We have come to the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, as it is recorded in Matthew 6. These fifty-seven words are Christ’s clear directive: “This, then, is how you should pray.” As we have commented previously, when the Son of God, speaking through the Scripture, is this clear and this direct, his people would do well to pay close attention.
Given the huge number of books on prayer, it is safe to conclude that learning how to pray is a concern for many Christians. But we are not left without instruction for prayer; there is no better teacher for us about how to pray than the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because of the straightforward and simple style of this profound prayer, I believe it is also the best guide with which to begin teaching your children how to pray. As we come to the end of the prayer, Christ chooses to finish with a practical and personal plea:
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
The Bible is clear; temptation by itself is not sin, since Jesus himself was tempted. But temptation is nonetheless dangerous, and it is a passageway that frequently leads to sin and to the dishonor of the hallowed name of God. By instructing us to ask God “Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus has settled the issue of living on the edge; it is not wise! In other words, while it is not wrong to be tempted, you should look for ways to avoid temptation. Don’t live on the edge! Temptations will come easily enough without us placing ourselves in its way. If our desire is to hallow the Name of God, to add to his reputation on earth, then seeing how close we can get to temptation without sinning, is asking for trouble. So your prayers and the prayers of your children should focus on avoiding temptation.
Each person and each child is different and distinct from the next. Thus, each one will be tempted in ways that are specifically personal and targeted. To live out this petition of the prayer requires wisdom to discover the areas of temptation to which you and your children are particularly susceptible. Then, having uncovered these personal heart patterns of behavior that lead to temptation, pray and work specifically to avoid them. Pray for the wisdom to stay away from the edges of life that lead to temptation. Don’t merely fuss at misbehaving children and tell them, “Stop it.” Seek biblical wisdom to understand what drives that common sin problem. Help them to identify, and to avoid and resist, inner desires which yield selfish or angry behavior. Why is your son angry when his brother is happily playing with a favorite toy? Is he feeling sorry for himself? Does he feel deprived? Is he overcome with a sense of injustice? Helping him to analyze these behavior patterns of the heart, and teaching him to avoid the resulting temptations will help him grow in godliness and spiritual insight.
The second line of the petition fits hand and glove with the first line. In a manner that is strongly connected to the poetic language of the Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Christ strengthens and reinforces the first line of the petition with the second—deliver us from the evil one.
It is vital for you and your children to know this instruction. Evil is not random, but personal. The devil is a real person and you and your children are real, personal targets of his. This is what I Peter 5:8 teaches:
Be self-controlled and alert.
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Please note the similarity of this construction to our current petition. Being self-controlled and alert is how to avoid temptation. So, praying that God will help you to be self-controlled and alert is like praying that God would not lead you into temptation. Being delivered from the evil one is like being delivered from the lion who has envisioned you as tonight’s dinner. This is why it is important to identify the areas where one is prone to temptation.
Most importantly, Jesus is teaching you through this petition that you need to be delivered from this personal, evil enemy. You and your children are targets. It is unwise and foolhardy to ignore this reality. It is dangerous to live on the spiritual edge!
One suggestion that will help keep your focus—and honor the intention of this prayer— is this: when you are presented with an opportunity to do a particular activity, do not ask first, “Is there is anything wrong with this activity?” Instead, ask first, “What is right about the activity—how will this activity enable me to love God and honor his reputation!” This will help you identify the dangers and temptations that may be lurking just beneath the surface of something seemingly harmless.
Well, that’s it. Fifty-seven words from Christ that tell you how to pray. These words are profoundly simple and direct. They provide clear direction for you as you teach your children to pray as Christ instructed!