During Holy Week I enjoyed a little book called “Living Prayer” by Anthony Bloom, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church until his death in 2003. His chapter on the Lord’s Prayer traces a path of ascent, beginning with the final words “Deliver us from evil” and culminating with “Our Father.” Bloom argues persuasively that, along this ascent, the Lord’s Prayer traces the ancient Israelites’ way of deliverance from Egyptian slavery on a climb to intimate and secure relationship with God.
To ask God for deliverance from evil is a good start, but the next phrase, the request that God would “lead us not into temptation,” is meant to communicate a deeper desire: that God would not only not allow us to be led into temptation, but even more, would lead us away from it!
These two phrases from the Lord’s Prayer can help us learn something about growing as good stewards. It’s commendable for us to desire to be delivered from selfishness and the gratification of ego and appetites; it’s quite another to resist the temptation to fall back into those old, captivating habits. It’s likely obvious to anybody who logs onto a stewardship blog, like this one, that all we possess belongs to God, that the first portion is to be returned gratefully to God, and that the balance is given by God for our enjoyment. Yet, so easily we justify keeping a chunk of that first portion for ourselves. Having the intent to give it to God is to ask for deliverance; actually giving it, rather than keeping it, is a move in the right direction: away from temptation.
Bloom goes on to say that when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” it’s not about the bread: it’s about what we crave. The children of Israel, freed from slavery in Egypt, complained against Moses despite no longer being captives. “If only we had died in Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread” (Ex 16:3). So, God provided fresh, versatile manna daily, and a regular supply of meat in the form of quail. Then what did the people do? They still grumbled! “Now there is nothing at all but this manna” (Num. 11:5-6). The point is that daily bread in the form of temporal food (or money, or spare time, or whatever) will not stop our craving. We need something deeper. Perhaps it was this insight that led American artist, Jenny Holzer, to erect this statement on the electronic signboard at Caesar’s Palace in Los Vegas: “Protect me from what I want.” Sometimes what we want misses the target of what we truly crave and genuinely satisfies our need.
These three phrases from the Lord’s Prayer provide a few beginning steps toward laying a foundation for a life of stewardship. First, the desire to turn away from selfishness. Second, to be guided by God away from old, enslaving habits. Third, to understand that our craving will be satisfied only as we move toward deeper, more intimate and secure relationship with God.