Of all the petitions offered in the Lord’s Prayer, the one that most provokes my curiosity is “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The early desert monastics (beginning in the fourth century) acknowledged the sobering reality of temptation in their lives. Yet for them, temptation was not something to be avoided, since the refining of our spiritual lives required an engagement with temptation. My study of that period of monasticism has helped me to appreciate that temptation reveals areas of my spiritual armor that need to be fortified in order for me to become more fully the person God created me to be.
Even Jesus, in his humanity, was tempted after his baptism by John in the Jordan River. You’ll recall that he withdraws into the desert for forty days, where he faces a series of temptations. In each temptation delivered upon him by the devil, Jesus withstands by recalling scripture that he had learned and memorized growing up in his faith. The desert monk, Evagrius Ponticus, adapted this method of engaging temptation in his book Antirrhêtikos, which means “Talking Back,” by using scripture to confront the wiles of the devil, empowering the individual to avoid acting upon temptation.
The crucial insight we can take from the desert monastics is seeing that temptation itself is not a sin. They deemed that only entertaining temptation in such a way as led to acting upon it was sinful.
Like the teachings of the desert monastics, our own Rule of Life acknowledges the reality of temptation in our life of faith: “For the hours of the day to be permeated by mindfulness of the divine life we must be engaged in constant struggle, depending on God’s grace. Powerful forces are bent on separating us from God, our own souls, and one another through the din of noise and the whirl of preoccupation.” For me, this preoccupation usually occurs when I’m not feeling my best. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert, he was in the midst of a forty-day fast from food and water. In my own life, when I am facing temptation, I recall a slogan from the rooms of 12-step recovery: H.A.L.T., which is an acronym for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.” Whenever you feel tempted to do or say something that is not conducive to the life to which God has called you, you might find it helpful to notice if you are feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired and then tend to some self-care. Seek nourishment, counsel for your anger, the company of a trusted friend, or take some time for respite. You might want to recall the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Temptation is inevitable; and we have at our disposal many tools we can use to help us withstand it.
In our Monastery, we use a modern adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer in contemporary language which renders this line, “Save us from the time of trial.” For me, this prayer means asking for God’s grace in resisting the trap of entertaining temptation, which I can do by remembering Jesus’ example and recalling God’s desire for wholeness and abundance of life for me.
In the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer each day, I am reminded that if I turn to God in my moments of temptation, then I, like Jesus, will be able to dismiss temptation’s toxicity, and be fortified and empowered to live into the divine life which God has enabled in me.