Our Father in heaven,Matthew 6:9-13
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”Matthew 26:36-39
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.Romans 12:1-2
How many of you have wrestled with God’s will for your life? How many of you have found yourselves asking, “What is God’s will for me in this situation?” “What should I do?” Or perhaps I’ll put it this way: How often do we think of God’s will almost exclusively in terms of big life choices and decisions? In terms of career, college or university, where we should live, should we marry this person or even marry at all? Don’t we often think of God’s will in terms of life’s big milestones and turning points? I think this describes all of us at one time or another. And I think it’s perfectly good to seek God’s will in those ways. And I think such seeking is well-intentioned. We want to make God-honouring choices. But what about life apart from those big decisions and milestones?
Not only that, but what does it mean to seek God’s will? Indeed, what does it mean to pray for God’s will? What are we asking God to do? And are we still willing to seek and pray for God’s will even if what he wants for our lives is not what we want? Ultimately, this should draw us to Jesus. Praying this prayer ought to remind us of Jesus. It should point us to Jesus. Because it’s in Jesus that we see this prayer—your will be done on earth as it is in heaven—fully answered.
Now, when we’re looking at The Lord’s Prayer, it’s always important to notice how the first half of the prayer has nothing to do with our immediate needs, much less our wants. The whole point of the first half of the prayer is fill our vision with who God is and what he wants—his plans, his purposes, his desires. In fact, the attitude we have while praying the second half of the prayer should be set by praying the first half.
There’s a little bit of a debate—though not a serious one—about whether the prayer for God’s kingdom and God’s will are one petition or are two separate petitions. I’m dealing with them separately. So, when we hear this prayer—your will be done on earth as it is in heaven—what’s the first thing it tells us? Obviously, when we’re praying for something to happen, that generally means it hasn’t happened yet. Or at least not completely. It’s telling us that right now God’s will is not altogether being done on earth. So what I want to talk about this morning is not about God’s will being done in the world around us. We covered that last time when we looked at the kingdom. Because by praying this petition we’re also asking that God’s will would be done in me. Or would we rather go about our lives pretty much like everyone else, with the same priorities, the same desires, and the same goals?
This is why I wanted us to read Romans 12:1—2. Especially verse 2 where Paul says Do not be conformed to this age [to the pattern of this world], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Our thinking needs to be transformed and renewed. How we see life—our lives, our world, our priorities—has to be transformed. That’s why I also opened as I did. How often do our prayers for God’s will get shoehorned into an already worldly way of thinking? Timothy Keller, in a recent tweet, said, “If God does not have our highest allegiance, we will use prayer to try to get things that have that designation.” In other words: Do we want what everyone else around us wants in life or do we want what God wants? What if what we want is not what he wants?
Elisabeth Elliot says it well: “The will of God is not something you add to your life. It’s a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”
One way our thinking needs to be renewed is how we assume that suffering is always bad, that the best thing is to get through it as soon as possible. We make a similar assumption when we think that prosperity is always a sign of God’s blessing—an indication that we are living according to God’s will. But what if God’s will is for us to learn and grow in a time of suffering? Doesn’t God discipline those whom he loves?
Praying for God’s will to be done in us is asking that he would transform our minds so that we would want what he wants.
You know, even if we were just to start this way: “Lord, I want to want what you want. Please change my heart so that I desire your will for my life.” Now that’s an honest prayer! In fact, it might be that praying your will be done on earth as it is in heaven begins with some confession on our part! We all know there are things in life that we have to do—indeed, are sometimes called upon to do—that we don’t want to do, that we’d rather not have to do. Most of us also know what it means to sacrifice. If you’re a parent you know this well. You sacrifice all kinds of things—especially your wants—in order to provide for your kids.
There’s another prayer in Scripture that uses the exact same words as the one we’re looking at from The Lord’s Prayer. We find it when Jesus is in Gethsemane in the hours before he is arrested and eventually crucified. You probably know what prayer I’m talking about. In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is with Peter, James, and John, his three closest friends, and he takes them into the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to them: I am deeply grieved to the point of death. And going a little further away from them, he falls facedown and prays these well-known words: My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. Jesus was not looking forward to the cross. He knew exactly what lay ahead of him—and he even asks, “Father, if there is any possible way to do your will other than go to the cross, please let it be. But even so, I will do your will.”
I remember the way some people would talk about being afraid of God’s will—of seeking his will—because he just might send them to deepest, darkest Africa. He might ask us to go somewhere or do something that we don’t want and that scares us silly. Or that overturns our sense of comfort and security. Now, he very well could. Here’s the thing: what God is really looking for is a surrendered heart. And this is really the question for us this morning: Are we willing to surrender our will to God’s? Because that’s what this prayer is all about. Or certainly it’s an important aspect of this prayer. God is looking for surrendered hearts.
If you never experience a conflict between your will and God’s will, then I wonder who your God really is. Jesus surrendered himself to the will of the Father by going to the cross. Jesus knew the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
There’s also this to consider: having a relationship with the God we’re invited to call “Abba” means trusting that he what wants for us is infinitely better than what we want for ourselves. What he wants is our ultimate good even when it doesn’t include our present comfort and happiness. Listen again to Paul: Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God: this is your true worship. Hear that word tucked into that verse? Sacrifice. Sacrifice means giving something up. Only a surrendered heart offers such a sacrifice. Notice, too, that our lives are themselves meant to be an act of worship pleasing to God.
This is what it means to live as a Christian: to grow in a relationship of deepening trust and surrender to our heavenly Father to whom we pray; to have the life and character of Jesus more and more manifest in our lives; and to be filled more and more with the Spirit so that we want what God wants. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Let me ask: what might God be calling you to sacrifice in order for his will to be done more fully in your life? How might God be calling you to surrender your will to his at this point in your life? Where you do need to be transformed by the renewing of your mind? Is God’s will the desire of your heart? The thing is this: we do not naturally want what God wants. Praying this prayer—and really meaning it!—doesn’t come naturally to us. Our desire is for our own will to be done. That’s what sin is. I really think that the most important thing is not the specific details of what God’s will is for us in this or that situation. Rather, it’s whether or not we want God’s will for our lives.
I can put it this way. Is our deepest desire to see people come to faith in Christ? Is our biggest goal as the church to show God’s love in tangible ways to our surrounding neighbours so that they see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven? Do we want to grow in Christian maturity? Do we want these things even at the expense of our own comfort and wants?
Our example, of course, is Jesus, who did not consider equality with God as something to grasp but instead emptied himself, sacrificed himself, and surrendered himself to the good, pleasing and perfect will of his Father. Because his entire life and ministry was an answer to the prayer, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. You see, Jesus knows you and me. He knows where God’s will isn’t yet the desire of our hearts. He knows where we struggle with God’s will—not because we don’t know it but do know it.
Let us pray that God would more fully open the eyes of our hearts to see him as the heavenly Father that he is, who, in perfect union with the Son and Holy Spirit, invites us to live according to his good, pleasing, and perfect will. May he enable us to surrender our wills to his, so that we would want what he wants.