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Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus instructs us:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’"

But James 1:13-14 says:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.

If God doesn't tempt us, why does the Lord's Prayer petition Him not to lead us into temptation?

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The phrase is part of a couplet, so it needs to be read in that context.

Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

The phrase does not assume that God might lead us into temptation. Instead, it assumes that God does deliver us from evil. The couplet gives the impression that temptations will come, but prays that God delivers us from them. The New Living Translation attempts to make this more clear:

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Through other Scriptures, we know that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13), and we also know that God will always have a way out when temptation comes (1 Corinthians 10:13). A proper systematic theology will look at all the Scriptures that mention a subject to help interpret the more difficult or confusing passages. In this case, other Scriptures make this clear, that God does not tempt and does deliver us from temptation. This is exactly what the prayer asks: when temptation does come (because it will), God save us from it.

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This may be a simplistic answer, but it came as something of an "aha!" moment to me when I first heard it many years ago:

In general, it is probably not the best idea to ask God to do something God doesn't want to do, or to ask God not to do something God does want to do.

Presumably God's will and God's knowledge of the situation is better than ours. So if we were (theoretically) to succeed in getting God to change God's mind, it would always be for the worse, not for the better.

If, on the other hand, we ask God to do things God already does want to do, and ask God not to do things God already does not want to do, then we're asking things that are in harmony with God's will and God's knowledge, which is better than ours.

So in asking God not to lead us into temptation, which is something God already doesn't want to do, we are praying for something that is according to God's will.

Short version: The purpose of prayer is not to get God to change God's mind. Instead, it is to prompt change in our own mind (and heart) so that we are more in harmony with God's mind (and heart).

A prayer for God not to lead us into temptation is really a request for God to help us not to get ourselves into temptation by thinking, wanting, and doing foolish and evil things.

  • About as "simplistic" as an M. C. Escher drawing. :-) Thank you for answering. What came to mind though were instances where someone does get God to change His mind, e.g., the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7. – rainbow Apr 11 '15 at 3:28
  • @rainbow Haha! Well, maybe I could have stated it a little more clearly. About the Syrophonoecian woman, I've always read it as Jesus testing her rather than as Jesus changing his mind. But I know it's often interpreted as Jesus changing his mind. – Lee Woofenden Apr 11 '15 at 4:16
  • It does seem that the whole prayer is about things God has already done. His name is already hallowed, His kingdom will come, His will is always done, if you're praying to Him He has already forgiven you, He doesn't tempt you, and He has already delivered you from evil. The only questionable grace is daily bread, which I've added as another question: Can Daily Bread refer to Jesus Christ? In which case, He is already with us daily. So all the petitions are just meditations on what God has already done, and then, agreed, harmonizing yourself to His mind and heart. – rainbow Apr 11 '15 at 4:38
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Cf. ARTICLE 3 THE SEVEN PETITIONS > VI. "AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION" > CCC 2846

CCC 2846 explains that the Greek means both "do not allow us to enter into temptation" and "do not let us yield to temptation."

CCC 2846 This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to "lead" us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both "do not allow us to enter into temptation" and "do not let us yield to temptation."1 "God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one";2 on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle "between flesh and spirit"; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength.

1 Cf. Mt 26:41.
2 Jas 1:13.

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