In Matthew chapter 6, 9-13, we have what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” In it is a line that has confused and troubled Christians throughout time: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
This line is especially confusing after you know what the Greek word for temptation, peirasmos, can mean – it has 3 main understandings:
1) Enticement to sin
2) Trials & troubles in life
3) Suffering under persecution
“So what’s the big problem,” you’re asking – “Why would it be hard to ask God for help avoiding these things!?”
Problem#1 – God never entices us to sin, He’s never the source of our temptation (James 1:13,14) – so why would we need ask Him not to?
Problem#2 – The Bible tells us to be joyful when we have hard times–they produce “endurance” (James 1:2,3)! – Why should we avoid something that can make us stronger?
Problem#3 – God uses suffering to test our faith and build our character (1 Pet. 4:12) (“The character of God in us is built mostly with tears”)– So again, why pray for God to keep us from maturity? If temptation is a key ingredient in the formation of our character and the maturing of our faith, why ask God to keep us from it?
First off, know that in this verse, the correct understanding of ‘peirasmos’ can be either of the last two options. And why ask God to keep us from these? The answer is actually a lot simpler than you might think: Because God is giving you permission to ask for a reprieve from hard times. It’s exactly what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene – “Lord, if it be your will, take this cup from me.” God gives us permission to request not to suffer. Why? Because He's wonderful, because He's kind, because He understands what it is to go through suffering. Will God always answer this request in exactly the way we hope? No – but looking at the example of Jesus in the garden, it’s nice to know we don’t have to pretend to be tough in order to please Him.