“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one …,”
The small population of people who saw me play school athletics have never questioned my decision to enter the ministry. I have, however, received a letter reminding me of the time I deep snapped a football over the punter’s head. Another former classmate reminisced with me about the fly ball which slipped out of my glove and allowed the winning run to score. And then there was the time my buddy scored a touchdown on an eighty-yard punt return only to have it called back because his buddy, yours truly, got penalized for clipping. Oh, the pain of such memories. They hurt, not just because I messed up, but because I helped the other team. It’s bad to lose, it’s worse still to help your opponent win!
My most blatant experience of aiding the opposition occurred in a sixth grade basketball tournament. I can’t remember the exact score when I finally got to play, but I know it was close. I recall a loose ball, a scramble to grab it and complete surprise when my teammate on the bottom of the pile threw it to me. When I saw that no one was between me and the basket, I took off. With the style of an MVP-to-be, I made a lay-up worthy of air-time on ESPN. My surprise at the ease of the basket was surpassed only by my surprise at the silence of the crowd.
No one applauded! Rather than pat me on the back, my team buried their faces in their hands. That’s when I realized what I’d done. I’d made a basket on the wrong end of the court — I’d aided the enemy! I’d helped the wrong team. No wonder no one tried to stop me, I was helping their side.
Can you imagine how silly I felt?
If you can, then you can imagine how silly Satan must feel. Such is the pattern of the devil’s day. Every time he sets out to score one for evil, he ends up scoring a point for good. When he schemes to thwart the kingdom he always advances it. May I offer a few examples from the Bible?
Backfires of Hell
How about Abraham’s wife, Sarah? God promised her a child, but she remained childless for decades. Satan used an empty crib to stir up tension and dissension and doubt. Sarah would serve as his prima facie evidence as to why you can’t trust God. In the end, she modeled just the opposite. The thought of this 90-year-old in the maternity ward has instructed millions that God saves the best for last.
Remember Moses? Satan and his hoard howled the day the young prince was run out of Egypt by the very people he wanted to deliver. They thought they’d derailed God’s plan, when actually they’d played into God’s hand. God used the defeat to humble His servant and the wilderness to train him. The result stood before Pharaoh 40 years later, a seasoned Moses who’d learned to listen to God and to survive in the desert.
What about Daniel? The sight of Jerusalem’s best young men being led into captivity appeared to be a victory for Satan. The plan boomeranged. What Satan intended as captivity, God used for royalty. Daniel was soon asked to serve in the king’s court. The very man Satan sought to silence spent most of his life praying to the King of Israel and advising the kings of Babylon.
And consider Paul. Satan hoped the prison would silence his pulpit and it did, but it also unleashed his pen. The letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and the Colossians were all written in a jail cell. Can’t you just see Satan kicking the dirt and snarling his lips every time a person reads those epistles? He helped write them!
Peter is another example. Satan sought to discredit Jesus by provoking Peter to deny him. But the plan backfired. Rather than be an example of how far a fellow can fall, Peter became an example of how far God’s grace extends.
Every time Satan scores a basket, the other team gets the points. He’s the Colonel Klink of the Bible. Remember Klink? He was the fall guy for Hogan on the television series, Hogan’s Heroes. Supposedly Klink ran a German POW camp in World War II. Those inside the camp, however, knew better. They knew who really ran the camp: the prisoners. They listened to Klink’s calls and read his mail. They even gave Klink ideas, all the while using him for their own cause.
Over and over the Bible makes it clear who really runs the earth. Satan may strut and prance, but it’s God who call the shots.
Deliver Us from the Evil One
The next to last phrase in the Lord’s prayer is a petition for protection from Satan: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Is such a prayer necessary? Would God ever lead us into temptation? James 1:10 says, “When people are tempted they should not say, ‘God is tempting me.’ Evil cannot tempt God, and God Himself does not tempt anyone.” If God does not tempt us, then why pray, “Lead us not into temptation”? These words trouble the most sophisticated theologian.
But they don’t trouble a child. And this is a prayer for the child-like heart. This is a prayer for those who look upon God as their Abba. This is a prayer for those who have already talked to their father about provision for today (“Give us our daily bread.”) and pardon for yesterday (“Forgive us our debts.”) Now the child needs assurance about protection for tomorrow.
The phrase is best understood with a simple illustration. Imagine a father and son walking down an icy street. The father cautions the boy to be careful, but the boy is too excited to slow down. He hits the first patch of ice. Up go the feet and down plops the bottom. Dad comes along and helps him to his feet. The boy apologizes for disregarding the warning and then, tightly holding his father’s big hand, he asks, “Keep me from the slippery spots. Don’t let me fall again.”
Such is the heart of this petition. It’s a tender request of a child to a father. The last few skips have taught us — the walk is too treacherous to make alone. So we place our small hand in his large one and say, “Please, Abba, keep me from evil.”
The Evil One
Besides, who else would we trust to deliver us from the Evil One? We have heard of this devil. And what we’ve heard disturbs us. Twice in Scripture the curtain of time is pulled back and we are granted a glimpse at the most foolish gamble in history. Satan was an angel who was not content to be near God; he had to be above God. Lucifer was not satisfied to give God worship; he wanted to occupy God’s throne.
According to Ezekiel both Satan’s beauty and evil were unequaled among the angels: “You were an example of what was perfect, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You had a wonderful life, as if you were in Eden, the Garden of God. Every valuable gem was upon you … You walked among the gems that shined like fire. Your life was right and good from the day you were created, until evil was found in you.” (Ezekiel 28:12-15)
The angels, like humans, were made to serve and worship God. The angels, like humans, were given free will. Otherwise how could they worship? Both Isaiah and Ezekiel describe an angel more powerful than any human, more beautiful than any creature, yet more foolish than any being who has ever lived. His pride was his downfall.
Most scholars point to Isaiah 14:13-15 as the description of Lucifer’s tumble: “I will go up to heaven. I will put my throne above God’s stars. I will sit on the mountains of the gods, on the slopes of the sacred mountain. I will go up above the tops of the clouds. I will be like God Most High.”
You can’t miss the cadence of arrogance in the words “I will … I will … I will … I will … I will.” Because he sought to be like God, he fell away from God and has spent history trying to convince us to do the same. Isn’t that the strategy he used with Eve? “You will be like God,” he promised (Genesis 3:5).
He has not changed. He is as self-centered now as he was then. He is as foolish now as he was then. And he is just as limited now as he was then. Even when Lucifer’s heart was good, he was inferior to God. All angels are inferior to God. God knows everything, they only know what He reveals. God is everywhere, they can only be in one place. God is all-powerful, angels are only as powerful as God allows them to be. All angels, including Satan, are inferior to God. And, this may surprise you, Satan is still a servant to God.
The Devil Is God’s Devil
He doesn’t want be. He doesn’t intend to be. He would like nothing more than to build his own kingdom, but he can’t. Every time he tries to advance his cause, he ends up advancing God’s.
Erwin Lutzer articulates this thought in his book, The Serpent of Paradise:
The devil is just as much God’s servant in his rebellion as he was in the days of his sweet obedience…. We can’t quote Luther too often: The devil is God’s devil.
Satan has different roles to play, depending on God’s counsel and purposes. He is pressed into service to do God’s will in the world; he must do the bidding of the Almighty. We must bear in mind that he does have frightful powers, but knowing that those can only be exercised under God’s direction and pleasure gives us hope. Satan is simply not free to wreak havoc on people at will.”1
Satan doing the bidding of the Almighty? Seeking the permission of God? Does such language strike you as strange? It may. If it does, you can be sure Satan would rather you not hear what I’m about to say to you. He’d much rather you be deceived into thinking of him as an independent force with unlimited power. He doesn’t want me to tell you about the walls which surround the Great House of God. Satan cannot climb them, he cannot penetrate them. He has absolutely no power, except that power which God permits.
He’d rather you never hear the words of John, “God’s Spirit who is in you, is greater than the devil who is in the world” (1 John 4:5). And he’d certainly rather you never learn how God uses the devil as an instrument to advance the cause of Christ.
How does God use Satan to do the work of heaven? God uses Satan to:
1. Refine the Faithful. We all have the devil’s disease. Even the meekest among us have a tendency to think too highly of ourselves. Apparently Paul did. His resume was impressive: a personal audience with Jesus, a participant in heavenly visions, an apostle chosen by God, an author of the Bible. He healed the sick, traveled the world, and penned some of history’s greatest documents. Few could rival his achievements. And maybe he knew it. Perhaps there was a time when Paul began to pat himself on the back. God, who loved Paul and hates pride, protected Paul from the sin. And he used Satan to do it.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
We aren’t told the nature of the thorn, but we are told its purpose — to keep Paul humble. We are also told its origin — a messenger from Satan. The messenger could have been a pain, a problem or a person who was a pain. We don’t know. But we do know the messenger was under God’s control. Please note verse eight, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'” Satan and his forces were simply a tool in the hand of God to strengthen a servant.
Another example of the devil as God’s servant is the temptation of Job. The devil dares to question the stability of Job’s faith and God gives him permission to test Job. “All right then,” God says, “Everything Job has is in your power, but you must not touch Job himself” (Job 1:19). Note that God set both the permission and parameters of the struggle. Job passes the test and Satan complains, stating that Job would have fallen had he been forced to face pain. Again God gives permission and again God gives the parameters. “Job is in your power,” he tells Satan, “but you may not take his life” (Job 2:9).
Though the pain and the questions are abundant, in the end Job’s faith and health are greater than ever. Again, we may not understand the reason for the test, but we know its source. Read this verse out of the last chapter. The family of Job: “Comforted him and made him feel better about the trouble God the Lord had brought on him” (Job 42:11, emphasis mine).
Satan has no power except that which God gives him. To the church in Smyrna, Christ said, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer for ten days. But be faithful, even if you have to die, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
Analyze Jesus words for a minute. Christ informs the church of the persecution, the duration of the persecution (ten days), the reason for the persecution (to test you) and the outcome of the persecution (a crown of life). In other words, Jesus uses Satan to fortify his church.
Colonel Klink blows another one. Satan scores again for the other team. Don’t you know that bugs him? Even when he appears to win he loses. Martin Luther was right on target when he described the devil as God’s tool, a hoe used to care for his garden. The hoe never cuts what the gardener intends to save and never saves what the gardener intends to weed. Surely a part of Satan’s punishment is the frustration he feels in unwillingly serving as a tool to create a garden for God. Satan is used by God to refine the faithful. God also uses the devil to:
2. Awaken the Sleeping. Hundreds of years before Paul, another Jewish leader battled with his ego, only he lost. Saul, the first king of Israel, was consumed with jealousy. He was upstaged by David, the youngest son of a shepherding family. David did everything better than Saul; he sang better, he impressed the women more, he even killed the giants Saul feared. But rather than celebrate David’s God-given abilities, Saul grew insanely hostile. God, in an apparent effort to awaken Saul from this fog of jealousy, enlisted the help of his unwilling servant, Satan. “The next day, an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he prophesied in his house” (1 Samuel 18:10).
Observe a solemn principle: There are times when hearts grow so hard and ears so dull that God turns us over to endure the consequence of our choices. In this case the demon was released to torment Saul. If Saul would not drink from the cup of God’s kindness, let him spend some time drinking from the cup of hell’s fury. “Let him be driven to despair that he might be driven back into the arms of God.”2
The New Testament refers to incidents where similar discipline is administered. Paul chastises the church in Corinth for their tolerance of immorality. About an adulterer in the church he says: “Then hand this man over to Satan. So his sinful self will be destroyed, and his spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Paul gives comparable instruction to Timothy. The young evangelist was dealing with two disciples who’d made a shipwreck of their faith and had negatively influenced others. His instruction to Timothy? “Hymenaeus and Alexander have done that, and I have given them to Satan so they will learn not to speak against God” (1 Timothy 1:20).
As drastic as it may appear, God will actually allow a person to experience hell on earth, in hopes of awakening his faith. A holy love makes the tough choice to release the child to the consequences of his rebellion.
By the way, doesn’t this help explain the rampant evil which exists in the world? If God allows us to endure the consequences of our sin and the world is full of sinners, then the world is going to abound in evil. Isn’t this what Paul meant in the first chapter of Romans? After describing those who worship the creation rather than the creator, Paul says “God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do.” (Romans 1:26) Does God enjoy seeing the heartbreak and addictions of his children? No more than a parent enjoys disciplining a child. But holy love makes tough choices.
Remember, discipline should result in mercy, not misery. Some saints are awakened by a tap on the shoulder while others need a two-by-four to the head. And whenever God needs a two-by-four, Satan gets the call. He also gets the call to:
3. Teach the Church. Perhaps the clearest illustration of how God uses Satan to achieve his purposes is found in the life of Peter. Listen to the warning Jesus gives to him: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to test all of you as a farmer sifts his wheat. I have prayed that you will not lose your faith’ Help your brothers be stronger when you come back to me” (Luke 22:31-32).
Again notice who is in control. Even though Satan had a plan, he had to get permission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18), Jesus explained, and this is proof. The wolf cannot get to the sheep without permission of the Shepherd. And the Shepherd will only permit the attack if, in the long term, the pain is worth the gain.
The purpose of this test is to provide a testimony for the church. Jesus was allowing Peter to experience a trial so he could encourage his brothers. Perhaps God is doing the same with you. God knows that the church needs living testimonies of his power. Your difficulty, your disease, your conflict are preparing you to be a voice of encouragement to your brothers. All you need to remember is that: “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; He’ll never let you be pushed beyond your limit; He’ll always be there to help you come through it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
“You intended evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20)
Still hard to imagine how your struggle could lead to any good? Still hard to conceive how your disease or debt or death could be a tool for anything worthwhile? If so then I’ve got one final example. While not wanting to minimize your struggle, I must say yours is a cakewalk compared to this one. A sinless Savior was covered with sin. The author of life was placed in the cave of death. Satan’s victory appeared sure. Finally, the devil had scored on the right end of the court. And not only had he scored, he’d slam-dunked the MVP and left him lying on the floor. The devil had blown it with everyone from Sarah to Peter, but this time he’d done it right. The whole world had seen it. The victory dance had already begun.
But all of a sudden there was a light in the tomb and a rumbling of the rock and Friday’s tragedy emerged as Sunday’s Savior and even Satan knew he’d been had. He’d been a tool in the hand of the gardener. All the time he thought he was defeating heaven, he was helping heaven. God wanted to prove his power over sin and death and that’s exactly what he did. And guess who helped him do it? Once again Satan’s lay-up becomes a foul-up. Only this time, he didn’t give heaven some points, he gave heaven the championship game.
Jesus emerged as the victor and Satan was left looking like a … well, I’ll let you figure that out. Take the first letter of each of the ways God uses the devil and see if you can find Satan’s true identity.
Refine the faithful.
Awaken the sleeping.
Teach the church.
1Erwin Lutzer. The Serpent of Paradise.
2Ibid., p. 111.
Excerpted with permission from The Great House of God, Max Lucado, 1997, Word, Inc., Dallas, Texas. All Rights Reserved.

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