Temptation and Prayer

One habit that Angela and I picked up when we moved to Papua New Guinea in the 1990’s was to always watch the path at our feet when we walked anywhere. Paths in rural Papua New Guinea are not wide, cement sidewalks or elevated boardwalks through wet areas. Because we lived on a very steep-sided mountain, our paths were (and are) narrow, stony, slick, steep, and snaggy. A person tends to watch the path rather than looking around at all the scenery. The scenery is taken in when drinking water or sitting for a bit of a rest.


Jesus’ followers watched him walk the snaggy paths of temptation. He handled people who hated him, doubted him, those who tried to manipulate and use him, and tried to try and trick him into doing something that they could use against him. The disciples watched him handle both popularity and rejection with unshakeable character—and without sin.

Read the above texts. What do they say to you about temptation and prayer? Very early in Jesus’ three year ministry, he taught his followers to pray, concluding with, “And lead us not into temptation.”

On the other end of those three years he gave a similar directive—on the night he was betrayed. Entering the Garden of Gethsemane he instructed the disciples: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” Walking several yards further, he dealt with his own temptation in prayer. In prayer he chose to make the horrific journey to Golgotha. Returning to his followers, he found them sleeping, “exhausted with sorrow.” He knew what was about to happen. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” They would need to have been strengthened in prayer to endure the coming hours.

Stress, fatigue, and sorrow can all take their toll on our ability to resist the temptation to fall into worry or anger or hate. Western culture cultivates these three realities. We are pushed to excess in all. It is a diabolical strategy to break us down and make us vulnerable to sin—to push us over the edge. Missionaries face these realities in a rather magnified way on a daily basis.

How do we overcome, friends? “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” Notice Jesus does not exhort his followers not to fall into sin. He exhorts them not to fall into temptation (the gateway to sin). There are three main sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. As we live in the context of the world, within our own skin, and in an adversarial relationship with the devil, we must continually be in prayer. One of our ongoing prayers must be that we will not fall into temptation. If we find ourselves in the place of temptation when we are tired, stressed, and perhaps sorrowful, if we have not lived in an attitude of prayer, we are more likely give way to sin. How do we overcome?

  • Go, sometimes alone and at other times with like-minded believers, to a solitary place of prayer.
  • Determine not to leave that solitary place until you have surrendered your will to the will of the Father. Your flesh will oppose you. The world will oppose you. The devil will mock you. Don’t give in!
  • Call on God to work his will in your life at the crisis point.
  • Receive God’s grace and sufficiency to overcome.

By God’s grace, by his Spirit, by his Word, by his power we will shake the gates of Hell!


Twenty-One Days in Prayer

They are not of this world, even as I [Jesus] am not of it. –John 17:16

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I [Jesus] have overcome the world. –John 16:33



A World Apart

A few minutes spent twittering through the headlines is a sobering experience. I read of youth ministers being arrested for distributing child porn. Today I read of a minister who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering not one, but two of his wives. Then there are the stories of the hucksters, the “evangelists” who seem to be in “the business” to make a quick buck, actually lots of quick bucks–and seem to be very effective doing it. All of these kinds of headlines grieve me deeply. I am ashamed when I think of how these people drag Jesus’ name through the mud and give a watching world occasion to ridicule him freshly.

The world understands that we don’t belong to them. They understand that we are to operate with a different Spirit. Do we?

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

–I Peter 4:17, ESV

Living in a Time of Judgment

Daniel (of dream-interpreting and lion-mouth-shutting fame) lived in a time when Israel was oppressed and scattered because of her sin . Daniel’s heart was for her to display God’s glory to the nations. When he understood that according to Jeremiah’s prophecy the “desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years”, he responded by humbling himself in prayer.

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke your name to our kings, princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

–Daniel 9:3-6, NIV

Daniel acknowledged Israel’s sin, including himself in the indictment. He acknowledged the character of God as a promise keeper, a covenant keeper, as all powerful. God loved Daniel’s humility and brokenness before Him. Daniel didn’t try to dart away from his own culpability, his own role in Israel’s demise. God sent Gabriel, the messenger angel, to answer Daniel’s concerns.

In another instance, Daniel received a revelation from God.

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

–Daniel 10:2

As you read through Daniel 10, you see that once again the Lord honored Daniel’s humble attitude expressed through acts of contrition and self-denial. He was so fixed on God’s message, on gaining understanding, that he laid all the normal stuff of life aside to pursue God.

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard, and I have come in response the them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

–Daniel 10:12-14, NIV

Cosmic Conflict and Answered Prayer

This is a somewhat cryptic account which peels back the layers of the heavens and gives us a momentary view of the invisible war. We are at war. When we pray there is action in heaven. When we humble ourselves there are ripples in the heavenly places. When we demonstrate our desire to understand, to know God, to overcome in this cosmic conflict, God hears and responds.

  • Don’t give up when your prayers are not immediately answered.
  • Take heart. You are engaged in the conflict of the cosmos. Every day the conflict becomes a little more intense. Everyday we are closer to the goal of our faith than we were the day before. Everyday we push harder into enemy territory.
  • Set yourself aside for Jesus–he has sent you into the world to live as Light and Life.
  • Humble yourself before God–His grace flows to the humble.

Prayerfully go forth and shake the gates of hell!