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I Pray the Lord My Soul to Keep

Whatever may come, we must ask God to lead us in a way that honors him, blesses others, and advances his good purpose for our lives.

From the editor:

Here's another great sermon from one of our featured preachers, Bryan Wilkerson—an in-depth look at the last few lines of the Lord's Prayer. Click here to listen to the audio.


One night many years ago, a Christian woman couldn't sleep. It was well past her usual bedtime, but she found herself overwhelmed with fear. Her husband, Colonel Gracie, was crossing the Atlantic that night on his way home from England. When she couldn't push the frightening thoughts away, she got out of bed and began to pray.

Right about that same time, out on the ocean, the safest ship that had ever been built, the Titanic, had struck an iceberg and was beginning to sink. Panic had broken out as people realized there weren't enough lifeboats for everyone on board. Colonel Gracie had given up all hopes of surviving himself, but was doing his best to get women and children into the lifeboats. His only wish was that he could get some kind of message to his darling wife. As the ship began to slip into the water, he said good-bye to her in his heart.

Meanwhile, back in America, Mrs. Gracie was still praying. After two hours she still didn't have any peace, so she continued to pray until about 5 in the morning. It was then that a certain peace possessed her, and she went to sleep.

Out on the North Atlantic, Colonel Gracie was plunged into the icy water and then sucked into a giant whirlpool that had formed. He kicked and swam against the downward pull as best he could, and suddenly he broke through the surface and found himself near an overturned lifeboat. Along with several others, he climbed aboard and waited until 5 in the morning, when he was picked up by another boat and carried to safety.

Of all the prayers we pray, the most frequent and most fervent is the prayer for protection—for the safety and well-being of ourselves and the ones we love. In fact, it was probably one of the first prayers you learned to pray as a child: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Kind of a scary thought, but even as kids we understood that there was a big bad world out there—that anything could happen.

As grown-ups we're even more aware of how difficult and dangerous life can be. Which is why every time you board an airplane, every time your kids leave the house, every time you hear something go bump in the night, you ask God to keep you and the ones you love safe, close to him.

Stories like that of Colonel Gracie and his wife encourage us to keep on praying these kinds of prayers. Clearly, something supernatural was happening that night. God was inviting Mrs. Gracie to participate, through prayer, in the rescue of her husband. At the same time, we know there were others on board that ship who also had people praying for them, but those passengers didn't survive. How are we to understand this? How are we supposed to pray in the face of difficulty and danger, and what can we expect from God when we do?

To answer these questions, I want us to explore the last few lines of the Lord's Prayer—our template for real conversation with God. The first movement in the Lord's Prayer is all about connection. The second movement is about submission. The third and fourth are about provision and confession. The last movement, then, is about protection: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." It's just a handful of words, but they raise all kinds of questions—and offer a remarkable promise. Let's explore it in three phrases and see what we can learn about prayer in the time of trouble and temptation.

"Lead us"

The prayer for protection begins with the words, "Lead us." Jesus was well aware of the kind of world in which his disciples would live. He was well aware of the world in which we would live. It is a fallen world, where the forces of nature sometimes run amuck. It is a sinful world, where human beings do foolish and wicked things to one another. It is a haunted world, where Satan attempts to thwart God's purposes and ruin our souls. Jesus battled that Enemy for 40 days in the wilderness, and he that knew that his followers would also have to engage in similar spiritual warfare.

There a million ways to get hurt in this world—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. What if the cancer comes back? What if our kids get into drugs? What if my parents get a divorce? What if my friend turns away from Christ? As he sends us out into this difficult and dangerous world, Jesus teaches us to pray, "Lead us."

It's an interesting word that Jesus uses here. It's not the usual word for "lead," which means "to direct" or "to go in front." The word used means "to bring" or "to carry." It implies personal involvement and assistance. It's not a general directing his troops from the safety of a distant hilltop. It's more like a shepherd walking alongside the flock as they make their way through the valley of shadow.

Notice that the prayer is not "keep us" from temptation and evil. That's impossible. As free people living in a fallen world, we're going to encounter trouble and hardship. That's why the prayer is "Lead us"—"Bring us through;" "Show us the way."

If you hire a guide to take you on a wilderness trip, you don't expect him to eliminate all the obstacles and challenges. After all, it's supposed to be an adventure! You want him to show you the way—to draw upon his knowledge of the woods and expertise to see you through and get you home again.

Before we head out the door in the morning to face the workday, before we send our kids off on a missions trip or to college or the battlefield, before we have a hard conversation with someone or make a difficult decision, we should pray, "Lead me." That simple prayer assures us that the Lord will not only show us the way, he'll be right there beside us to carry us through.

"Not into temptation"

The next phrase is one of the most confusing in the whole prayer: "not into temptation." As we say these words, we wonder what they mean and why we have to say them. Why do we have to ask God not to lead us into temptation? It's like asking our wilderness guide not to lead us off a cliff! You wouldn't think you would have to specify that! Let's see if we can clarify what it is we're asking—and what we are not asking—when we say these words.

First of all, let's look at the word "temptation." Temptation is a solicitation to evil—an invitation to do the wrong thing. When you tempt someone, you want them to fail. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he wanted them to fall. He wanted them to eat of the forbidden fruit and thus alienate themselves from God. We know from Scripture that God would never do that. James 1:13: "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone." God never solicits us to evil. He doesn't want us to fall. He wants us to stand. He wants us to do the right thing, the good thing.

But the word translated as "temptation," can also be translated as "test." When you test someone, you want them to pass. A good teacher doesn't give a test in hopes that students will fail. The purpose of the test is to prove that they've mastered the material and are ready to move on to bigger and better things. While God will never lead us into temptation, he might take a temptation—a solicitation to evil—and turn it into a test—an opportunity to prove ourselves.

Think of it this way: You're on a diet, and I deliberately drive you past an ice cream stand. I slow down as we drive past and point out that it just opened for the season. I then pull into the parking lot so we can look over the list of flavors. I even suggest it wouldn't hurt to ask for one of those little spoonfuls just to try it out. That's a temptation. I'm inviting you to do the wrong thing. I'm setting you up to fail. God would never do that, because he never wants us to fall.

However, sometimes the road of life takes us past an ice cream stand, doesn't it? This is not because God is setting us up. It just happens to be there. But if we ask God to help us—to see us through—we will find we're able to drive right past it. What might have been a temptation and an occasion for failure, becomes a test that proves we're able to stand. When we pray this prayer, we're asking God to lead us through life in such a way that the difficulties we encounter don't undermine our faith, but rather strengthen it.

Still, this is a confusing phrase. It sounds strange to ask God not to lead us into temptation. Thousands of pages have been written trying to explain this, and I've read a lot of them. But it seems to me the whole thing can be resolved very simply with a well-placed comma: "Lead us, not into temptation."

There was no punctuation in the original manuscripts of the New Testament. It's up to us to figure it out. A simple pause after the phrase "Lead us," gives us a sense of what Jesus means here. The prayer might be paraphrased in this manner: As we make our way through this difficult and dangerous world, Lord, lead us; bring us through situations that could lead to our downfall, and turn them into opportunities to do the right thing, so we can move on to bigger and better things.

So, as a student heads out the door in the morning, she might pray, Lord, lead me today. When I'm taking that math test, help me not to peek at my neighbor's paper but to do my own work. And when kids start gossiping about other kids, help me to speak up for them, or to walk away. A business traveler might pray, Lord, when I'm away from home, keep my mind focused on my work and my family, so I'm not distracted or tempted to do something foolish. A widow might pray, Lord, lead me away from self-pity and isolation, and direct me to new activities and relationships.

I have found that calling on Jesus is one of the most helpful ways to deal with temptation. If I simply speak Jesus' name—out loud or in my head—I find incredible strength to walk away. Because in the end, sin isn't so much about violating a rule as it is about violating a relationship. It's difficult to start a conversation with the Lord, to speak to him by name, and then deliberately turn away from him.

Life presents enough temptation on it's own without God having to lead us into it. This prayer simply reminds us to turn to God when we do encounter it, and ask him for the strength to drive right past, moving on to bigger and better things.

"But deliver us from evil"

Sometimes the road of life doesn't just lead us past tempting situations. Sometimes it leads us right into hardship and trials that can also threaten our faith. With that in mind let's look at the third phrase in this prayer: "Deliver us from evil."

Let's notice a couple of things here. The prayer isn't "Keep us from evil," but "Deliver us from evil." This is not a prayer for immunity from trouble or danger or spiritual attack. The Lord never promises that if we pray enough, bad things won't happen. In fact, the word "deliver" assumes trouble. To deliver someone is to rescue them from danger or to see them through a hard time. For example, the people of Israel were delivered from Egypt, but only after 400 years of slavery, 10 plagues, and a frightening passage through the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army on their tail. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered from the fiery furnace, but only after being imprisoned and then thrown into the flames. Deliverance isn't an exemption from trials; it's an intervention in the midst of trials.

Notice also that it is "Deliver us from evil," not "Deliver us from harm." This isn't so much about physical safety as it is about spiritual safety. Evil speaks of those dark forces in the world and in our souls that threaten to tear us away from God and to thwart his good purpose for our lives. That's why some versions translate it, "Deliver us from the Evil One." The Bible describes Satan as "a thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy"—as one "who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour." This isn't a prayer that bad things will never happen to us. It's a prayer that bad things will never get to us—that they will not turn us away from God or derail the good work he has begun in us.

Jesus himself offered this prayer while praying for his disciples before going to the cross. In John 17:15, he prays, "My prayer is not that you take them out of this world but that you protect them from the evil one." Jesus knew full well that his disciples would suffer on account of him—that they would be harassed, thrown in jail, even put to death. He knew that the forces of evil would come against them to silence their witness and shipwreck their faith. So, he prayed that in those difficult moments their faith would not fail—that they would be able to stand.

That's how we pray for ourselves and our loved ones in times of spiritual danger. When you drop your daughter off at the university with scenes of Animal House dancing in your head, you pray, Lord, keep her from people and influences that will lead her away from you. Guide her to a church, provide her with Christian fellowship. Don't let her be confused by intellectual attacks on her faith, but let them drive her deeper into your Word for answers. When a married couple finds themselves in trouble, we pray, Lord, don't let the Enemy drive a wedge between them. Keep them from doing something foolish or rash to relieve their pain. Help them to turn toward you and toward each other. Provide them with good counsel and friends who will walk beside them. When tragedy strikes a family, we pray, Lord, meet them in their grief. Help them not to pull away from you in anger, but rather to bring their pain and anger to you. Let this experience draw them closer to you, and grant them comfort and courage to face each day.

That's deliverance from evil. It is not immunity from the hard things of life, but divine intervention that preserves and even strengthens our faith. It turns out that our childhood prayer wasn't so far off after all: "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." I'm still not convinced it's the right prayer for a 5-year-old before he climbs into bed, but it reminds us that nothing—not even death—can separate us from God's love and purposes.

When the apostle Paul was in prison, he wrote to the Philippians and expressed confidence that through their prayers, "all these things will turn out for my deliverance." What he meant was that either he would be set free to continue preaching the gospel, or he would be martyred for his faith, and by his death inspire others to be more bold in their witness and go on to spend eternity with Christ. Either way, he and God would win. That's deliverance from evil.

On one September morning, a Christian woman named Lisa Jefferson was working her usual shift as a supervisor at the Verizon Airfone Call Center when a distraught operator handed her a headset and told her that she was talking to a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93. "I'm Todd Beamer from Cranbury, New Jersey," the voice on the other end of the line said. "Three people have hijacked the plane. Two have taken over the cockpit and are flying the plane." As she was speaking to Todd, Lisa learned what was happening at the World Trade Center. She began to pray, even as she listened to the frightened voice on the other end. "If I don't get out of this, will you tell my wife and family that I love them?" Todd said. She assured him that she would. Then Todd asked her to say the Lord's Prayer with him. Slowly, phrase by phrase, he and Lisa prayed the prayer together. When they were done, Todd added, "Jesus, help me." A few moments later, with resolve in his voice, he said to her, "A few of us are going to jump these guys." Flight 93 soon crashed into a Pennsylvania farmland—instead of into our nation's capital, where it would have caused even greater destruction.

James 1:12 reads, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." Todd Beamer knew how to pray. He had been doing it his whole life. When he found himself facing this trial, he knew what to do. He asked God to lead him—to help him stand. And stand he did. Todd received the crown of life that day, and in the process he blessed his wife, his children, and untold numbers of Christ followers who have been inspired by his faith and courage.

None of us hope to find ourselves or someone we love thrust into a situation like that, but we never know what a day may bring. Whatever may come, we have this prayer, a prayer that invites God to bring us through trials and temptations with our faith intact and his glory increased. Certainly there are times when God intervenes to save us from harm and rescues us from danger—probably many more times than we are even aware of. It's right to pray for protection when we board an airplane or merge onto a highway or walk out the front door into a fallen and unpredictable world. But sometimes the road of life takes us headlong into trouble or heartache or grief. That's why we ask God to lead us—to bring us through in a way that honors him, blesses others, and advances his good purpose for our lives.

"For thine is the kingdom"

That brings us to the final movement in this prayer: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever." As most Bibles indicate, that phrase isn't present in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. It was probably not part of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Perhaps it was added at the end of the second century. Still, it certainly is a biblical truth and a fitting way to end the prayer! Because real prayer doesn't just begin with God, it ends with God, too. Here we have just the right words to close out a prayer for protection—a reminder that God's kingdom alone is advancing, and that all the power and glory is due him forever.

To see an outline of Wilkerson's sermon, click here.

For your reflection:

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.

Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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Sermon Outline:


How are we to pray in the face of difficulty and danger, and what can we expect from God when we do?

I. "Lead us"

II. "Not into temptation"

III. "But deliver us from evil"

IV. "For thine is the kingdom"