Passing the Test: The Deliverance of Prayer
I am a “night-binger.” It hurts to say it and I hope you don’t lose all respect for me as a pastor, but there is something about sweets that makes them appealing after 8 pm. Wave a doughnut in front of me at 10 am, and I have little trouble saying “no.” Ice Cream at 12 pm hardly makes me turn my head. Chocolate Chip cookies are more of a challenge, but usually, at 3 in the afternoon, I can find the strength to refuse. But let the clock strike 8 in the evening, and the dietary Dr. Jeckyl becomes the gluttonous Dr. Hyde. I eat and eat and keep on eating. Then I go to bed and have trouble sleeping. There’s something about chocolate and sleep that just doesn’t mix.
So, in my quiet time the other morning, I made a decision: I was going to cut out sweets, especially after supper. I made up my mind and even prayed about it. Then I came downstairs to discover that my wife had been cooking again. This time she made brownies for a meeting we were having at lunch, after church on Sunday. I was still resolute: No Sweets! In fact, this would be a good test of my self-control. I would refuse to eat them, even though they were sitting right in front of me.
How did I do? Well, I did ok at 10 am. I had no problem at 12 pm. 3 pm went by without a smidge of chocolate. Then the clock struck 8 and testing became temptation. Those brownies grew legs and walked right into my hands. Then they grew wings and flew right up to my mouth. One hour and 4 brownies later, I was headed to bed, once again, a victim of chocolate.
Have you been there? Have you ever been tested in some area of weakness and have that testing turn into a temptation that leads you into sin. Here’s what I know: If it happens with brownies, it can happen in more significant areas of life. I remember a good friend of mine who was on fire for God and was even seeking to win others. Through some circumstances in his life he became greatly disillusioned at church. He went through a time of significant testing, but instead of trusting God he turned on God. He left the church, went off into heavy drinking and drugs. I tried to reach him but could not. It was a couple of years later that one night I got a desperate call from him. He had taken acid and was having hallucinations and he was afraid. I went over and tried to help him. I couldn’t believe that the road of temptation had led him to such an end. You see, he was tested, but he allowed that testing to become a temptation that led him into sin.
Which, I believe, is what Jesus is talking about in His model prayer when He tells us that we should pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” You remember, we’ve been talking about this prayer for several weeks now. We looked at the logistics of prayer, then we talked about the intimacy of prayer when we learned to pray to our “Daddy” in heaven. We learned about the worship of prayer when we learned to “Hallow the Name.” We learned about the priority of prayer when we prayed for His Kingdom to come and His Will to be done. We thought about the provision of prayer asking Him for our daily needs, and we explained the grace of prayer when we asked for and gave forgiveness. Now we come to the last line of requests that we make of God. Say it with me: The Lord’s prayer- “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” Some have thought, from that phrase that we are to pray that God not allow any kind of testing to come into our lives, but a closer examination of scripture proves that this is not so. Want a few references? Well, in Matt 4:1, it reads: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Notice, He was lead by the Spirit in order to be tempted. In James 1:2 we are told to even count it all joy when we encounter all kinds of trials because we know that the trying or testing of our faith brings endurance into our lives.
Why then, are we told by Jesus to ask God not to lead us into temptation? Someone will say, “Well, there must be a difference between testing and temptation. Maybe there’s one Greek word for “testing” and one for “tempting,” so that “testing” is something that God does that’s good and tempting is something that Satan does that’s bad. Actually, that’s not correct. In the Greek, the same word is used for both ideas. Perisamos means “test” “tempt” and “try”.
I don’t think that’s an accident. I believe that the same word is used because the same event can either be a test or a temptation. You see, God does not tempt us to do evil. James says as much in James 1:13, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. Hey! If you’re being tempted to do something wrong this morning, never accuse God of tempting you. He cannot and He will not. But He will certainly try and test you to build your faith. And here’s the amazing thing: The very same event that God uses to test you is often the very same event that Satan wants to use to tempt you to do evil. If you have some grave illness in your life, God intends for that illness to be used to bring you closer to Him. At the same time, Satan, your great enemy, intends to use that event to cause you to question God and reject your faith. Whether it is one or the other is really up to us.
Now, if that is confusing to you, I really want you to listen this morning. You see, this whole thing of tests and trials is the greatest problem most Christians have. And because it is such an issue, it leads to many reactions. In many cases, when testing comes, God’s sovereignty is accused. We, knowing that God is in control of every circumstance, look at our problem find fault with God. We say, “You put this tragedy on me and it is Your fault that I am going through this difficulty.” The trying situation yields a harvest of bitterness. That may be you. You’ve been through the mill and, if you were honest today, you’re accusing God. That’s what happens when testing comes, so often. God’s sovereignty is accused.
And then, when testing comes, sometimes God’s passivity is excused. This person really doesn’t fully accept the sovereignty of God because they think that somehow their trouble and their suffering must have gotten by God. So they just kind of give God a pass, but the truth is they have all kinds of questions and no answers. They have a very passive view of God and it causes them not to trust him.
But perhaps the worst result of testing is that, sometimes, God’s power goes unused. This is the natural result of the first two. When I am angry at God or when I doubt His control, I do not tap into His power and I am left to handle the testing on my own and, usually, handling it on our own does not end well. In fact, it often leads to a spiritual disaster.
So, how can I change my approach? How can I pray, with understanding and effectiveness, those eleven words that can help me conquer my trials? How can I pray, “lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” How can I overcome the temptation of testing? Well, first,
DIV 1: YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH OF TESTING
There are three pretty clear truths implied in this instruction about prayer. The first is this: Testing is God’s tool. At first glance you may think that we are being told to pray that God not test us. Other scripture argues against this conclusion. Time and again we are told that testing is a part of the Christian life. Just consider these verses:
1 Peter 1:6-7 says: 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
And James 1:2 says that we should. . . count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Testing is God’s tool, so praying to be delivered from testing is really not praying within the will of God. In fact, we are told to consider it joy. Well if we are not to pray to be delivered, then what are we praying for? Well, that brings us to the second truth of testing. Not only is testing God’s tool, Temptation is Satan’s Strategy. The very same event God intends for testing can also be the same circumstance Satan seeks to use to tempt us. For instance, you lose your job through no fault of your own. You’re laid off. God is using that to test your faith and to teach you to rely upon Him. Satan wants to take the same layoff, cause you to doubt God, and rebel against Him.
The question, then, becomes how does this “tug-of-war” end up. What decides whether you grow through your test or are defeated by it? Well that’s the point of the prayer! You see, if testing is God’s tool and temptation is Satan’s strategy, then prayer is our weapon!. We do as this prayer tells us and pray to be delivered from the evil and for our faith in God to be strengthend
Want a picture of how this works? Consider Darlene Dieblier Rose. In her autobiography, Evidence Not Seen, she tells of her career as a missionary in the Asian Pacific during WW II. She was imprisoned along with her husband by the Japanese. He died and she suffered horribly.
She was infected by the food she was given and often found worms and insects swimming around in it. She developed dysentery and diarrhea and her condition became very debilitating and embarrassing for her. She just prayed and asked the Lord to heal her. Later, when the Epsom salts and quinine came, she refused to take them and all symptoms left her.
Later, she looked out the window of her filthy cell and glimpsed someone with some bananas. She began to crave a bite of banana so badly, she could hardly stand it. Everything inside her wanted one. She could smell them and taste their cool softness on her tongue. Dropping to her knees, she prayed, “Lord, I’m not asking you for a whole bunch . . . I just want one. Just one banana, Lord.Then she began to rationalize. How could God possibly get a banana to her through the prison walls? “There was more of a chance of the moon falling out of the sky than of one of (the guards) bringing me a banana,” she realized. Bowing her head again, she prayed, “Lord, there’s no one here who could get a banana to me. There’s no way for You to do it. Please don’t think I’m not thankful for the rice porridge. It’s just that—well, those bananas looked so delicious!”
The next morning, she heard the guard coming down the concrete walkway. The door opened, and it was the warden of the POW camp who had taken kindly to her. He looked down at her emaciated body and, without saying a word, turned and left, locking the door behind him. Sometime later, she heard another set of footsteps coming down the walkway. The key turned in the lock, and the door opened. The guard threw a huge yellow bundle into the cell, saying, “They’re yours!” She counted them. It was a bundle of ninety-two bananas!
As she began peeling her bananas, Ephesians 3:20 came to her mind: (God) is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that works in us.
There in the middle of the prison cell she was severely tested. There in the middle of that prison cell, Satan tried to tempt her to despair. But, there in that prison cell, she prayed and the Lord delivered her! He kept a test from becoming an unbeatable temptation.
So can I just ask you, this morning? Are you being tested? I know many of you are, and my heart goes out to you. You’re in the middle of some difficult situation and you, like Darlene, may see no way out. Behind you is pain and ahead of you seems to be only darkness. I want to warn you to beware. Satan wants to turn your test into temptation.
And maybe, for some of you, he already has. Maybe you’re being sorely tempted in the middle of your test to abandon your testimony or even walk away from your faith. I want you to know that you do not have to be defeated. God may not take you out of the test, but He can surely deliver you from temptation if you will ask Him!
You see, if you really can overcome the temptation of testing if you understand the truth of testing. But then you can overcome the temptation of testing if
DIV 2: YOU CAN SEE THE PICTURE OF TESTING
Now, if you sometimes get a little confused about this “temptation” and “testing,” the Bible gives us a real life example to clarify the issue. Paul, the Apostle, talks about a situation of testing that he endured. The thing was, however, that it came on the heels of what probably was, for him, the greatest experience he ever had this side of heaven. Chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians gives us the picture. He writes in v 2
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. 6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.
I will not even hazard a guess as to what exactly happened to Paul, but whatever it was, it was of God and it was powerful. But this wonderful experience led to a test. Keep reading in v 7: And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Paul was tested and tried here and there are some things you can learn about his test from what he says.
First, God’s test had a reason. He says, And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations. God just wasn’t putting Paul through this thing so that Paul would know Who was boss. Paul’s experience with God necessitated this test from God. His test had a reason, and so does yours. Look! God’s not just out to torture you. He isn’t just trying to heat up the skillet and throw you in it so he can watch you dance. He has a purpose. His test had a reason.
And then, God’s test was a test! This thing was no “walk in the park” for Paul. In the first place this test involved pain. The Greek word for “thorn” pictures more than the little sharp point on your rose bush. It is literally a “stake.” The idea is not of some splinter you might get while walking on a boat dock but of a large piece of wood that would literally impale person. It was painful.
And not only that, but this test involved warfare. Notice that this “thorn,” in verse 7 is called “the messenger of Satan . . . to buffet me.” There was a Satanic attempt, in the middle of this test, to turn that test into a personal failure for Paul. And this struggle was not pleasant. To buffet means to receive vicious blows to the face. Literallly it means to be humiliatingly slapped around. And in the middle of this conflict, Paul confesses that he felt extremely weak. This was no walk in the park. This test was a test!
And then, God’s test was a necessity. It wasn’t as if Paul didn’t try to get out from under it. In fact, in v 8 Paul says, Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. I mean, one would think that the man who wrote most of the New Testament, under the direction of God; the man who took the gospel all over the world; the man who had been lifted right up into heaven in his experience with God, surely this man could get his prayer answered. Not so! God’s test was a necessity for Paul, for some very good reasons. The main one is found in v9: Even though He prayed to have this thorn removed, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
You see, the reason that God’s test was necessary for Paul was that God’s test was an opportunity. In the middle of his difficulty, God told Paul He would place His strength and that Paul would discover that, what seemed to be for his disadvantage, would really be his greatest opportunity. As he surrendered to the testing, and allowed God to live in Him, he would receive unbelievable strength. One commentator wrote,
. . . the onset of the stake/thorn provoked Paul to pray, and, in all probability, to reflect on the weakness of Christ in crucifixion and the power of Christ in resurrection. In consequence the Lord told Paul that his resurrection power in this age is perfected in weakness, that is, in the weakness of the thorn that is not taken away.
You see God’s test was an opportunity!
And yet I know that these words about testing are landing on some hearts that refuse to receive them this morning. We live in a society that values comfort above all else, but we do that to our great harm, in many cases.
Consider this guy (show pic). Know who he is? It’s William Perry. Still don’t know who he is? Ok, let me give you his nickname: It’s William (refrigerator) Perry Perry. Perry was a colorful defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears when they won the Super Bowl back in 1985. His nickname fit him well, because he was big and wide. Perry was also a friendly man with a wide grin.
Unfortunately for his grin, though he was a mammoth man playing in the tough world of the football trenches, he apparently was afraid of the dentist, just like most of us. He was so afraid that he didn't go to the dentist for 20 years! He didn't go to the dentist even though his teeth and gums hurt terribly, even though his teeth began falling out. Eventually he had lost half of his teeth—some he pulled out himself!—and his gums suffered chronic infection. He was suffering!
Finally, as he neared age 45, he went to a dentist. The dentist had to pull out all of his remaining teeth. He had to insert screws in Perry's jaw and implant new teeth—all of which would have cost Perry $60,000 except the dentist donated the procedure (apparently for the free publicity).
Now there's a story every mother will tell her son when she tells him he has to go to the dentist or brush his teeth. “You better brush your teeth or they’ll all fall out just like the ‘fridge.’”But this is also a story for all who avoid suffering at all costs. There are tests that we have to go through as believers. There are messengers of Satan who come to buffet us and we must learn the secret in the middle of testing, to pray for God to deliver us, not from pain, but from the designs of the evil one. It takes courage to face pain. But as William Perry said of his new teeth, "It's unbelievable. And I love them….I got tired of my mouth hurting all the time."
Which just brings me to these applications:
First, since God’s test has a purpose, I can be sure that my suffering has meaning. God isn’t letting me “twist in the wind”. He has a method to what seems like madness to us. There is a purpose.
Second, since God’s test is, indeed, a test, I can be sure that my suffering will sometimes be difficult. It will mean pain and it will mean spiritual opposition.
Third, since God’s test is a necessity, I can be sure of His love, even if He doesn’t bring me the relief I long for.
Last, since God’s test is an opportunity, I can be sure of my growth if I will ask Him for deliverance. His test brings growth if we ask Him to deliver us from the temptation Satan would love to bring upon us.
God intends for our trials to bring His grace and strength into our lives. He wants us to overcome the temptation of testing. That happens as we understand the truth of testing and see the picture of testing. But there’s one more action we must take.
DIV 3 - YOU CAN APPLY THE STRATEGY OF TESTING.
The first strategy for passing the test God places in our lives is to simply do what Jesus told us to do: We must pray for deliverance. And again, by “deliverance” we are not asking to be delivered from the trial itself, but to be delivered from the wicked designs of Satan who wishes to turn our trial into a temptation. We pray for deliverance.
In this picture from the life of the Apostle Paul, there are also some actions that can be taken. Now listen carefully because I believe this is a key principle. You cannot read about Paul’s thorn in the flesh without coming away with the very clear impression that the Apostle of Grace had a huge change in values. He began this process valuing the great experience he had in that vision of heaven. By the way, that experience would have been highly valued by the people to whom he was writing. The church at Corinth valued the miraculous, ecstatic experiences of the Spirit and used such experiences to keep score spiritually speaking. It was kind of like “I’ll see your vision and raise you a revelation.” There was an unhealthy competition going on.
The practice was so prevalent that even Paul, who started the church and had probably led many of them to Christ, was being judged by experience and found wanting. In the first part of chapter 12, it’s almost like he sets them up. He says, in essence, “You want to talk about experiences, I wasn’t just taken to heaven, I was taken to the third heaven and I was told things that I can’t even repeat!” That must have really gotten the church leaders going. “Way to go Paul. Now you’re back at the top of our stack! You’re important again.”
But about the time they begin to think that, Paul slams them back to reality. He tells them that he doesn’t glory in that experience. Instead, in vv9-10 he says
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul tells them that he doesn’t value his experience, but rather he values infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses because in the middle of those experiences, he truly receives strength from God.
That’s the strategy: I pray for deliverance and God causes me to begin to value my weakness rather than my strength because in the middle of my weakness, He enters the picture and he causes me to receive His strength. And to my amazement I discover that the strength I was really looking for was not my own insufficient power, but His great grace which is always manifested in my weakness! And I am delivered from temptation, not because I am the strongest spiritual giant with the greatest charismatic experiences. I am delivered because I am weak and His power is resting on me.
In 1958 John Stott was leading a university outreach in Sydney, Australia. The day before the final meeting, Stott received word that his father had passed away. In addition to his grief, Stott was also starting to lose his voice.
It was late afternoon and within a few hours the final meeting would take place, so there was no way to back out. He went to the great hall and asked a few students to gather around him and pray. They read these verses, 2 Cor. 12:8-9, “My grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” A student then prayed for him.
When it was time for him to preach, He preached within an half an inch of the microphone and, as he tells it, “croaked the gospel like a raven.” He couldn’t exert personality. He couldn’t move around nor make any voice inflections. He croaked the gospel in monotone. Then when the invitation came, there was an immediate response.
Stott says: “I've been back to Australia about ten times since 1958, and on every occasion somebody has come up to me and said, ‘Do you remember that final meeting in the university in the great hall?’ ‘I jolly well do,’ I reply. ‘Well,’ they say, ‘I was converted that night.’”
The great opportunity of trial is that His strength is perfected in us. When we pray for God not to lead us into temptation, we are asking Him not to release us from testing, but to come in His power in the middle of our weakness and deliver us from the tempter’s designs on our hearts.
So let me ask you some questions about prayer: Do you pray specifically to be delivered from evil in the middle of your testing? Do you ask God to put a hedge around your will and your heart so that you are not discouraged? Do you ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you when your thinking is getting off course so that you don’t go down the dead-end roads of thinking that destroy your spiritual morale? You see, if we are going to be protected we must ask Him for it!
And what about your values: How are you feeling about your test? Are you full of bitterness and anger? Are you torn up with anxiety or do you have peace? If you are anxious, there’s a good possibility that you are living with the wrong motivation. You are motivated by your own comfort and not by God’s glory. When you begin to understand that, especially in weakness, He is able to give you hope, you will begin to value what you may now despise.
And what about your own strength: Are you trying to “be strong” in this trial? Are you trying to gut it out? God gives His strength to those who are weak. He comes to those who struggle to keep going and infuses them with power. Most importantly, He turns the possibility of temptation into an opportunity for growth for us and glory for Him. This is how He delivers us from evil.
A few weeks ago I was in Cape Town, South Africa, for a gathering of world Christian leaders from 200 countries. One of the speakers was the Anglican archbishop of Jos, Nigeria. His name is Benjamin Kwashi, and he shared a story that was horrific and inspiring at the same time. Jos, this city in Nigeria, has been rocked by sectarian violence for years now, primarily between Christians and Muslims. There have been endless cycles of violence and vengeance and hundreds of people killed. In March of 2009, a gang of people broke into the bishop's house to kill him. He wasn't home, but his wife was. They did unspeakable things to her, and they beat her and left her for dead. He found her, and she was still alive, but she spent most of the following year in recovery. A year to the day after this gang beat her, in March of 2010, they came back. They broke into his home again, and this time they did find Benjamin. They dragged him out of his house, and they were about to kill him. They had machetes and clubs. Benjamin asked for just a moment to pray before they began. So he knelt there on the dirt and began to pray.
1. A moment later he felt someone holding his hand. He looked up, and it was his wife. I still can't believe the courage of that woman. She could have run, but instead she broke through this line of the same people who had attacked her a year ago and knelt with her husband to pray with him, knowing that her life was over as well. And then a moment later, he felt someone holding his other hand. He looked, and it was his teenage son. Benjamin begged his son to leave so that he wouldn't be killed as well. And his son said, "Father, they've all left. They're all gone."
Why did they leave? Benjamin said he has no idea. And he knows they'll be back. I'd like to believe that the reason they left is that when this bishop and his wife were kneeling in the dirt in prayer, the manifold wisdom of God was put on display before the powers and authorities in the heavenly realm. There was wisdom and power there that these people could not comprehend, and they became afraid and they fled