When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” I bet most of us think about the temptations we face in our everyday lives. It is not Lent now, but often during Lent I think of this part of the prayer in particular – to help peel back the layers of complexity in life to get back to the core of what is really important. This part of the prayer also seems poignant in Lent, because the first Sunday of that season features the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil. Whatever your feelings on the devil might be – he is representative of the worst parts of us, and the temptations we so easily fall prey to in life. The devil shows Jesus a stone and tempts him to change it into bread; he shows Jesus the nations of the world and tempts him to bow down to him; and he takes Jesus to the top of the Temple and tempts him to throw himself down so the angels will save him (Matthew 4:4-11; Luke 4:1-13). Jesus rebukes the devil and each of those temptations by preaching scripture. We are invited to do the same; in a life of prayer.
Our prayers, as much as we pray for ourselves and our loved ones, should also include prayers of protection for Christ’s church. After all, we pray,
“Lead us not into temptation.”
Here are a few ongoing temptations churches continue to face:
The temptation that more money will solve all our problems
We live this way, so why wouldn’t we think this way in the church too? There is a feeling that if the church just had more money, we could do everything we set out to do. True, money helps, and we can’t maintain buildings, pay staff, support outgoing missions, and lead programmatic ministries without it. But money can become an idol that undermines what we are trying to use it to accomplish. Money can be well spent or squandered, and we can be tight fisted or generous. The hope and prayer I have is that we manage what we have well while encouraging our ongoing growth in generosity. Sometimes the best decision making happens when we are forced to set priorities, discern a focus, and refine a mission. Jesus said, “One does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4). We need to eat – but we also have God’s word to sustain us. God uses every church to do something, not everything. Pray God uses us for ours.
The temptation that bigger is better
There are both small and large ineffective churches. There are both small and large very effective churches. Remember, the church started as a band of a few followers – with little money, no buildings, and lots of hardship. I’ve visited both small and big churches that are lively and happy to include me in their morning. I’ve been in churches of all sizes where I’ve felt like I was in the way. I’ve been in churches that thought they were the center of Christendom and others that saw what they had as gifts to their community and world. You probably have too. The question is not the size of our community – it is the quality of it. Jesus was offered the world, but instead he invited a few followers to lived changed lives. He still calls us, and uses us within a church to be nurtured, and to welcome others into that same changed life. Pray that we live out of the promise, “See, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). What if we asked each other, “What does this new life look like?” and tried to live that way? My guess is that the numbers would matter less than we think they do.
The temptation of relevance
There is no magic button to press. Too often we are ready to jettison all that we have received for what is new, because there is a false hope that new is somehow better. New things are good, and I am an advocate for utilizing new tools as we receive them, but sometimes they can become just as big an idol as anything else. Jesus was tempted to throw down his inheritance so that he could be lifted up – revealing his strength with angelic force. We vie for gimmicks, quick fixes, and newest innovations to somehow make God relevant to people. If we truly believe God is God, then God is relevant, because God is (Exodus 3:14). God’s word is relevant, because it is God’s word. The message of new life given in Christ is relevant, because we need a savior, not better packaging. Please don’t misunderstand me – we are always called to bring that message with clarity in a language that people can understand – and new tools can help us to do that more effectively. However, they can only ever be means to an end – and that is to help us to live our faith in a crucified and risen Christ in the world’s eyes. Pray that we can discern the difference.
Of course there are other temptations than these three, and you may be struggling
with far greater temptations in your life than these. My prayer for you is that you know where true strength resides – not in power, flashy gimmicks or full wallets, but in the Christ who suffers, dies and is raised for you and me – claiming us in our broken flesh, and raising us into his. The church is an imperfect place, full of temptation, and at times makes horrible mistakes. Give thanks that in Christ we are given new life, and pray that he may be made known – even by the likes of us.
P.S. I don’t watch Family Guy…
“Blessed is anyone who endures temptation.” (James 1:12a)
Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: (Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1164.)
Lead us not into temptation
What does this mean?
It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and win the victory.