When You Want the Last Word, You DO Have a Prayer!

Here's a great prayer all of us could borrow:

O God, just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face, so we look to you in order to understand the things we have done amiss. We are like a reed shaken in the wind; we are inexpressibly weak. Leave us not to ourselves, but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.

— Korea, 20th Century

How true. We're a pretty messed up, bunch, you and I. Like kids in from the playground, there's soil on our faces (and our souls) where a shine oughta be. We resist temptation with all the strength of a wet weak reed in a raging windstorm. And as for evil, well, we're all over that. Oh, we start off with just a little mischief, maybe. But it's a downhill slide to disaster and we know it. Wanna quarrel with me on either the tempting or the evil count? Try this. Go into the local Blockbuster store. Walk the perimeter and just look at the pictures on the jackets. It's enough to make the mayors of Sodom and Gomorrah blush! Worse, look who's lookin' at the same stuff you are. Kids. Often little kids. And the adults who brought 'em don't even seem to notice what they're seein'. Normal's gotten pretty nasty in our time. From film that ought to be rated BG&G (Blood, Guts and Gore), or SS & D (Sex Saturated & Degrading), to families, where evil is disguised as neglect and temptation is as easy as a longing glance at some other life or partner, we could use a good, stiff… prayer! Of course, you guessed it. Jesus models it, Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil!

Get this. We can't pray this prayer, 'til the truth's lain bare. And the inconvenient, often denied truth is: bad's often boss, and sin's really real. We live in a time and place that denies both. Or just insists that sin and evil belong to them, and never to us. Oh, it's often clear what offends against us. But we don't seem to understand that we offend God! In the end, that's what sin is: offending God. And what offends the Almighty? In the broadest terms, God tells us. Not to do justice, to fail to love kindness, to refuse to walk humbly with the Lord. To fail in these things offends; to strive in these things pleases… Heaven. Not to have an absolute passion for God offends. Not to believe in his only Son who suffers even death upon the cross for our redemption. With all your heart, mind, soul and strength, says Jesus, as he quotes the law of Israel. That's the only passion that will do. Anything less offends, wounds God, alienates Heaven and our hearts. And our love for neighbor needs to equal our self-love.

Pretty high standards. It's easy to see the news or read the paper and get the point. Can you imagine God less offended by it all than you and I? But it's so much deeper and less acknowledged. Beverly, home from school, tells of the child who stole a phone from a teacher. The calls were traced, all to one kid's friends, so the catch was simple. Child, parent, teacher and principal huddle in the office. The charge is put. The child is caught, the parent weighs in. "Why? That's what I want to know! Why did you let yourself get caught?" Hold that phone, there's more of sin and sorrow here than first appeared. Does the child or the parent commit the graver offense? If it's true, "Train up a child when he is young, and when he is old he will not depart from it," where do you think this child is going? And what of his children? You see the point. Now, let's stop right here! Here's where I was going to list about three examples of ways I see your sins. But the doorbell rang as I wrote this. I muttered. I moped. I made my way to the interruption on the front porch. It was Bill. From the Gideons. Out on a cold winter day. He came out to hand me a Gideon New Testament and Psalms, and an invite to a pastor's banquet. And he asked if he could pray for me next Saturday. Did I have any prayer request. I thanked Bill. I was polite. But I didn't tarry with him long. Confession, at the very least, I should have invited Bill to pray for that little kid who copped the phone. I did not. So, who's sin should I lift right about here, yours? Or mine? That doorway was a test. No, an actual alert! I didn't have to tune to 1040 on my radio dial. I had to open my heart. I did not. I am the less. Bill is too, that I did not respond the more. And a little child got less than the lord requires. When I got back to the desk my own sin, and a small does of real evil convicted me. And I thought as I returned to these words of what Paul wrote, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Jesus says to pray like this, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." But you can't really pray this, if you don't really see that bad is often boss, and sin really real, out there, yes, but in here (heart) most of all. But if you will see that, own that; then there are two marvelous promises for which you can passionately pray. Pray to be led right, and delivered to the light.

Pray to be led right. And know that God will do just that. Did you know that this part of the Lord's Prayer is likely the most challenging of all? That's because we get messed up about what temptation means here. Let me say what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that God seduces folks. 'That absent our asking him, begging him not to, God would get us in hot water, or entice us toward eternal fire. God is not the enemy. And never a stand-in for Satan. The Creator is not a trickster, out to see if we can be had, for here or eternity! But God does provide us with testing times. God does strengthen us through trying times. The Book teaches, "Whom God loves, he disciplines," as one translation has it. And I like the way Eugene Peterson tries to catch the sense of Jesus ancient prayer in modern English. For him, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil," comes out this way, "Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil."

Ultimately, our prayer is that God will lead us the right way, when on our own, we'd go the wrong way. Our way, not God's way, not Christ's way. Go out on our parking lot today. You'll see those signs. Pointing right. One way. Teasingly, I tried to get the Trustees to mount them on the poles pointing up! A wiser spirit than mine said to me, "Reverend, we've got one out front with the same message on it already." I thought he was joking. Then he took me out to the front corner. "See it," he said. "Nope." "No wonder, you're facing in the wrong direction. Turn around." I did. And when I did, the dear soul pointed to the cross on the front wall!" My friend gave good spiritual counsel. It's entirely in keeping with the prayer Christ teaches us to pray. Wanna be led? Then if you're pointed in some direction where you can't see it, turn around. And face the cross. And it will point the right way and protect you from the wrong way! When ever you find yourself at a trying, testing moment, pray the prayer, yes, then catch a glimpse of Calvary. And you'll see God keep the promise to "Keep us safe from ourselves, and from the Evil One."

Deliverance. Pray for it. Count on it. Here to Hereafter. I have heard it, hundreds of times in my life. "I don't get it. I prayed to have joy, but got sorrow. For health, but got sickness. For ease and got trouble. For love and got loneliness. For good, but got harm. I just don't get it." We're all over it when the Psalm has us sing, "Teach me thy way, O Lord; and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence." But Jesus teaches a vital lesson in a disarmingly simple word. He has us pray for deliverance, not avoidance. Jesus never tells us to pray God will get us around the hard times. He tells us to pray, confident that God will get us through the hard times! It's tough not to call the roll of the saints just now. Joyce Kendall. Orville Gossett, Harry Tate of late. Who else as I look around here? Grace Knight. Rick Christian. Jiggs Behringer, Rachael Knoll. Who do you know, still living or gone before, who has not faced trial with grace? [Names from congregation] Evil with confidence? (Ahh, dear Jason, home from Iraq, prayed for every week by this church.) Who do you know who's faced destruction and death with an eye to triumph amidst tragedy? [Names from congregation] Call the roll and it will give you courage. Call the roll and the witnesses will come to your side. And they will testify. God doesn't get us around, but through. And it will be well with your soul. David, Jesus' several greats grandpa, affirms it like this, "I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!" Christ tells us to pray for it like this, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven." David advises us, "Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!" Jesus tells us to pray it like this, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

We might be pretty messed up, but that doesn't mean can't get dressed up, even in the robe and crown. We'll just need to set our illusions down. Bad seems to be boss, sin is quite real. But God in Christ is offering a way-better deal. In temptation, at our side. In trouble, clear hope…undenied. We just need to decide.

When we know we need a hand, we do have a prayer!
When You Know You Need a Hand
You DO Have a Prayer

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