If God does not tempt us, why did Jesus instruct us to pray 'Lead us not into temptation'?
Probably the most often spoken prayer in Christianity is the Lord's Prayer from Matthew 6:9–13: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Jesus tells us to pray to the Father to not lead us into temptation. However, we know that God will not tempt us to sin (James 1:13) because it is not in His holy nature. His grand desire and plan is to make us holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). God's Word tells us repeatedly to seek righteousness (Matthew 6:33; Romans 10:3) and to flee from sin (Romans 6:1–2; 1 Timothy 6:11–12; 1 Thessalonians 5:22). So why would we need to ask God to refrain from doing something He wouldn't do?
Our prayer to God to "lead us not into temptation" is a plea for God to protect us, to guide us around situations and circumstances that may lure us into ungodly action. We may read it as Jesus teaching us to pray that God will not allow or permit us to be tempted. God will certainly never author temptation to sin, but He does allow it. Even though we know that God is faithful to provide a way out of temptation if we will take it (1 Corinthians 10:13), our prayer is often for Him to keep us from it all together. There are certain places, people, and circumstances that seem to be dangerous to us, in terms of interrupting our desire to honor God. We ask God to help keep us clear and to set our eyes on Him so we will not be tempted to stray.
"Temptation" sometimes also refers to trials or hardships. We know that God can use suffering in our lives to produce godly character (James 1:2–4; Romans 5:3–5) and that those who seek to live a godly life will encounter persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Even though we know we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33), it is not wrong to pray for God to minimize it.
God knows that our exposure to temptation can build our spiritual muscles, or destroy us. We need His wisdom (James 1:5) and guidance. Our prayer is that we submit ourselves to God's will. As we cede control to God, we ask Him to keep us protected ("deliver us from evil") and give us the strength we need if temptation is allowed.
David prayed a similar prayer in Psalm 141:4: "Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!"
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