“Lead us not into temptation,”
– Matthew 6:13a
If I were to ask you to list your basic needs, you would likely list physical items: food, water, a car, clothes, duct tape. If you were very academic/theological, you might go abstract on me, listing: acceptance, reconciliation, community, and propitiation. Very few people would list protection from their own tendency to do evil as a basic human need, yet, here it is listed as one of the basic requests in the Lord’s Prayer.
If the order of the prayer indicates importance, then we are at more danger from our own bent toward evil than we are from external evil threatening us. Why is this?
Because no external circumstance can separate us from God. Our own rebellion, on the other hand, can and has separated humans from a right relationship with God throughout the Old Testament. This internal danger is the primary threat to our spiritual well-being.
When we sin, we attempt to usurp the throne of God. “You shall be like god’s” was part of the original temptation in the garden, and it is part of every temptation since. The desire to make our own value system, to build our own kingdom instead of the kingdom of God, this is what we must ask God to protect us from. Since the evil comes from within ourselves, we can only overcome it with help from outside. That is why we must pray, “lead us not into temptation.”