Rescue us from the evil one.Matthew 6:13
What does it mean to pray, “deliver us from evil”? Or, “rescue us from the evil one”? Almost every contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer translates this petition as the evil one, not simply evil, so that will be my focus here. In the preface to his wonderful book, “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis wrote:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves (the devils) are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
If there is one thing that the New Testament makes very clear, it is that the devil is very real, and very defeated. Okay, that’s two things. But they’re both important.
On the one hand, it is clear when you read the New Testament that the devil is very real. He tempts Jesus in the wilderness. His demons possess people. He prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). The devil and his angels have prepared an eternal fire that they are hoping to burn us in (Matthew 25:41). The devil is very real, and very dangerous.
But, on the other hand, it is also clear that the devil has been defeated. Even before Jesus went to the cross, the devil began losing the war. In the wilderness, when he couldn’t tempt Jesus away from his mission. When the disciples were sent out by Jesus. (They came back saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” To which Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” – Luke 10:17-18). When Jesus got ready to go to the cross, he said: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). In the great words of Revelation, Satan has been thrown down, defeated, conquered, “By the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11).
The devil is very real, and very dangerous. But by the blood of the lamb, the devil has been conquered. Jesus’ death on the cross defeated him, once and for all. The war is over. But there are still some battles to be fought. As I told my kids, when they came to me concerned about the devil, he is just like a chicken with his head cut off. He is dead, but he is still running around making a mess.
So, how do we avoid his mess? How do we deal with the devil? Here are five ways that scripture teaches us:
- Keep alert – “Keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Luther reminds us that Satan has only one tool at his disposal, but it is a powerful one – his only tool is to tempt us. That’s all. But that is obviously a very powerful tool. So we must be watchful and vigilant. We must keep alert. “Lead us not into temptation.”
- Submit to God – “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Choose to serve God, to obey God, and to worship God. Not Satan. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Or, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, “do not make room for the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Make room for God, not the devil. Pray for God’s kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done. And the devil will flee.
- Realize that Satan loves to accomplish his tasks without getting any of the credit. As Jesus says in John’s gospel, “all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:20). Satan doesn’t want his deeds exposed, so he works undercover, and by any means necessary. As Paul tells us, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Often, the evil in our world is not present in a person; it is easy to know it is there, but not so easy to identify it clearly. It can be systemic evil, which the devil loves because it quietly does his work without being seen. What can we do? Expose it. Shine the light on it. Uncover the truth. Be relentless in shining God’s light into the dark places in our world. Evil always hates that.
- Learn from Jesus and confront evil with God’s Word. “All the cunning of the devil is exercised,” Luther tells us, “in trying to keep us away from the Word.” Don’t let him succeed. Stay close to God’s Word, and when Satan tries to tempt us, do as Jesus himself did in the wilderness – turn to God’s Word. When Jesus was tempted, he responded to every temptation by quoting God’s Word. Of course, the devil quoted scripture back to him, so it’s not a guarantee, but it is a very important tool.
- And finally, and most obviously, pray! Just as Jesus taught us in this prayer. The devil hates it when we pray. So pray often. Prayer can guide us in confronting evil, and empower us. Prayer is the way that we can confront evil with God right at our side. And if God is with us, then no one can defeat us. Most of us, if not all of us, are blessed to know this prayer by heart, the Lord’s Prayer. So, use what we have, and pray this prayer often. And whenever we do, trust in it, trust in the one we are praying to, trust that God will save us from the trial, and rescue us from the evil one.
In a wonderful little book on the Lord’s Prayer, N.T. Wright ends this section of the book with these powerful words that I will end with, too:
By giving us this prayer, then, Jesus invites us to walk ahead into the darkness and discover that it, too, belongs to God. But, once we have entered the dark night, the fact that we have done so with the Lord’s Prayer on our lips means that, when the darkness breaks it will be (not mere good cheer, but) glory itself that wakes: wakes with the human cry of a small baby, blinking up at his Mother in the sudden light, and seeing in her face, and reading in her heart, the hope and promise that God will triumph over fear, will deliver us from evil, and will bring in his Kingdom at last.N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer
May God bless you as you journey in faith with the words of the Lord’s Prayer on your lips and in your heart. Amen
Here are links to all of the devotions and sermons that I have shared on the Lord’s Prayer:
What Does It Mean to Hallow God’s Name?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Thy Kingdom Come”?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Thy Will Be Done”?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Lead Us Not into Temptation”?
What Does It Mean to Pray, “Deliver Us from Evil”?
Why Pray “For Thine Is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory”?
16 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Pray, “Deliver Us from Evil”?”
I love reading other people’s reflections on The Lord’s Prayer. Thanks, James, for your thoughts. Blessings on you, your family, and your ministry!
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It is incredible how deep the well is with The Lord’s Prayer, isn’t it? I, too, love reading reflections on it. And blessings to you!
So true my friend. Thanks for the reminder. Vain repetition doesn’t help but sometimes a little repeating is just what the doctor ordered.
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Thank you for your musings pastoral on this topic which are very helpful
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It has been a privilege and blessing to share these reflections on the Lord’s Prayer!