"Our Father, Who art in Heaven..."
You're already saying the rest in your head, aren't you?
I've known the Lord's Prayer since before I could talk. I don't remember learning it, I just remember always knowing it. I've recited it over and over at home, at school, at VBS, at Church, at Sunday School, and at camp. I memorized this prayer before I ever thought about it; I prayed it before I ever really meant it.
And because of its familiarity, it's hard for me to read it slowly and thoroughly- to chew on each line and deliberate over every phrase. It might as well be a nursery rhyme, I know it so well. My mind is so used to the flow of the passage that I usually hurry through it, wanting to move on to more interesting reading.
Nonetheless, yesterday I flipped determinedly to the book of Matthew and read the Lord's Prayer. I read it slowly. I forced myself to read it line by line and word by word. And every time I felt my mind drift, I started back at the beginning. It was agonizing.
But this time, despite being so accustomed to the passage, something caught my eye. For the first time in what felt like forever, I noticed something new. In fact, my attention was captured by perhaps my most-ignored line in the entire prayer:
Matthew 6:13 - And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Now, most of the time, I skim over the Lord's Prayer. I really skim. I maybe read the first word in each line and skip over the rest, because I know it so well. But even amongst all the familiar phrases that make up this passage, I probably pay the least attention to verse 13. It's never captured my attention. I've always thought of it as just a little "nicety" tacked on to the end of a monologue. I've tended to group it together with the ending formalities of, "For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen." A closing statement, a finishing flourish.
I don't know if I've ever recognized it as a line spoken with intention or written for a reason. And I don't know if I've ever seen anybody preach or write about it, either. Others will talk about the significance of praying for our daily bread or the profoundness of praying for God's will to be done, but have you ever heard verse 13 explored from the pulpit?
And I wonder why.
Jesus commands His disciples to follow His pattern of prayer. And in doing so, He commands them to pray for deliverance from the evil one. Why would we need to pray for that? Why would we need to petition our Father to protect us from the Tempter and the Accuser? Is it really so pressing of an issue that we need to include it in our daily prayers? Is the risk really so pertinent that we need to be praying every day for spiritual security against Satan?
I guess it is. But I know that I rarely pray such a prayer. I hardly ever even think of such a thing.
The thought of spiritual attacks doesn't cross my mind enough to bring me to my knees in prayer. In my mind, the idea of spiritual warfare is more of a mythical, superstitious concept rather than an active reality. Oh- you too? I wonder why.
After all, the Bible certainly doesn't seem to treat Satan's attacks as fables.
Ephesians 6:11 - Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
1 Peter 5:8 - Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Paul puts it most explicitly in Ephesians 6:12:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
This tells me that there is a war going on that I know nothing about. There is a battle raging constantly around me. This tells me that there is a realm filled with conflict that is camouflaged from my sight- a world filled with powers to which I am imperceptible. A dimension where demons aim their arrows at my weaknesses and angels fight for my good. And although its attacks are invisible to my eyes, its blows can still reach my heart.
This tells me that the one who hunts for souls really is out to get me. He's out to shame me. To scare me. To make me complacent, to pull me into folly. To remind me of past guilts, and to make me dread the future. To discourage me from the race and drain all my willpower.
To make me question my validity. To make me doubt my salvation. To make me worry over what God's promised to provide, and stress over variables I could never control.
Now, you may be feeling uncomfortable with all this talk about other realms and angels and demons. Trust me, I get it. Any time I hear people begin to talk about demonic attacks and spiritual warfare, I can't help but feel skeptical. I just can't keep myself from thinking they're a little bit crazy- and I'm a self-proclaimed Christian, basing my beliefs on a Book filled with this stuff!
So why is it so hard for me to accept the truth of Ephesians 12:6? Why is it so hard for me to believe that my battle is not against the things I can see, but the beings I cannot? And why is it so hard for you? Though you may believe it, though you may accept it, there must be at least some temptation to scoff at these claims. If you're like me, you have to resist the urge to roll your eyes and shake your head at statements like these.
So why is it so hard for you to take it as fact? Why is it so hard for our nation? Our country's citizens, Christians included, don't seem to give much thought to the spiritual realm. Compared to many eastern countries, for example, we aren't even scared of the supernatural! We mock it in horror films, we speak of it flippantly, and we laugh at those who attribute anything to the activity of spiritual beings. Why do we refuse to recognize the immaterial? Why is the transcendent so far-fetched?
I think I might have a theory.
It's hard to remember that our battle is
not against flesh and blood when we live in
a culture that believes flesh and blood is all there is.
When you are part of a population that accepts nothing but the corporeal, the real battle going on is easily made into an afterthought. But clearly, this is not what Jesus wanted for us. He did not want His disciples to forget the truth. He did not want them to be lost when the devil turned his focus on them. When they were filled with doubts, He wanted them to remember. When they were tormented with unanswerable questions, He wanted them to remember. When they doubted their security and wondered if Jesus really was who He claimed to be, He wanted them to remember.
He wanted them to remember who they were really up against.
And I think that's what He wants for you and me, too.
Even if Satan can't turn us away from the Path of Righteousness, he sure knows how to make a Christian useless. Through apathy and fatigue and envy and bitterness and lust, he knows just the right buttons to push. And without a solid grounding in Truth, we can easily fall prey to him. Without the blessed assurance of our God, we can stray from the path. Without the confidence in our salvation, we can fall from grace.
Forgive me if my theology is out of whack or my claims about the spiritual powers are inaccurate. I do not profess to be a theologian or Biblical scholar. All I know is that Satan is real, and he is at work. What that really looks like, I don't know. But I certainly know what it's like to be the brunt of his attacks.
And I'm sure you've experienced it, too. You've experienced it on those nights when the anxiety hits and you're filled with questions that threaten to turn your world upside-down. Those seasons when the doubts seem so paramount that you feel as though your entire faith could be shattered in a moment. I've doubted my salvation countless times. I've doubted my legitimacy as a child of God. I've doubted that He's even listening. I've doubted every single one of His promises.
I've allowed my mind to entertain all kinds of heretical notions- ideas that seem to come out of nowhere and make me look at my Bible with fear and skepticism. Do you know what I'm talking about? Can you relate?
If you're a born-again believer, then I know you can. Even if you didn't recognize it for what it was, you've experienced it. You might've blamed hormones or stress or a bad night's sleep last time, but perhaps the next time the uncertainty unleashes, you'll remember the words you've been commanded to pray: "...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
My purpose in writing this is not to frighten, but to encourage. My hope is to remind you, fellow believer, that when the battle feels hard, it's because it is hard. We are being hunted by the ultimate deceiver and stalked by the worst schemer. So when you're feeling hopeless, when you're feeling lost, when you're feeling discouraged and you can't seem to find the reason, don't exclude the possibility of spiritual warfare. Because you have been attacked and you will be attacked again, sooner or later. But you have the power of the armour of God at your disposal; you have the might of the armies of Heaven. So do not dismay.
The battle is bigger than you and I often realize, and that is why we need deliverance.
This is real. This is happening. And we are the target.
Just remember that.