Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair.
It's in Luther's Explanation of the Lord's Prayer, Sixth Petition ("And lead us not into temptation"), paragraph 161. Sample collection that includes the work is Luther on Christian Education, 1907, 12MB PDF which includes:
- Luther's Small Catechism
- Large Catechism
- Explanation of God's Ten Commandments
- Explanation of the Apostle's Creed
- Explanation of the Lord's Prayer
- Explanation of Holy Baptism
- Explanation of Confession
- Explanation of the Lord's Supper.
For historical interest, here's full quotation. I'm impressed at how detailed the explanation is. Makes me want to read the whole thing !
THE SIXTH PETITION.
"And lead us not into temptation."
If the word "temptation" or "allurement" were not so much in vogue it would be better and clearer to say: And lead us not into trials. But in this petition we learn to realize the wretchedness of our life upon earth. For it is all trial; no man who is wise will look for peace and security here; he can never attain to such a condition. And though we all should desire it, it is still in vain. A life of trial it is and remains.
Therefore we do not say, Take the temptation from me, but, Lead us not into it. What the supplicant means to say is. We are surrounded with temptations on all sides and cannot escape them, but, O our Father, help us not to enter into them, that is, not to consent to yield to them and so be overcome and overthrown. He who yields to temptation sins and becomes a captive of sin, as Saint Paul says, Rom 7,23.
Therefore, this life is, as Job says (7, 1), nothing but a warfare and a perpetual conflict with sin. And the dragon, the devil, continually assaults us and endeavors to draw us into his jaws. Saint Peter says : Dear brethren, "be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour," 1 Pet 5, 8. Behold, Saint Peter, our dear father and faithful bishop, says that our adversary seeks us, not at any particular place, but everywhere and at every point. He incites, stirs and troubles ail our members and senses from within and without. From within, by evil suggestions; from without, by wicked images, words and acts. Men and every creature are his agents. Unchastity, wrath, pride, covetousness and other sins are the objects of his temptations, and he uses every cunning device to induce us to yield. As soon as we feel so inclined let us swiftly raise our eyes to God in prayer : O God, Father, see how I am moved and tempted to this or that vice; see how I am hindered in this or that good work. Guard me, dear Father, and help me; let me not succumb and yield to it. How blessed would he be who would rise and apply this petition faithfully! There are many who know not when they are tempted nor what they should do in temptation.
What is temptation? It is of two kinds. On the one hand, that which incites to anger, hate, bitterness, displeasure, impatience; such as sickness, poverty, dishonor and everything painful, especially the annoyance of having one's will or purpose, one's opinion, counsel, word or work rejected and despised. These things are of daily occurrence in this life, and God inflicts them through evil men or devils.
If one feels a wrong impulse, he ought to be wise and not be taken by surprise, for such is the course of this life. He ought to draw forth this petition as a true bead in the rosary of prayer, and say : O Father, here is certainly a temptation, which is come upon me ; help me, that it may not result in my seduction and overthrow.
When temptation assumes this form two kinds of foolish conduct are possible. First, when we say: Indeed, I would be pious and not get angry if I had peace. And some give our Lord God and his saints no rest until he takes the temptation from them. He must heal this man's leg, make that man rich, let this man secure justice. And they do whatever they can by their own efforts and the efforts of others to extricate themselves, and so they remain lazy and cowardly knights, unwilling to sustain attack, or to fight. Therefore, they are not crowned; ay, they fall into the opposite temptation, as we shall hear. But the proper course is not to slip by the temptation nor to escape it, but in knightly valor to conquer it. This is the sentiment which Job expresses when he says (7, 1) : "Is there not a warfare to man upon earth?"
The others, who neither overcome the temptation nor are relieved of it, plunge into anger, hate, impatience; give themselves entirely to the devil ; work evil by word and w^ork; become murderers, robbers, slanderers, perjurers, backbiters, and makers of all kinds of mischief. The temptation has conquered them and they yield to every evil impulse. The devil has them altogether in his power and they are his captives. They invoke neither God nor his saints. But inasmuch as our life is called a temptation by God himself, and it is unavoidable that we are subjected to offenses and injustice in body, property and honor, we ought to look forward to trials with unruffled minds, receive them in a spirit of wisdom when they come, and say: Ah, such is the nature of life, what am I to do? It is and remains a temptation. It cannot be otherwise. God help me that I may not be moved and overthrown.
Thus you see that temptation can be avoided by no one ; but resistance may be made and, with prayer and recourse to divine aid, we can put ourselves in readiness to meet such designs. In the book of an old father we read that a young brother expressed a desire to be rid of his thoughts. Thereupon the old father said: Dear brother, you cannot prevent the birds from flying in the air over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair. So, as St. Augustine says, we cannot prevent offenses and temptations, but by prayer and invocation of the help of God we can prevent them from overcoming us.
On the other hand the temptation is that which incites to unchastity, lasciviousness, pride, avarice, vainglory and everything that pleases. Especially does this kind of temptation come when one is permitted to have his way; when his words, counsel and deeds are praised ; and when he receives much honor and appreciation.
This is the most dangerous temptation, characteristic of the time of the Antichrist. So David says in the Psalm (91, 7) : "A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand." Its spread at the present time is alarming. For the world strives only for wealth, honor and pleasure. In particular is it true that the young acquire no training for the fight against temptation and carnal lust. They fall without an effort. Nothing is considered disgraceful any more. The whole world is full of lecherous songs and stories, as if this were the proper thing. In all this we witness the fearful wrath of God, who permits the world thus to fall into temptation because nobody calls upon him.
It is indeed a sore temptation for a young person when the devil fans his flesh into a flame, sets marrow, bone and every member on fire, and, at the same time, incites him from without by seductive objects in the form of gestures, dances, clothes, words and attractive pictures of women or men. As Job says (41, 21) : "His breath kindleth coals." The world is now altogether mad in its devotion to dress and jewelry. But it is not impossible for us to overcome all this, provided we are in the habit of calling upon God and praying: "Father, lead us not into temptation." This should be our prayer also when tempted to pride in consequence of receiving praise and honor; likewise when wealth or any worldly boon falls to our lot.
Why does God permit men thus to be tempted to sin? Answer: That man may learn to know himself and God. To know himself—that he can do nothing but sin and evil. To know God—that God's grace is mightier than all creatures. Thus man shall learn to despise himself and to praise and glorify God's grace. For there have been those who have tried to withstand unchastity by their own powers, by fasting and work. They have broken down their bodies thereby and yet have accomplished nothing. For evil desire is extinguished by nothing except the heavenly dew and rain of God's grace. Fasting, work and watching must indeed accompany it ; but they are not sufficient.
Conclusion of the Petition
- Now, when God has forgiven us our debts, nothing is so much to be guarded against as the danger of falling again. For, as David says (Ps 104, 25), in the sea of this world are creeping things innumerable ; that is, many temptations and stumbling-blocks, which would draw us back into guilt. It is necessary that, without ceasing, we speak from our hearts : Father, lead us not into temptation. I do not ask to be altogether free from temptation, for that would be disastrous and worse than ten temptations like those first mentioned; but I ask that I may not fall and sin against my neighbor or thee. St. James says : "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation," Ja 1, 12. Why? Because temptations exercise a man, and perfect him m humility and patience, and make him acceptable to God, as his dearest children are. Blessed is he who takes this to heart. Now, alas! everybody seeks rest, peace, pleasure, and comfort in this life. Therefore, the reign of Antichrist is approaching, if indeed it is not already here.