that we will recognize this and not try to excuse ourselves easily. Rather than praying that they will properly use the strength given them by God, I fear that some prefer to absolve themselves by attributing the sin to “human weakness,” circumstance, or the “can’t-help-its.”
Prayer can be a powerful and welcome ally in our fight against sin. We need to beseech the Lord for his aid in not allowing Satan to deceive us With his “weakness dribble.” Rather than excusing ourselves, let us pray that, with the Lord’s help, we will see and use our ability to flee, fight, and triumph.
The Way of Escape
Third, Paul explains that there will always be a way of escape. Satan can not back us into a comer in which we have no other choice but to succumb and sin. The way of escape will for the moment seem to be the more difficult of our options. If this were not so, it would not be called temptation.
The way out may be preemptive. The escape may be the avoidance of certain situations, places, or people. The person who has difficulty being temperate with donuts might be wise to avoid bakeries. Others may have to deny themselves certain types of activities in order to avoid the arousal of lusts. At times the most expedient approach to a temptation is planned avoidance.
At other times we will not be able to anticipate the arrival of temptation. Some situations demand that we stand and fight while others call for flight. We need wisdom to determine the difference.
Armed with effective fervent prayer, the sin-fighting disciple can keep his spiritual eyes open for the escape. We need to pray for vision, understanding, and wisdom. “Lord help me to see the escape and earnestly desire it.”
The soldier of Christ is not fully dressed unless he takes up prayer (Eph. 6:18-19). Let each of us determine to add prayer to our apparel using it in our continuing struggle with temptation. We can pray when we are tempted and pray when we fail. With prayer on our lips, let us set our sights on the celestial city.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, p. 38
January 19, 1988