“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” – Matt. 6:13
I am going to comment on these two petitions as one, since they form a sort of couplet. The fact of evil is what makes necessary both of these petitions. Temptation is never to do good! This life is a life filled with various temptations. But why would we have to petition a holy God not to lead us into temptation? Surely He would not do such a thing?
I think the proper way to answer that question is to first try to understand that God does indeed lead us. He knows the path that we take. Psalm 139:3 says,
You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Another passage urges us to pray,
“Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it.” – Psa 119:35
We may ask on the basis of these verses, “why shouldn’t that prayer be enough?”
My answer is that God wants us to ask with a whole heart. An upward look to God in heaven: a heavenly or eternal perspective on this life, gives us the right eyes to see temptation often before it approaches. We cannot avoid temptation down here. But we can fix our eyes on Jesus and plead for God to lead us away from temptation. This highlights the responsibility of the individual to avoid temptation while relying on God to guide us through the minefield of life. “Lead us not into temptation” is the language of reliance.
Daniel Doriani rightly notes that “this petition partially explains why some prayers go unanswered. If a request leads to temptation, God will not grant it.” – Matthew, REC, Vol. 1, 229.
Now we have said this, I hope it becomes clearer how “deliver us from evil” also shows reliance, and that this request assumes what was said about the previous one. We must pray for the Lord to deliver us from evils, even from those that may be yet future. I see no difficulty in “covering” ourselves by faith in God’s providential leading in this manner. This is not to say we can dodge every evil aimed at us in life, but I think we may be confident in asserting that many evils can be avoided by such an exercise of faith in God’s dispensations with us. Faith understands the kind of world it really is. It is the realm of “the Evil One”, as the last clause may be translated. In view of this fact, it is surely wise to seek God’s protection in what the Apostle Paul describes as “this present evil age” in Galatians 1:4.
Thus, when we ask God not to lead us into temptation, we do not do it because, like the pagans of old, we serve a capricious god who might well do just that. It is rather because in praying this prayer, we are declaring that we know what the world is like, and that we sorely need our heavenly Father to guide us and help us every step of the way until we reach His realm of glory.