Prayer and the Will of God

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 6:10
Luke 22:39-46

“Prayer changes things,” it’s been said. That’s true; and the thing it probably changes most is us.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus taught his disciples to pray. But why should we pray, “your will be done”? Isn’t God’s will going to be done anyway? After all, God is God; he will do what he determines to do, whether we agree or not. Saying to God “your will be done” sounds a little like telling a hurricane, “You may go where you please”; it’s very polite and all, but there’s not much point to it.

A PERSONAL CONFESSION

Of course there is much more to this petition than that, as further reflection shows. Jesus would never have taught us a meaningless prayer, and there are good reasons he included this among the things he told us to ask for in the Lord’s Prayer, his model prayer. For one, this prayer is a personal confession of faith. When we say “May your will be done on earth,” we are tacitly acknowledging that there are situations where God’s will is not being done. There are many people living in open rebellion against his will, and there are many things in existence – such as sin, disease, suffering and death – that are contradictory to the will of God. It is true that, in the mystery of his providence, God permits these things to happen, but though he tolerates them for a time, they still remain contrary to his will. Our prayer that God’s will be done is a declaration that we stand with God against everything that contradicts his will. When we pray this, we are saying, “Father, I hate what you hate, and I want what you want.” That is what I mean when I say this prayer is a personal confession of faith.

But it is also a personal plea. You haven’t really understood this prayer until you have applied it unreservedly to yourself. “Your will be done” means not just God’s will in general, but God’s will in my life. To pray this is to say, “God, I want to do your will myself.” This brings us very close to the real meaning of prayer. In his book I Want to Be a Christian, J.I. Packer writes: “Here more clearly than anywhere the purpose of prayer becomes plain: not to make God do my will (which is practicing magic), but to bring my will into line with his (which is what it means to practice true religion).” Make this prayer your personal plea: “Father, let me do your will.”

DOING THE WILL OF GOD

When we pray this way from the heart, we are beginning to get serious about the will of God. In order to do that will ourselves – which, after all, is what Jesus is most concerned about – three things are required. First, in order to do God’s will, you must desire it. You must want it. One of the marks of a godly person is that he or she desires the will of God above everything else. Jesus once refused food his disciples brought him, explaining he had something else more satisfying: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Jesus was God’s Son; of course he would desire God’s will more than anything. But the Bible indicates this is the desire of every godly woman and man. Listen to this testimony from Psalm 19, which C.S. Lewis called the greatest poem in the Psalter:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

(Psalm 19:7-10, rsv)

The Psalmist, living as he did in a world without sugar or chocolate or candy, had only one thing to satisfy his sweet tooth. For him, the most desirable thing in nature was honey dripping from a honeycomb. Yet God’s will, as revealed in his written Word, was sweeter by far. Imagine the thing you most desire in all the world. The will of God is better than that, and the godly person – the person who has been born again and truly knows God – will want it more. A deep and fervent longing for God’s will to be done is one of the clearest evidences of genuine conversion.

Second, in order to do God’s will, you must know it. How to know the will of God is actually the easiest part of the whole process. It’s the part we talk and worry about the most, but it’s the one we should have least difficulty with. Why do I say it is relatively easy to know the will of God? Because most of it is crystal clear; it’s plainly revealed in the Bible. You say you want to know God’s will for your life; very well, you can read about it in his Word. God’s will for you is to know, honor and serve him, to repent of your sin and trust in Christ as your Savior. It is to submit to Christ and obey him as Lord, and to become more holy, avoiding wrong and doing right and growing day by day into the likeness of Jesus Christ. That is what God wants for you. If you wish to know his will, there it is, in black and white.

Beyond that, whatever is not clear about God’s specific will for any of his children, we can trust him to make known to us. Those details of his will for our lives which are not spelled out in the Bible God has promised to show us in other ways – through prayer, through the counsel of other Christians, through the exercise of our own judgment and common sense. It may take patience, and we may have to test his will and prove it by experience, for the details are written on a scroll that unrolls bit by bit, not on a blueprint that discloses everything at once, but God will give us guidance. This is his promise. Jesus said, “If anyone’s will is to do [God’s] will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God” (John 7:17). That says plainly that if I really desire to do the will of God I will always know what it is.

Third, in order to do God’s will, you must obey it. Now we come to the really hard part. It’s not too difficult to know the will of God. It is a little harder to desire it, but it is hardest of all to obey. The reason for that is the one great obstacle in my life standing in the way of God’s will: my own will. My will competes with God’s will, and before I can obey his I must renounce my own. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said. There cannot be two wills in control of one person; one or the other must dominate. Not only does my will compete with God’s, it often contradicts it, because these different wills want different things. My will, because it is infected with sin, wants to glorify David Bast. God’s will is to glorify his Son, Jesus Christ. You can’t have it both ways – one will must exclude the other. So if I am to say yes to God’s will in my life, I must first say no to my own.

This, of course, is exactly what Jesus taught us to do. Martin Luther paraphrased the petition “Your will be done” this way: “O Father, let me not fall so low that my will may be done. Break my will, put obstacles in the way of my will, come what may, that not my will but thine be done.” But a far greater than Luther also revealed the true meaning of this petition. Jesus himself showed us what he meant when he knelt in the garden of Gethsemane, soaked with bloody sweat, and prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Have you prayed that? Can you pray that? Nothing in the world is harder to say (and mean it), but until you do, you will never know and obey God’s perfect will.

ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN

To show us more fully what obedience to the Father’s will is like, Jesus added a comparison: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will obeyed in heaven? For example, how do the angels obey the will of God? The answer: They obey it instantly, without hesitation. When the angel Gabriel was sent to announce to Zechariah that he would have a son named John, Zechariah was taken aback, and the angel Gabriel himself wondered at his doubt and slowness to respond. “I am Gabriel,” he thundered, “who stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you.” The angels are not used to our human hesitation to accept and carry out God’s will.

Secondly, they obey God’s will completely. There are no gaps or omissions in obedience to the will of God in heaven. The angels don’t pick and choose which parts of God’s will they want to obey and which they will ignore; they obey all of it, down to the smallest detail. “Bless the Lord,” cried the Psalmist, “O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, harkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will” (Ps. 103:20-21). The Lord’s heavenly hosts of angels are “his ministers that do his will”; they hang upon his every word that they may fully carry it out.

Thirdly, angels obey the will of God joyfully; instantly, completely, and always joyfully. There is no grumbling or complaining about the will of God in heaven. No angel ever gets angry with God because something happens that he doesn’t like, or because something else fails to happen that he wanted. No, the heavenly hosts trust God’s perfect wisdom, and find in his will their full delight. So when God surprises them by doing something unexpected, such as sending his Son into the world as a man to save lost people, they rejoice with wonder and amazement. Our prayer should be that we will obey God this same way – instantly, completely, joyfully – so that our life on earth may begin to approximate life as it is in heaven.

Let me close with a prayer that John Wesley loved to pray. Perhaps you would like to make this your prayer as well:

O Lord God, Holy Father, who has called us through Christ to be partakers of this gracious covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience, and engage ourselves, for love of you,to seek and do your perfect will.

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, Rank me with whom you will; Put me to doing, put me to suffering; Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, Exalted for you or brought low for you; Let me be full, let me be empty; Let me have all these things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.