I would like to pray… but I have several excellent excuses.
James Moore’s book many years ago, Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned: But I Have Several Excellent Excuses. When I started thinking about all the excuses we have for not praying, that book immediately came to mind. Who among us has not said, “Lord, I wanted to pray, but I have several excellent excuses.” I doubt that our excuses seem so excellent to God.
I don’t even have to outside of my own life to make a list of excuses because I think I have personally used every excuse in the book.
• I don’t have time
• My mind keeps wondering
• I’m too tired or I keep falling asleep
• I’m so busy, I’ll get to you tomorrow Lord.
• You know God, this is NCIS night
• If I spend time with you I’ll be neglecting my family. You wouldn’t want that would you God?
I’ll bet you have used the same excuses… and maybe you have been even more creative with your excuses. Well, excuses are like Armpits. Everyone has one or two, but none of them are very pretty.
It seems to me that having an excuse is the first step to falling into temptation “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from Evil” is the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer in this series.
Unfortunately, the temptation to not pray is only one of the temptations we face every day, and it might not seem like the most important. On the other hand, our prayer relationship with God is the greatest tool we have against other temptations. So sliding into the temptation to not pray may be the beginning of an avalanche of giving in to all kinds of temptation.
There has been some discussion lately about the best way to express this line of the Lord’s Prayer. The problem is that praying “lead us not into temptation” makes it sound like God is in the business of throwing banana peels in front of us to trick us into sin. James is very clear about this in the first chapter
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”
The Pope took a lot of heat for suggesting that “lead us not into temptation is a poor translation He is wrong in saying it is a bad translation because the Greek word translated as “temptation” can be correctly translated either “temptation” or “testing.”
The Pope, however, has a point that our modern ears do not hear what is intended.
The Bible teaches that God would NEVER “lead us to temptation.” While the traditional language which we inherited from the Anglican church and the Catholic church before it, is not wrong, perhaps the 1988 Ecumenical version which you find as number 894 in our hymnal helps us to understand a little better “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil”
I also find the message Bible helpful here with it says “Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil.”
It is not God who leads us to temptation, but we need God to protect us from temptation, or if you prefer, protect us from ourselves.
With that cleared up, what is temptation then? James does a nice job defining it.
• One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it;
• then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin,
• and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.
• You see, temptation starts within us. It starts with our desire looking for an excuse.
• When an opportunity presents itself, we use our excuse and satisfy our desire.
• And when our desire (or will) overcomes God’s will, sin is fully grown.
There is a very famous psychological test called the marshmallow test developed in the 60s’ A marshmallow is placed in front of a young child and they are told if they can leave the marshmallow alone 15 minutes they can have a second marshmallow. Then the adults leave the room. This study in self-control and temptation has been used to predict all kinds of things including academic and career success. The interesting thing is watching the kids resisting temptation, or in some cases not resisting!
The marshmallow is not evil by any means. No one is trying to trick them. The temptation comes from inside of them.
I don’t know about you, but it seems like I have a marshmallow sitting in front of me all the time. No one has to lead me to temptation. I can find it all by myself thank you very much!
Think about your greatest temptation:
• Is it cheating on the important test? Or using someone else’s words in a term paper?
• Is it lying about where you spent some of the family’s money last weekend?
• Is it keeping your eyes from wandering to something you want, like someone who is not your spouse? Or that sports car? Of the new video game?
• Is your marshmallow in the bottom of a bottle?
• Is your marshmallow the pictures or videos on a computer screen?
• Do you scarf down the marshmallow called not telling the whole truth on your taxes?
• Do you make comments and judgments about others or groups of people based on the color of their skin or immigration status?
• Or maybe your temptation is lying about cleaning your room or who started the fight?
We all face temptations. The important thing to know is that they do not come to us from a trickster God. They come from our broken and weakened hearts. So, as the Message says, we pray “Our father…Keep us safe from ourselves.”
There is also, however, real and present evil in the world. Sometimes it is in the form on a single person, but my experience is that it is more often a mob mentality.
• Gang mentality racism or homophobia.
• Greed that is willing to do anything to anyone in order to get to the top.
• Fear that breeds hatred that comes out as contempt for certain groups of individuals.
• Blind intolerance of anyone or anything different from your selected “normal”
We are not unfamiliar with mass shootings, terrorism, xenophobia, megalomania, genocide, and chemical weapons.
So we pray, "Keep us safe from ourselves and keep us safe from evil."
OK, That is all background so we understand the prayer.
The subject of the series is barriers to prayer.
We have talked about
• I want to pray… but I don’t know how
• I want to pray … but why
• I want to pray… but there are no answers
• I want to pray… but I don’t have anything important to pray about
• I want to pray … but I am not good enough
• Today I want to pray… but I have several excellent excuses.
I’ll admit this is one of my personal “favorite” barriers to prayer: the excuse. I am as guilty as any of you. It might sound like this:
• Well, I am pretty crunched for time today, or its late tonight I’ll pray later.
• I would pray but my attention keeps wondering and pretty quick I am making my grocery list. (or in my case I am writing the sermon)
• I would pray but when I close my eyes I fall asleep
• I would pray but I don’t know where to start.
• I would pray but NCIS is on.
Let me just say, excuse, excuse, excuse, excuse, excuse. EXCUSE
O Lord, “Keep us safe from ourselves!
Lord, keep us safe from our excuses!
I’ll tell you. We have a bent to excuses. We have a bent to being tempted. Our hearts are bent toward caving into temptation. That is our sinful nature. And if we are honest sometimes we just don’t want to pray.
The truth is that any of the barriers to sin we have discussed in this series could be real barriers in and of themselves, but each can also be just an excuse.
Do you think God is likely to be happy with our lame excuses to not pray?
I don’ think so.
Jesus, however, gives us the answer in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our father… lead us not into temptation.” “Our father Save us from ourselves.” The truth is that prayer is the best answer to our resistance to pray.
It is like physical conditioning. You go to the gym the first day and you can’t do much, but you wake up the next day with sore muscles. You can use the sore muscles as an excuse to not go back or you can use them as motivation to go work a little harder.
The same is true for prayer which is not unlike a cardio workout for the soul. You can let your excuses keep you away, or you can let them be a call to prayer. Pastor Rick Warren says, "Every temptation is an opportunity to do good." Every time we are tempted we stand at a fork in the road. It might be that the only route we want to see is the falling into temptation side of the fork… but there is that other fork that is harder to see… it is the fork of resisting temptation, saying no to temptation, saying no to our excuses. All it takes is one prayerful step toward that road and we are on our way to God.
Bill Thrasher in A Journey to Victorious Praying goes one step further. He says if we are tempted we should pray for someone else who is tempted the same way. He says we should ask God to give us a “prayer burden “or a deep concern for someone else. If no one comes to mind, ask God for a name. And this works. When I am tempted to anger, for instance, praying for someone who might be angry with me, or maybe not even me… focuses the negative energy of the temptation on something positive. The poet and hymn writer William Cowper writes the lyrics, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.”
One of the best answers to temptation is praying. The answer to any of our excuses is praying. Pull yourself together and pray. If you believe in the power of prayer as I do, you know that God can blow up any excuse you can make up. If you believe in the power of prayer like I do you know that God can move that mountain that you think is keeping you from praying if you just reach out to God. If you just let God.
With the exception of the doxology at the end, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” which is only recorded in some late manuscripts of Matthew and only shows up in the footnotes of study bibles. We have worked our way through the Lord’s Prayer. Along the way, I hope we have addressed your biggest barrier to prayer.
In addition, we have learned some things about us and God.
We have examined the three ways we need to know God: as the intimate heavenly father, as transcendent holy one, and as king in whose kingdom we seek to live.
We have also seen three things we need to know about ourselves: we are dependent on God’s Provision, pardon, and protection. In other words, we need God for even the smallest things, we need God’s forgiveness. We need God’s protection from temptation.
Take this prayer with you, my friends… and may it grow in you so that you can grow in Christ.