READ : Isaiah 53:1-6
All of us tend to want “our own way.” What a mighty reversal it is when we begin to pray: “Your way, Lord, not ours!”
Welcome to this fourth in our series on the Lord’s Prayer. I hope this has been as helpful to you as it has been to me. I find myself praying the Lord’s Prayer every day with fresh thought and feeling. It’s becoming more and more a constant cry of my heart.
What have we learned? To call God Father, Abba, as Jesus did. To see him as the marvelously welcoming and generous Father we have in Christ, to approach him with freedom, joy, affection and confidence, to see that “as we believe so we pray.”
We’ve learned that the prayer for God’s name and glory is to be our highest priority, a life-prayer, because “As we pray, so we live.”
We’ve learned about God’s kingdom, how he has always reigned but how our sin has brought about a new situation. We’ve come under bondage and darkness. We’ve learned of the promised king in David’s line and how God’s kingly rule has broken into our history in Jesus’ coming to deliver us. And now we’re called to repent, to believe, to surrender to his loving rule. We pray for many others so to surrender, and for his final return.
Our Human Tendency
Now we look at the last in the first set of three petitions: “Your will be done.” Once again, this is a supreme priority prayer, a new “life-prayer” for us. And how it goes against the grain in us! Something in all of us wants to have things, as Frank Sinatra used to sing, “my way.”
Someone has described our human tendency this way, “I want what I want when I want it.” And if anybody gets in our way, “Watch out!” We trace the beginnings of that in the Garden. God had expressed his will and warning. We listened instead to the tempter. Instead of God’s way, we chose ours, because it looked like a good deal for us. It couldn’t be captured better than it is in Isaiah 53:6.
All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
That’s what led to the cross – our going our own way.
And that tendency doesn’t disappear when we become believers. We have to be aware of it and struggle against it throughout our lives. Listen to what Paul said about some of the believers with whom he worked. “They all,” he said, “seek their own interests rather than those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). That’s a withering indictment, and I cringe when I think of how often it has been true of me. Remember when Simon Peter tried to correct Jesus? Not mindful of God’s concerns, he was caught up in his own. He wants Jesus to see it his way. It’s painfully possible for us to profess commitment to Christ’s lordship but still do as we please without regard to what he wants.
Jesus: Going God’s Way
What a vivid contrast to that we meet in the life of Jesus! His all-consuming aim in life is to do God’s will, to fulfill his purpose. “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34), “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). “I do nothing on my own, but whatever the father has commanded me I do, this I speak” (John 8:28).
And this is anything but a grudging obedience. “It’s my food. It’s my meat,” he says. “I delight to do the Father’s will” so “that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31). That’s what he says as he marches toward the cross. It’s an obedience from the heart out of the depths of love.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, his response was to quote his Father’s word, to speak God’s revealed will. Where God had spoken his command, disobedience was out of the question. “Away with you, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10). While our first parents yielded to the devil’s blandishments and disobeyed, the second Adam, Jesus, said “yes” to God’s will and “no” to any compromise.
But it was in Gethsemane that Jesus’ obedience was most poignantly expressed. The horror of a great darkness came over his spirit. He was exceedingly troubled, grieved almost to death as he realized the God-forsakenness that lay ahead. His sweat ran down like great drops of blood. “My Father,” he cried, “if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Everything within him recoiled at what he saw before him. He wanted desperately to avoid it, and prayed to be delivered.
But his prayer didn’t end there. “Yet,” he said, “Nevertheless, not what I want but what you want.” That was the ground-tone of his life, his deep, unshakable purpose, even when it meant rejection, mockery, torture, and the hiding of his Father’s face as he bore our sins. He chose to obey God even in the face of death and dereliction.
So the Father’s word at Jesus’ baptism was enacted to the end: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). No wonder the penitent thief said “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41), and the centurion, “certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47). Jesus lived out to the very end what he had said during his ministry. “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29, italics added). So he lived, and so he died.
He Tells Us to Pray: “Your Way, Not Ours!”
Now he calls us to pray his prayer, to express in prayer his life-passion. It means a total reversal of our values, from “Let it be my way” to “Let it be your way.” “Not what I want, but what you want.” He wants us to pray that. How often? Daily. Like his call to follow, “If anyone come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). What a change of mind that involves – about God, realizing that he loves us and that his will is best – for our good. A change of mind also about ourselves, seeing that we are self-centered, foolish creatures who don’t realize that doing just what we want leads only to misery. And when we confess our wilfulness and trust in Christ, we receive by the Spirit a new desire and power to obey. And Jesus knows that the more we pray, “Thy will be done” with a sincere heart, the more it will happen so in our lives. Because as we’ve seen, “As we pray, so we live.” Life follows prayer.
The Wider World
What are we praying for when we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? On earth [that is, on this planet]. “As it is in heaven,” among the heavenly hosts, the angels that speed to do his bidding.
We pray for those in authority on the earth, that they may rule justly and in the fear of God. We pray for justice that God longs for in the world. He speaks through his prophet, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We pray for peace. God blesses those who are peacemakers, who seek to resolve conflict, who seek to reconcile enemies. And so we pray for that in our world.
What are we praying for in our churches? The same. For integrity, for peace, for unity, for service. He wants us to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, that we’ll do all we can to bear witness to the truth, to make God’s will and salvation known. We’re praying also for God’s will to be done in our worship, that it will be in spirit and in truth, that it will be from the heart as well in word.
God wants us to excel in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). He wants us to use every gift to serve God’s people (1 Peter 4:10-11). He wants us to minister to the needy and the suffering, the least and the lowest. He receives such service as being offered to him, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
And how clear he made it to the disciples after his resurrection, that to do his will meant to go and make disciples of all nations. What does that mean for each of us today?
To obey is very close in the Bible to the word hear or hearken. It’s hearing God speak and saying yes, as Isaiah did when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1-8). Obeying means listening, not being forgetful, hearing and acting, building on the rock. Obedience is enormously important to God. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” He commands that through Samuel (1 Samuel 15:22). Remember how Saul the king gave a partial obedience and claimed that he had done God’s will? Samuel had to rebuke him and say that partial obedience is not obeying at all.
Obedience as Jesus described it is the test of love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, 21). “The one who loves me will be loved of my Father and we will love him and will reveal ourselves to him” (vv. 21-23)
The more you love the Lord, the more you will want to do his will. And your obedience will grow out of a self-offering in which you commit your whole being to the Lord. Then his good, acceptable, and perfect will comes to be worked out in your life.
Not Without Our Prayers
Finally, our question about these three great petitions is this: “Why pray for these things?” someone objects. “We know they’re going to happen anyway.” Really?
You could say that about the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. God could do it in other ways than through witnesses like us. He could spell it out in letters of fire across the sky. He could whisper it in the ear of every person in a language they understand. But apparently he hasn’t chosen to do that. He wants to use human agency.
I believe it is so in the same way with our prayers for God’s name and kingdom and will. These things will surely happen, but not without our prayers (see Revelation 8:1-5). Every prayer, the book of Revelation tells us, is stored up there in those golden bowls to be offered up before the Father’s throne. And then they’re cast on earth where world-shaking things happen.
You know what eternity will reveal, friends? That the real shapers of world history were not the conquerors, the wealthy, the politicians, but those who kept on praying, who made God’s will their life-prayer and passion, and then lived it out. Let’s be numbered with them!