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Praying Like Jesus:
And Do Not Bring Us Into the Time of Trial

June 29, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 11:2-4 (NRSV)

“Father, hallowed be your name.
+++Your kingdom come.
+++Give us each day our daily bread.
+++And forgive us our sins,
++++++for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
+++And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Focus

Jesus taught his first followers to pray, “And do not bring us to the time of trial or temptation.” When we pray this way, we remember just how much we depend on the Lord. When our faith is tested, we need God’s help. When we are tempted to sin, we need God to protect us. The good news is that God is there for us, ready to help in our time of need.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

As you read the shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, the language sounds quite familiar, rather like the prayer that many of us have said in church for decades. But when you get to the final petition in the Lukan prayer in our translation, it sounds quite unfamiliar. Rather than something like “Lead us not into temptation,” the prayer in Luke concludes with, “And do not bring us to the time of trial” (Luke 11:4, NRSV). We wonder what’s going on here. Why “time of trial” rather than “temptation”?

Our curiosity is heightened if we examine other contemporary translations of Luke 11:4. The NIV and the ESV have, “And lead us not into temptation.” The CEB uses, “And don’t lead us into temptation.” Similarly, the NLT translates, “And don’t let us yield to temptation.” So, it turns out that among modern English translations, the NRSV is an outlier with its preference for “time of trial” over “temptation.” What is happening here? How do we know what we’re praying if the translations don’t agree?

The NRSV option reflects a particular interpretation held by some Bible scholars. They get to this reading from several starting points. First, the Greek word translated as “temptation” in the traditional Lord’s Prayer (peirasmos) can mean “test” or “trial” instead of “temptation.” Second, saying “Lead us not into temptation” could imply that God is tempting us to sin, which is inconsistent with biblical teaching such as found in James 1:13: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.”; For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” If God would never tempt us, what sense does it make to ask God not to lead us into temptation? Third, some commentators believe that peirasmos in this context refers to the testing that will happen shortly before Christ returns in glory. We can still pray for Christ’s return while asking to be protected from the persecutions that will precede it.

Nevertheless, most modern translators do not go along with the “time of testing” option, preferring the more traditional “Lead us not into temptation.” They argue that we can pray this way without implying that God is the tempter. To say “Lead us not into temptation” means, in their view, something like, “Lead us away from temptation” or, like the NLT, “Don’t let us yield to temptation.” Several commentators point to the similarity between this request and one found in the written record of Jewish rabbinic teaching known as the Talmud. In the tractate Berakot, one is encouraged to ask the LORD, “Lead me not into error, nor into iniquity, nor into temptation nor into disgrace” (b. Ber. 60b, William Davidson Talmud). Thus, if ancient rabbis could pray this way, it seems likely that Jesus taught his disciples to pray something like “Lead us not into temptation” without turning God into the tempter.

I am convinced, however, that the main point of Jesus’s petition, “Do not bring us into temptation/trial,” stands no matter how you interpret the word peirasmos. What is this point? Jesus is teaching us to pray in a way that emphasizes our utter dependence on God. In this sense, “Lead us not into temptation/trial” is rather like “Give us each day our daily bread.”  We’re not standing before God in bold confidence saying, “Lord, no matter what happens, I will remain faithful. I will be strong.” Rather, we’re acknowledging our weaknesses. We’re saying, in effect, “Lord, when the hard times come, times of trial, times of temptation, I need you to save me. I need you to protect me, to lead me away from that which I cannot handle. And if I must go through hard times, then I need you to give me strength.” I realize that I’m reading more into the text than it says on the surface, but I think something like this is intended.

When I was a teenaged Christian, I had confidence in my ability to be faithful and strong in the Lord. When I went to college, for example, many in my family and my church were worried about whether my faith would survive. Harvard in 1975, after all, wasn’t known to be supportive of Christian faith, unlike in the time of its founding. Harvard’s original mission statement included the line, “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” By the time I got there, however, challenges to Christian faith were multiple and powerful. But as I prepared to leave home for school, I knew I had done my homework. I had prepared my mind and heart. I was sure I would persevere.

Yet within weeks of the start of my freshman year, I came into a time of great testing. It wasn’t of the “temptation to sin” variety. It was more the testing that comes when one’s faith is challenged from all sides. Soon I found that my own ability to uphold my faith was failing. I was desperately afraid and discouraged. Day after day I cried out to the Lord for help. Finally, one night God met me in an utterly miraculous and life-transforming way. He delivered me from the demonic grasp of doubt. He stirred up faith in me like I had never known before.

From that moment on, I have never believed that I can be a faithful Christian on my own. I know how much I need the Lord to uphold me and to help me. So, whether I pray “Lead us not into temptation” or “Do not bring us to the time of trial,” I am utterly convinced that I need God’s help no matter what comes my way. And, from Scripture and my own experience, I am also convinced that God is there for me. That truth lies behind the prayer of Jesus in Luke 11:4. God is there for us, ready to help. It’s true for me . . . and it’s true for you as well.

Reflect

Do you tend to think of yourself as self-reliant, not needing help from others? If so, why? If not, why not?

How about in your relationship with God? How much are you aware of depending on God each day?

What helps you to realize how much you need God’s presence and strength?

Can you think of a time in your life when God helped you as your faith was being tested?

Can you think of a time when God helped you resist temptation?

What might it mean for you to live with a stronger sense of reliance upon God each day?

Act

Consider what you might do on a daily basis to remember just how much you depend on God. Then do it. See what you learn.

Pray

Father, hallowed be your name.
+++Your kingdom come.
+++Give us each day our daily bread.
+++And forgive us our sins,
++++++for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
+++And do not bring us to the time of trial. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Cure


One thought on “Praying Like Jesus:
And Do Not Bring Us Into the Time of Trial

  1. Margie Tomlinson says:

    Good morning and thanks for this inside view of a simple passage. I prefer my NAS as my study bible but I use a variety of translations and paraphrases for lesson planning. I think you will appreciate Wuest’s translation of Luke 11:4 “and do not bring us into the place of testing where the circumstances in which we are tested may lead on to the place where we are solicited to do evil”.
    Wuest is like an amplified paraphrase and like the Message, although more wordy, it sometimes shines in it’s impact. Appreciate your daily delivery of the Word at Work.

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