What would you pray in the following situation: A few years back a pastor had for a friend of his who at the point of death. He was praying fervently that God would spare this friend’s life. In fact he prayed, “God would you add some years to the length of his time here on earth?” He said that suddenly he had the strongest impression, as if God were asking him: “Would you be willing for Me to take those years from your life, in order to add them to his?” Now gets tough, doesn’t it? How much did he really want it? This man said that his heart began to beat quickly, and sweat began to bead on his brow. He didn’t know how to respond: should he ask to take it from his own life — or not?! Finally he prayed the only prayer he knew how to pray: “Lord, Thy will be done.” That’s always a good prayer to pray!
The last several weeks we have been looking together at the Model Prayer Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:9-13. We’ve seen that it is not a “script” that we are to mindlessly repeat, but an outline of the things God wants us to speak with Him about when we pray. We’ve studied the first two requests so far, and have seen from “Hallowed be Your name” that we are to begin our prayers with praise: scripture, singing, and thanksgiving; and then last week from “Thy Kingdom come” we saw that we are then to pray requests for God’s Kingdom first: praying for churches, pastors, mission work and missionaries. So this morning we come to the third request of the Model: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
I. THE MEANING OF “THY WILL BE DONE.”
What does it mean to pray, “Thy will be done”? It is an old axiom: “the best commentary on scripture is scripture.” If we want to know what “Thy will be done” means, we can look to see where we find these words elsewhere in the word of God. And in fact there is a place where these EXACT words are found again, later in this Book of Matthew, Chapter 26. It is in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray before His arrest and crucifixion. There He prays in :42, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, YOUR WILL BE DONE.” In the original Greek text, as well as in English, those are the EXACT SAME WORDS Jesus taught us to pray here in Matthew 6:10, “Your will be done”! Jesus didn’t merely “teach” us these words; He used them Himself, in His own, real-life situation.
So what can we learn from Jesus’ use of these words in Matthew 26?
As we know, Jesus was about to face death on the cross for our sins and :36 says He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Verse 37 says He “began to be grieved and distressed.” Then :39 says “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Jesus knew what He was about to face: not only beating and humiliation and physical torture, but that He would bear in His own body the wrath of God for all the sins of the world. In His humanness (and the Bible tells us Jesus was a real, 100% man) He did not “want” to bear that suffering. So He asked the Father if it were possible, that He would not have to undergo that indescribable torture.
So in His humanity Jesus did not want to die on the cross, but what did He say? “YET: not as I will, but as You will.” And then in :42 He prayed again, and this time He said those same words that we find here in Matthew 6:10, “Thy will be done.” Then :44 says “He said the same thing once more.”
So what happened is that in His humanity, Jesus did not “want” to undergo the torture of the cross (who would?). But in prayer, He determined that it was God’s will that He HAD go to the cross, so that we might be saved. So in prayer He surrendered, and determined NOT to do what He wanted to do, or felt like doing, but to do what the FATHER needed Him to do instead. And He voiced that surrender as He prayed, “Thy will be done.”
(By the way, let just me say that what happened there in Gethsemane is one of the strongest arguments for the Biblical teaching of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. He asked the Father: if there were any other way, that He not let Him undergo this torture; but God sent Him to the cross because there WAS NO OTHER WAY that our sins could be atoned for. This tells us clearly that are NO other ways to heaven. There is only ONE. That’s why Jesus said, “I am THE way, THE truth, THE life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” If you want your sins to be forgiven; if you want to know God; if you want to go to heaven, you MUST come through Jesus Christ. There was — and is — no other way. God showed us that conclusively at the Garden of Gethsemane.)
But this also gives us some understanding of what we are praying for when we pray this 3rd petition of the Model Prayer: “Thy will be done.” It teaches us that, just like Jesus, there may be things that we don’t particularly “want” to do, or don’t “feel” like doing, but we are committing ourselves in this prayer to do HIS will for us, whatever it is.
See, doing God’s will instead of our own, is fundamental to the very nature of Christianity. Choosing NOT to do God’s will is what made us lost in the first place. As one of my kids’ favorite college and seminary professors, Chuck Quarles, wrote in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount: “In the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve said, “Not as You will, but as I will.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said: “Not as I will, but as You will.” But what made us “lost” in the first place, was that we wanted to do OUR will, instead of God’s. God is the glorious King of the Universe, who created billions of galaxies with a word! But Adam & Eve rebelled against Him and said “we would be like gods;” we want to do our will instead of His. And because they passed down their sin nature to us, we all make this same choice, to this day. So choosing to do our will (sin) is what separates us from God in the first place.
Amazingly, God still loved us, even though we had rebelled against Him. He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane and said, “not my will but Yours”, and went to the cross, and died to pay for our sins, so that if we would “repent” (turn around from our rebellion against God) then He could accept us back, and we could follow Him again as the King of our lives. But accepting His will as our King and our God is a basic part of what it mean to BE a Christian. You can’t be a Christian and say “I am going to go my own way.” That is exactly what a Christian is NOT. In fact, that is the opposite of a Christian. To be a Christian is to say to God, “I’ve been doing ‘my will,’ and it’s gotten me messed up. I’m coming back to YOU to do YOUR will.” That’s what it means for Jesus to be your Lord. If you have not said to Him, “Your will be done,” then you are not a Christian at all, no matter how many crosses you wear around your neck, or how many times you go to church.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘THY will be done.’ All that are in hell, choose it.’” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 75)
So to pray “Your will be done” means that we have come to a time when we have surrendered our life to God, to do what HE wants us to do, not what WE want to do. And in our lives since then:
— It means that there will be things that we want to do, or feel like doing but God will say to us, “No, it is not My will for you to do that.”
— And there may be other things, like Jesus faced, that we REALLY do NOT want to do, but like Jesus we are going to kneel before God and say: “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.” I am going to do it — whether I want to or not; whether I feel like it or not — because You are my Lord, and it is Your will for me to do it.”
Most everybody knows the name of John Newton, the man who wrote the great hymn “Amazing Grace.” But he was also a man the Lord used in amazing ways to correspond with people and help them understand God’s will. In fact, he wrote to one friend of his, who was asking about God’s will for where he should serve, and Newton said: “Dear Sir, It is certain I did not wish to leave Olney, and likewise that, if the Lord had left me to choose my situation, London would have been almost the last place I should have chosen. But since it was the Lord’s choice for me, I am reconciled and satisfied. He has, in this respect, given me another heart; for, now I am fixed here, I seem to prefer it. My sphere for service is extremely enlarged, and my sphere of usefulness likewise.” (John Newton to the Rev. Joshua Symonds, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 177)
Newton said, HE himself did not want to leave Olney — it was a small town, and he loved it, and he was very happy serving there. He said London was “the last place” he would have chosen to move. But he said God directed him there, so he went in obedience, and he said now as a result he loves it there, and his ministry was much greater. But in prayer he first had to come to say to God: “Thy will be done” in this — not his own.
THAT is what we are doing at this point in our prayer. We are asking God to help us KNOW and DO His will, not our own. In a very real sense, praying “Thy will be done” is a “daily Gethsemane”. It is a daily reversal of the Garden of Eden; it is daily re-enactment of the Garden of Gethsemane, in our own lives. It is a daily putting to death our own desires, our own will, our own way, and recommitting ourselves to Jesus Christ as our LORD, which means that we are committed not to do our will, but His will. Praying “Thy will be done” is a “daily Gethsemane” in which we surrender our will to Jesus as our Lord every day.
II. HIS WILL IS TO BE DONE!
Jesus taught us to pray “THY will be done” because in this part of the prayer we are asking for GOD’S direction and will for our lives, NOT our own. The words, “On earth, as it is in heaven” are important here. The Greek text is literally, “just like in heaven — also upon earth.” So we are praying for God’s will to be done here on earth through us, just the way He designed it up in heaven. This teaches us that God has a plan in heaven, for how things are to be done here on earth. Psalm 103:19 says: “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” In other words, God is King of the universe, and He has a plan in heaven for everything. He is not just some giant “spectator” up in the sky, who is just watching whatever we do. No, He has a specific plan for this world; He has a plan for how things are to be done in His church — and He has a specific plan for each of our individual lives as well.
So part of what it means when we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, is that we are asking to be able to understand what God’s sovereign will for us is, and then when we discover it, that we would conform our lives to whatever He has planned. We are praying for His plan, His will, to be done in and through us: “THY will be done …”.
We need to really grasp this, because this is just the OPPOSITE of what many so-called “Christian” leaders these days are teaching us to do. They teach that you can just pick out whatever “vision” you want for your life, or your business, or your ministry, and ask God to bless that for you, because He is there to help you to be successful at living out “your dream.”
For example, some time ago one prosperity preacher (Joel Osteen) had on his website: “You were created to be successful, to accomplish your goals.” Do you see what he is saying there: he’s saying that God wants to help YOU achieve YOUR goals. This is where the “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” deviates from genuine, Biblical Christianity. These false teachers are always talking about how you can “claim your vision” — whatever it is you want to do — and God will bless you and help you achieve it. But the Bible does not teach that God exists to help US do our bidding. Psalm 103 and other scriptures clearly proclaim that God is the Sovereign King, and we exist to do HIS will. Jesus does not teach us to pray here: “God bless MY will.” No, instead He teaches us to pray every day; “THY WILL be done.”
Do you see how different it is? The false version of Christianity says: I will pick out whatever I want to do, and God will bless my vision. Genuine Christianity, on the other hand, says: God, You tell me what YOU want me to do, and help me do YOUR will. Those are entirely different things. Asking God to bless your will is not even Christianity at all. Jesus never said He would help us accomplish all our dreams. In fact, He said “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me”! Far from “fulfilling all your dreams,” Jesus may just put all your dreams to DEATH, because you’ve got the wrong dreams. What you need is to follow HIM and do HIS will.
That’s a huge difference. For example, there might be a young man who says, “God, I want to be the best basketball player in the world. Help me get to the pros.” And his whole focus is God helping HIM reach HIS dreams. But a real follower of Jesus will say: “Lord, what do YOU want me to do with my life?” And God will direct him, in His own time and His own way, to whatever career that HE has for him. It may be that God doesn’t want him to be a pro basketball player. Maybe God will tell him, “I created you to be a Youth Minister, or a school teacher, who will impact young people and change their lives forever.” But the difference is, that in real Christianity, it is not OUR will that we are praying to done; it is God’s.
Pastor Greg Laurie, who was at Franklin Graham’s prayer march in Washington the other day, wrote: “Prayer is not bending God our way — it is bending us His way.”
— Our prayer is NOT to be: “God bless what I want to do today.”
— Our prayer is NOT to be: “God bless what I’ve chosen to do with my life.”
— Our prayer is NOT to be: “God bless what we’ve already decided to do as a church.”
Our prayer is to be: “God what is YOUR will for me? What is YOUR will for us? Show me YOUR will and help me to do that.”
I hope you see that there is a HUGE difference between those two things. We are not just to pray for God to bless OUR will; at this point in the Model Prayer we’re to pray just like Jesus Himself prayed: “Not my will, but Thine be done.” We’re asking God to help us know, and help us do, HIS will.
III. PRAYING FOR GOD’S WILL TO BE DONE:
Each week we want to be practical, and talk about HOW to pray for these different elements in our daily prayer times. HOW do we pray every day for God’s will? After we begin our prayer with thanksgiving and praise, and then spend some time praying for Kingdom requests (pastors, missionaries, lost people), then, following Jesus’ outline, we should talk to God about doing His will. We can do that in several different ways:
A. GOD’S WILL IN THE “BIG” DECISIONS
This is what a lot of us think of when we think about praying for God’s will: those “big decisions” that we face in life, like what job should we take, or what person should we date or marry, etc. And these “big” decisions ARE things that we should bring to God in prayer.
I love Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” study, in which he says that if you want to find God’s will for something, use 4 elements: 1) God’s word. What does the Bible says about it – and does God give you a special word of direction for it? 2) pray about it — and this is the point in our daily prayers where we should make that request to God for His leadership in our “big” decisions 3) he says, what circumstances has God arranged that might lead you in one direction or another? Has He opened a door, or closed a door? And then 4) ask for godly counsel. NOT just your friends, but ask godly, wise Christian people for their advice on God’s will. So prayer is an important element in finding God’s will on those “big” decisions, and this third request of the Model Prayer is the place in our daily prayers where we should ask God for His leadership in those things.
B. GOD’S WILL FOR OUR DAILY DECISIONS.
Praying for God’s will is not just about praying for those “big” things in life. Every morning we should ask God before we start the day to show us what His will is for us to do that very day. So, for example, at this point in my own prayer time, I usually look at my schedule for the day, and I’ll pray over it. I always keep a “to-do” list of things I have to do each week, and assign certain things for each day of the week: sermon preparation, calls and visits and meetings, and special projects — and so at this point in my prayer time, I get on my laptop and go to my list for the day, and I pray over it: “Lord, is this what You want me to do today? Or is there something else? Do I have the things on this list in the right priority order? Do I need to rearrange it; do I need to put something else first? And often I will be led to change it, or rearrange it — or I’ll feel a conviction to add something: maybe I’ll get a sense that I need to “call so and so” and put that on that list — so I write that in. I HOPE that I’m open to do whatever Jesus asks me to do that day. So every day I pray over my schedule: “Lord, help me do YOUR will today.” This not what some people would call a “big” request, like “should I sell my business” or “move to Alaska” or whatever — but just in the “little details” of the day, I need to ask Him to help me do HIS will each day.
I believe that praying for God’s direction for the day ahead is one of the most important things we can pray during this “Thy will” part of the Model Prayer. And remember, don’t just ask Him just to bless whatever you’ve already planned to do, but ask Him to help you know and do what HE has planned for you that day. The day will go much better for you if you will.
Some of you know the name of George Muller, a prayer warrior who began an orphanage in England in the 1800’s. He once wrote that he is much more productive in his day, if he will spend one hour of prayer and then 4 hours in work, than if he just spent 5 hours of work without any prayer. Because God will bless and direct your day, if you will seek Him at the beginning. So every morning, take some time at this point in your prayer to talk to God about His will for the day ahead of you.
C. GOD’S WILL FOR OTHERS
We want to include other people as we are praying for God’s will. We mentioned before how the first part of the Model Prayer is “Thy … Thy … Thy …” and when we come to the second part, it is “our … our … us.” But it is significant too that it is not just “me” or “I.” It is “us;” it’s “our;” see it’s PLURAL. This reminds us that we are not to be “selfish” in our praying; we should pray for ourselves, but we should also include others as we pray for God’s will as well.
— Pray for that friend who is looking for a job.
— Pray for your children to find the direction God has for them. Our son Michael is in his senior year in college and he needs God’s direction for what he’s going to do when he gets out of school, so we pray for God’s will for him.
— Pray for God’s will to be done in our decisions at church.
— Pray for God’s will to be done in the political elections in our country.
— Pray for our Supreme Court, that the justices of our our land would do God’s will and deal justly. We should all be praying for God’s will in the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a pro-life judge, to the Supreme Court.
There are all kinds of people and situations we can lift up as we pray for God’s will to be done. Pray for yourself; pray for others; pray for the “big” decisions; and just for every day direction — in everything, pray every day: “God, help me to know and do Your will. Thy will be done.”
Rosaria Butterfield was for many years a liberal, lesbian professor in Syracuse University in New York. But in doing research for a paper on evangelicals, she began to read the Bible for herself, and it slowly began to change her life. In her book, Openness Unhindered, she writes about how John 7:17 impacted her. There Jesus says: “If anyone is willing to do My will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God.” She said this verse really hit her hard. Up until then, she had wanted God to show her, on her own terms, why homosexuality was wrong. But she said she saw there that Jesus was saying, you have to be willing to do His will, before He will show you His truth — not the other way around. She said she came to a real crisis of faith: “could I will to do God’s will” in this? And she wrote: “I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to OBEY, BEFORE I understood.”
That’s a good prayer to pray. Because sometimes, if we’re really honest, like Rosaria Butterfield was there, we’ll admit: “You know, the truth is, I don’t even WANT to do God’s will.” In that case, I think it can be a good prayer to pray, like she did: “Lord, just MAKE ME WILLING to do Your will.” Give me the will to even do what is right. If we’re really honest between us and God — which is the way we need to be in prayer — there’s going to be a lot of prayers like that from us: “Lord, just make me even willing, to do Your will.” And this would be the point in our prayer time where we do that. Every day, we need to have our own “personal Gethsemane”, as we pray to God in this part of our prayer: “Your will be done.”
— Again, are you spending time every day with God in prayer? Maybe you need to imitate George Muller and say: I’m going to begin my day with prayer.
— And then if you ARE praying, ask God to help you pray about His will every day: about the “big” things; to pray over your schedule for the day; and pray for others who need to know His will.
— Maybe you’d say “I’ve just been asking God to bless what I already want to do” – but I need to start really surrendering to HIS will and plan … maybe there’s even something specific He’s speaking to you about …
— And maybe the truth is, you’ve never submitted your will to God in salvation. You’ve never said: “I’ve been going my own way in life, but I need to come back to God through Jesus and be saved, and follow HIM as my Lord from this day forward …”