Lead Us Not Into Temptation
First Baptist Church Laurens
October 16, 2016
Each Monday morning, our children enrolled in the First Baptist Kindergarten gather in Easterby for a brief chapel service. It is a great opportunity for us to talk to these children on their level about faith as well as to teach them about coming to church and what it means to worship. Carl, Adair, Elizabeth, Tommy and I take turns leading that time. In fact, you might want to think about coming sometime – after all, their sermons on Mondays are a lot shorter than the ones you have to listen to here in big church on Sunday mornings!
The last time I led chapel, I used the same leash that I have in my hand this morning as an object lesson for that day with the children. This leash belongs to our dog Gourrier. Gourrier, who is a Cockapoo – part Cocker Spaniel, part Poodle, became a part of the Letson household two years ago last month. He is the first dog that we have ever owned for any length of time. Without question, I was the lone holdout on getting a dog but I must confess that we have now had a conversion experience at our house as we too have joined many of you in the ranks of being dog lovers.
I have to say, however, that the two years so far with Gourrier have been an adventure. When you have never owned a dog before there is a lot to learn. They really are like having another child and thus one experiences on the job training almost from day one.
One of our earliest lessons was the importance of a leash. You see, in the early days, we would let Gourrier out all by himself into our large back yard to roam around, take a bathroom break and stretch his legs. In the first week or two, he was pretty good about coming back and not straying very far. But, the more he became comfortable with his new surroundings, the more adventurous he became. It wasn’t long before he was exploring the woods, visiting the neighbors and testing our patience. In essence, the temptations around him were simply too great. Thus, to simply turn him loose was to invite trouble whereas to let him out on a leash was to give him some freedom while exercising some degree of restraint all at the same time. In the end, the world of a leash offered a much better situation for both Gourrier and for us.
I share this because there is an image of God that develops slowly but carefully from the very beginning pages of Holy Scripture all the way into the gospels themselves and right into Jesus’ model prayer. The image is of God as a shepherd and of you and I as the sheep.
The image begins with the earliest name for God that we have which is El. It is the word El that becomes the more well known Eloheim. El is composed of two Hebrew letters which are also, in and of themselves, pictures. The Aleph was the picture of an animal’s head and if you saw an Aleph you could make out a slant nose and two eyes. The lamed is a crocked version of an English “l” and again if you look at it closely you could make out a crude staff like the kind that would be used by a farmer with his heard. Thus El, this early word for God, made from two letters that look like an animal’s face and a farmer’s staff gives the picture of a shepherd. That is to say the one who leads his heard with his staff.
This image reaches perhaps its high water mark in the Old Testament in the 23rd Psalm, which I know some of you are studying on Wednesday nights, when David says in verse one, “the Lord is my shepherd”.
Jesus picks up the same image in the New Testament when in the gospel of John in chapter 10 and verse 14 he says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” Likewise, this same image carries clear through into The Lord’s Prayer when Jesus says that we should pray for God to lead us. “Lead us,” the phrase in the prayer says, “not into temptation”.
From my perspective, there are two very basic reminders here that are also, at the same time, two points for discussion with God in the midst of our daily prayer time.
First and foremost, we are reminder here that prayer is the place each day where we ask for and resubmit ourselves to God’s leadership. This sounds simple but let us not kid ourselves. It is no small thing to reaffirm our inability to lead ourself or our need for the guidance of another. One of the great fallacies of our modern world is that we are self-made, that we can take care of ourselves or that we are the captain of our own ships. The suggestion in all of this is that to ask for the help of another is a sign of our weakness or of our deficiencies.
Yet, the Bible over and over again reminds us that we are like sheep. Left to our own ways or our own devices and left alone, we will ultimately and inevitably take the wrong path, wonder off in the wrong direction or get ourselves into trouble.
Sometimes we do this intentionally. At other times we do this unintentionally. But, the consequences are the same. And, no matter how hard we try or how good we may be, we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. We cannot live this life successfully on our own or simply by using our own intellect, skills or talents.
If you have purchased a new car in the last few years then you know that modern automobiles are becoming more and more about the accessories and gadgets that come with them. Satellite radio, GPS, backup cameras, heated seats, cooled seats, speedometers that project onto the windshield, OnStar, the ability to talk on your phone through your radio via Bluetooth, on board internet and countless other features are ways of convincing us to spend money on a new vehicle and to begin to see all of these features as things that we need not just as added bonuses or luxuries.
There is one gadget of the modern vehicle, however, that I have bought into as a necessity not a luxury. It is the sensor on your side mirror that lets you know when there is a car in your blindspot and thus begins to flash when this is the case alerting you not to attempt to change lanes.
You see, we don’t call it a “blindspot” for nothing. It doesn’t matter how hard we try. it doesn’t matter how careful we are when driving, there are simply blind spots to our left and to our right where we cannot see another car at our side.
We have blindspots in life too. We do. Again, it doesn’t matter how hard we try, how prepared we are or how committed we are to the right things. If we are left to ourselves, like a sheep without a shepherd, we will go astray. It is simply a fact of life.
Thus, to begin each day in prayer, simply but clearly asking God to lead us, to guide us and to shepherd us is a powerful, powerful thing for us to do. It is a daily way or reminding ourselves and saying to God – “I need your help”.
The other side of this, I think is just as simply but also just as powerful. For the phrase here that we are encouraged to pray is not simply that God would lead us but that “God would lead us not into temptation”. Now, some people have always been confused by this statement. Their sense has been that we are asking God here not to tempt us as if God enjoys setting up little tests to try our patience or to see what we will do in this situation or that one.
But, that is not what we are saying. Instead we are asking God to help us to avoid the temptations that are simply a part of every day life. We want God to help lead us around them or through them for we know that as they come our way, we cannot handle them alone.
To me, this gets at two things. First, it gets at the point that every day is a battle. Few days are a walk in the park. Instead, life is hard and most days are littered with conversations, experiences and situations where we know full well that we will have to choose between doing the right thing and the wrong thing.
Each day, we’ll encounter people that we are prone to loose our temper with, we’ll go places where opportunities exist that we know we need to avoid and we’ll be in situations where making the right choice will be the hard choice for us to make. We know that. So, the way that we prepare for that is by asking for God’s leadership and guidance ahead of time and by naming any and all of those situations in advance in hopes that God will help us to avoid those temptations when they arise knowing full well that left to ourselves there is little chance that we will makes the choices that we should.
A few years ago at Christmastime, as we drove to Ann Marie’s parents’ home in Huntsville, we came through one of the valleys in the rural section of Madison County. There had been a lot of rain that particular December in that part of Alabama and some of the roads were not passable as there had been flooding with water still standing over the highway in places. As we made the turn to take the “short cut” to their house, there was a huge orange sign inviting us to take a detour. When I saw it , of course, I did not think that it applied to me. Even as the next orange sign said “Road Closed Ahead” I continued to drive. After all, this was our neck of the woods. I knew where I was going. And, I was positive that nothing was going to happen to us.
Luckily, we survived with no real harm. But, we did drive around for 30 minutes while continuously turning around in the middle of one washed out road after another before finally retracing our route so that we could take the “long way around”.
My point is simple. While my example is a little extreme, we all ignore the signs, think that warnings don’t apply to us and live confident that we can navigate dangerous situations on our own. But, we can’t. We can’t.
Yet, thanks be to God, we have the opportunity each and every day to ask for God’s guidance. To walk with God in prayer through the day and situations that we know are before us while asking for help, guidance and presence. With God’s help we may avoid the danger ahead, or, if not with God’s help we can know that we will not walk through it alone.
We are sheep, yet God is our shepherd. Therefore, in humility and with eagerness, let us each day, while the day is young, ask God, our Good Shepherd to be the leader of our lives. Amen.