Pastoral Perspectives

Pray That You May Not Enter Into Temptation

A DG came to me with questions concerning the last chapter of the common curriculum on the Lord’s Prayer, i.e. lead us not into temptations but deliver us from evil. After answering their questions, I was reminded of another account in the gospel where Jesus told three of his disciples to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation (Matt 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40, 46). While both prayers concern temptation, this prayer differs from the Lord’s Prayer in the sense that it was given to a specific few and in a particular context. What does Jesus mean when he said these words to Peter, James and John and what can we learn from it?

Let us deal with the context first. It took place in Gethsemane where Jesus had left the three behind and went a little further by himself. After praying for the cup to be taken away, he returned and found the three asleep and so told them to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation. This scene repeated three times (Matthew and Mark) before the betrayer finally came and Jesus was arrested. I trust we are all quite familiar with the story here and what happened thereafter. So what does Jesus mean when he told the three to watch and pray?

I think a better question to ask is this: what temptation did Jesus have in mind? Could it be the temptation to fall asleep? Maybe but imagine with me that you were one of the disciples present that evening and you witnessed the crowd arresting Jesus. What would you do in that moment of chaos and confusion? We know that all of them fled, except for Peter who followed after Jesus from a distance. Would you flee or would you follow? We also know that one of the disciples cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest. Who was he? Peter! And what happened when he was found out at the courtyard later? He denied Jesus three times. One final thing to note: when Jesus told the three to watch and pray, could he have someone in mind? Matthew and Mark suggest in the preceding verse that he had Peter in mind! Why? Because of the ways Peter would respond to the situations that he had to face later. So allow me to ask a third time: what does Jesus mean when he said to watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation?

By praying that we may not enter into temptation, I doubt it means asking to be removed from the temptation. I believe it means to enter into a situation with a heart and mind that is able to discern God’s will and respond accordingly. Otherwise we may be tempted to deal with it our ways which are often not God’s ways, as shown by Peter and the rest of the disciples because they had failed to pray. But when we pray earnestly like Jesus did, we have the peace, strength and courage to enter into the situation as the Lord wills and triumph over it, even if it means death or suffering because God’s will has been honoured and we shall share in his glory to be revealed later. Now what else can we learn from it?

First, as disciples of Jesus, we face each new day as if we are entering our Gethsemane, for there will be all kinds of situations and challenges that await us. Without a heart and mind that is devoted to God, we can be tempted to deal with some in ways that do not honour him. Students may cheat in a test because they have not been diligent. Workers may lie to cover up their mistakes or negligence. Such situations may seem ordinary compared to what the apostles had to face but the temptation remains for us to fall into it. Therefore watch and pray if we do not want to enter into temptation. This means that we should be communing with God in Word and prayer each day before we enter into the world if we want to keep our heart and mind in touch with his will. So do you pray and learn of him? It can be hard to do so for each and every day. In Jesus’ own words, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That’s why it is a spiritual discipline that calls for us to work our body into it. Will you?

Second, there may be times when we have to face a dire situation, like Jesus anticipating his arrest and crucifixion. It may be a job interview that would determine if your family needs to downgrade the house or a medical appointment to find out what is causing the pain in your body. And there may be times when others cannot understand or empathise or that you are unable to share your problem with them. These are times when you may have to go into your Gethsemane alone like Jesus did and pray all by yourself. So go into your room or toilet and cry before God if you must, just do not give up on the Almighty!

Finally, in Luke’s account, Jesus was in agony as he prayed that his sweat became like drops of blood and an angel appeared to strengthen him. Thereafter Jesus arose from his prayer to face his trial calmly while his disciples arose from their sleep and were scattered like chaff before the wind. If I may put it, the angel was God’s answer to his prayer. Likewise we may well be God’s answer to someone’s prayer. There had been occasions when someone thanked God for sending me and I trust you have your experiences as well. If God calls us, he will empower us. So let us not shrink away from being angels to someone in need.