With the Lord's prayer, as with any scripture, there's a danger in familiarity.
When my wife and I say the Lord's Prayer with our 5-year-old at bedtime, I listen for my daughter's voice and smile when we reach Matthew 6:13 (ESV). "And lead us not into 'temptation," she says, "but deliver us from evil." Temptation is a word that's foreign to her, even as she's tempted to disobey her mother and me on a daily basis. More than merely entertaining me, however, her deviation from the text makes a familiar passage of the Bible strange, and thereby trains an unexpected spotlight on it. With each recitation, I find myself focusing on verse 13 and repeating it inwardly because I am aware that I need to pray this prayer. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, Lord. Please.
What else is this portion of the Lord's Prayer but a capitulation of sorts?
Isn't it an acknowledgment that if left to our own devices, we are prone to become ensnared and—most humiliating of all—to ensnare ourselves? Matthew 6:13 puts a prayer on our lips that acknowledges our vulnerability to sin. Don't put me in a position where I might fall, Lord, the prayer says, because I will fall. You know the darkness of my heart, too—save me from its savagery.
In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis surveys the state of his own heart and finds "a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds." I find the same things when I look within, along with other unwelcome elements—a circus of schadenfreude and rabid dogs of impatience, champing at the bit. If I do not ask God to steer me clear of temptation and to deliver me from evil, should I really be surprised if I find this rabble in my life, wreaking havoc?
And if we need God to deliver us from evil within, how much more do we need Him to deliver us from evil without? I read of the latest school shooting and realize how powerless I am to protect my little girl when she's not in my presence, but I can submit to the One who is always with her. Be my child's all-powerful protector, Lord.
We might be inclined to think we're perfectly capable of recognizing and avoiding temptation and evil on our own, but what about those threats to our well-being that evade detection? Do we ever ask God to deliver us from everyday evils like hurry, worry, or busyness? Such things have the power to strangle out the peace we might otherwise find in Christ, but we seldom ask our Savior to uproot these weeds from our hearts. As a result, we live with low-grade spiritual fevers—symptoms of soul-sickness far too commonplace to ignore and far too difficult to shake without God's help. Lord, we underestimate the potential for evils such as these to lead us astray from within, and we overestimate our ability to overcome them without Your help.
We might think we're perfectly capable of avoiding temptation and evil on our own, but what about those threats that evade detection?
If we cozy up to corrupting elements like these without ever thinking to ask the Lord for help, how much more likely are we to overlook evils that have the appearance of goodness? We long to be more serious students of Scripture but become legalists in the process and lose sight of the divine love that is at the heart of God's Word. We become heroic workers in hopes of providing for our families but overdo it and neglect our spouses and children. How many other ways do we strive for good but end up worse off? Father, sometimes we don't even recognize evil when it's made its home in our midst. Give us discerning eyes, Jesus.
More than anything else, Matthew 6:13 position us as dependent upon God—as children who need the protection of their heavenly Father. I can't help but think that my daughter is a good model. Her prayer that God would lead her "not into 'tation" certainly makes me want to come before my Maker in a spirit of childlike reliance too. When I hear her fumble the word, I remember my speech was once purer than it is now—and that God has the power to restore my tongue and the rest of me with it. O Abba, Father, You know our predicament better than we do. Set us free, Lord. Deliver us from evil and make us as blameless again.