I have read the Lord’s prayer several times. But it had never really made a profound impact on me until I had a particular experience. I had often thought, not without a tinge of pride, that I could handle situations that came my way, particularly if I prayed hard enough. You want to do what is right? Simply follow Daniel’s example, I reasoned. Daniel purposed “in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies…” (Daniel 1:8). Yes, we can deal with temptations by simply resolving not to give in when they come knocking at the door. Is this a simplistic solution to a rather complex situation?
It is true that the power of the will is often under-utilized. I naively thought with sufficient willpower, and of course the right dosage of prayer, one would be well kitted to face the challenges. But I failed to reckon with an aspect of the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13). It never really clicked that it is sometimes better not to be tempted at all than to think that one can always overcome.
As a professor of Ethics, I need to be sure that I can help my students to navigate the moral dilemmas. So it was that God led me through a situation when I was a student myself that taught me the a valuable lesson about temptation.
The setting for this lesson was a crucial examination that I needed to pass— and hopefully with an excellent grade. Cheating in examinations was rife in some public universities where morality had taken a nose-dive. Sometimes, those studying for the ministry were not exempt. I had resolved like Daniel not to be part of the rot.
I was doing quite well, in tackling the questions until I got to answering a particular question. I knew the answer – so I thought. But, alas, I had forgotten! It could be very frustrating, if not agonizingly painful, to fail a question to which I knew the answer so well. Unbelievably, I began to hear some whisperings from fellow students. They were cheating! “Where’s the invigilator?”, I asked myself. I screwed up my resolve, “I will not cheat.” “If there’s going to be one person who will do the right thing in this examination, let it be me.”
Curiously, I felt a vague sense of sanctimonious pride that at least someone had resolved to be different. Then, the unexpected happened. A student whispered clearly the answer to the very question I had struggled in vain to remember. And I heard it.
What should I do? Praise God for revealing the answer to me albeit through a questionable, unethical means? Is it only a behaviour that actively compromises the integrity of the examination that constitutes misconduct? What about passive acquiescence that nevertheless has the same effect on the integrity of the examination? Rationalizing a wrongdoing becomes a great lure.
As a result of that experience, the Lord’s prayer began to take on a new meaning for me. I have learnt to pray, “Lord, lead me not into temptation.” In essence, do not allow me, Lord, to be tempted beyond what I can handle. God has promised: He “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sin is a snare. You try to stay out of it but you can sometimes be drawn, unwittingly, into its vortex. The Apostle Peter probably ignored this aspect of the Lord’s prayer when he assured himself that he would not deny the Saviour (Mark 14:31). But when the hour of temptation came, he fell flat to its insidious power.
Not infrequently, you hear Bible-believing Christians say we must pass through many tribulations before we enter God’s kingdom (Acts 14:22). The Lord’s prayer reminds us that we can pray to be spared of temptations and trials that can cauterize our moral stamina. This is not lack of faith or a confession of a defective willpower. Rather, it exemplifies humility that enables God to pour out His overcoming grace upon us. Then we can justly say with the Apostle Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). This is a lesson we can use in our own lives, as well as pass down to our students. Jesus is our surety of help and protection in and from temptation.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- Have you ever thought that you could always overcome temptations if only you resolve hard enough to be faithful? How can you use your experience to help fellow teachers as well as students?
- Does God lead his children to be tempted? If He does, can we then still depend on Him to deliver us? How can students be led to trust God through temptations?
- Can we really pray not to be tempted when Jesus Himself was tempted? In what sense should we pray that prayer? How can we teach our students to pray this prayer?