Not Stoics, Fatalists, Determinists
Although many ancient versions of Luke do not contain this third petition, we cannot do justice to the entire prayer without considering it. But there is much confusion about praying, “Thy will be done.” Is there any possibility of God’s will not coming to pass? And if not, then why pray for what he has already determined to be done – or not done. We must remember, first, that our Father would not have us turn stoic or fatalist before his sovereignty. We are not determinists, at least not in the ungodly sense of the concept. God’s sovereign purposes, which are determined in the counsels of eternity and cannot be changed, include all the means to their accomplishment, including the exercise of man’s will. The choices we make and the prayers we utter are means he has ordained to fulfill his eternal will. We offer our prayers and make decisions without any sense of compulsion but freely according to the state of our heart and desires. Therefore, we must also confess that what our Father has sovereignly ordained, we freely choose to do.
We need not pick between them; each is true and joined wisely and inscrutably together in God’s infinite, eternal, unchanging decree. We cannot possibly understand the ways that God works this out, and we should not try to penetrate the veil of his majesty. Such an attempt will disturb our puny minds and inevitably lead to confusion, even blaming God and using his sovereignty as an excuse for our sins. God’s eternal decrees do no violence to the will of the creature. In fact, our choices and prayers have meaning only against the backdrop of a fully interpreted universe that is established and governed by God’s decrees. If the universe is open, unplanned, and not interpreted, as the atheists so boldly say, then concepts such as “freedom” and “free will” are utterly meaningless. Our wills are free because God has ordained them to operate in accordance with our nature and in accordance with his will. We are not puppets before his sovereignty but responsible men and women whose decisions have eternal consequences – because God has ordained them to have eternal consequences.
God Uses Means and Commands Prayer
And one of the amazing ways God has decreed to accomplish his will is through our prayers. Prayer is commanded, not only as an act of worship and expression of believing dependence upon our Maker and Father, but also because he would have us see him working through our prayers. This is so that we might stand in awe of his goodness – not draw the false conclusion that our prayers change his will. They do not. “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). Prayer changes us by making us more aware of our dependence upon the Lord’s help, teaching us submission to him in all things, and filling us with praise when we see him working through our prayers. Prayer, therefore, is far more than a pious exercise and certainly not a good luck charm to cover all our bases. Prayer is one of the highest expressions of our faith that we sincerely do believe in God’s sovereignty and trust that he has ordained our prayers to accomplish his eternal will so that we are in a sense co-laborers with him, as the apostle wrote (1 Cor. 3:9). He is preeminent in grace and power, but when we pray, we join with him in laboring for the fulfilling of his will and thus the glorifying of his name. The next time you pray for the salvation of a lost friend or relative, remember this. Your prayer – persistent, fervent, believing – may well be the means that God has ordained to fulfill his sovereign will and bring that loved one to be with him forever.
God Honored When His Will Our Highest Desire
All our confusion about the relationship between God’s sovereign will and our prayer should be driven away by this consideration. We should want nothing more than for God’s will to be done. We cannot understand the magnificence of God’s eternal counsels and his sovereign working of all things according to those counsels. It should be enough for us that our Father’s will is accomplished. It should make us happy and satisfied to think of our Father’s purposes being worked out in our lives and in the world. Whenever something happens to us that we do not like, this consideration more than any other restores peace to our souls: my Father has willed this, and therefore it is good. If I yield to him, he is teaching me submission and humility before him. For each one of us is too presumptuous and walk around as little gods in our own heads, until we are confronted with the truth that our Father is working out his purposes and that these purposes are much higher and holier than we can understand. Here worship is more appropriate than investigation, and piety demonstrated by quiet acquiescence and trust.
The Will of God’s Sovereign Decree
Acknowledge Supreme Authority of God’s Will
God’s will is one unified will. It is against the unity, self-sufficiency, and immutability of God to posit two or more wills in him. Some have done this to preserve room for the exercise of man’s free will, but they wind up dishonoring God by reducing his majesty and undercutting man’s dignity by making his choices meaningless. At the same time, we can look at his will from different perspectives. One of these, God’s sovereign will or his decrees, sometimes called his decretive will, refers to his eternal counsels that he has purposed in himself. “Known to God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). The second, God’s commands or preceptive will, refers to what he has revealed to us in his word as the rule of our faith and conduct. With respect to the first aspect, when we pray, “Thy will be done,” we acknowledge with faith and wonder that God’s will is the supreme authority over all things. “He works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). This is the pure fountain from which all other praying of this third petition must flow. For then alone do we bow to his righteous will and confess our faith in the wisdom of it – whatever it may mean for us in the short term, however much bodily pain or relational heartache he may have ordained – it is good. His will is right. There is nothing higher than God’s will by which to judge God’s actions. All our happiness lies in sincerely wanting and praying for God’s will to be done in our lives and in all men.
I Want Your Will to be Done – Not Mine
This is where childlike faith comes to the forefront and the reason our Savior said that we must become like little children in order to inherit his kingdom. In praying for our Father’s will to be done, this is not a petition of resignation only but of personal desire – I want your will to be done. Nothing will please us more, Father, than for you to work out your purposes in these circumstances, this loss or death, this crooked and perverse age. When we pray this way, we are also praying, “Not my will,” like our Savior did. His submission was wrapped up in his obedience to his Father’s revealed will, and we shall often find this to be the case – that it is impossible to separate God’s eternal will from his revealed will. It is his eternal will for us to obey his revealed will. At the same time, we want for this to take place. We want for him to use the means he has ordained to accomplish his will – even if it means affliction for us, or the need for more availing and persevering prayer or even suffering for his name.
If we are witnessing to a lost soul, we should pray for God’s will to be done through the means he has ordained – so that we can see his word growing and prospering, and thus praise him more when we see him fulfill his plan to bring the nations to faith in his Son (Rom. 1:4; 16:26) – and using us to bring this about. We want to be used to accomplish his will. If we love another person, nothing pleases us more than to have their wishes fulfilled – how much more our heavenly Father! There is so much wrapped up in praying this. Father, you have made promises respecting my children – please accomplish your holy will and use my teaching and loving and disciplining them to bring them finally into your eternal kingdom. Can anything be more glorious than for us, poor sinners redeemed by Christ’s blood alone, to be so used by our Father to accomplish his eternal will respecting the souls of our children? And then, when we think of the vast multitudes who will one day be in heaven praising the Lamb, we shall all recognize God’s sovereign grace alone – and also stand in awe when our Savior crowns us for not receiving his grace in vain but being faithful to share with others the wondrous things God has done for us. God has saved this multitude through such lowly means as the preaching of the cross, the loving witness of a humble believer? We shall stand in awe and worship him.
Be Glorified in the Accomplishment of Your Will
If we might put a capstone on this part of our prayer – Lord, be glorified in the accomplishment of your will. This is your world. Ungodly men run through the earth with their arrogant tongues and schemes, believing that their purposes will come to pass. Our desire is for you to be glorified in showing all men that your will was being done throughout all the seasons and families of the human race. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11). We desire you to be glorified. Do I need to make peace with a fellow believer? Do I need to give more of my time and money to your church and kingdom? Your will be done. You be glorified. Life is not about me. This is the reason this third petition is so important – right before daily bread – Lord, teach me that life is not about me. Deliver me from the prevailing religion in the church today – the religion of my feelings, the religion of what I like and do not like, the religion of my will and my frustration with those who do not do as I would like. Deliver me unto your religion – the religion of your will being done, you being glorified, you increasing but me decreasing, of you being pleased and of my being pleased in pleasing you. Deliver me from living for me; deliver me to living in humility before you and submission to your perfect will.
The Will of God’s Command (Word)
Your Will the Standard of Holiness and Happiness (Ps. 119)
Every godly heart readily assents that “the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which is revealed belongs to us and to our children” (Deut. 29:29). Without God’s word, any investigation of his will would lead us into a maze of confusion from which we could never extricate ourselves. But he has given us his word, and thus when we pray for his will to be done, our thoughts should turn to his holy Word. This is his will for us: that we esteem his word as more important than our necessary bread, learn to live by it, and to establish all our happiness in obeying him. We should not speculate about God’s secret counsels but determine to please him in all things. His will is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3), and our holiness is found in Christ Jesus our Lord, and his perfect obedience, and then by his Spirit endeavor to “walk worthy of our calling” by devoting ourselves to serving the Lord.
Help Me Not to Follow Evil Examples (Ps. 119:126-128)
God’s grace in Christ “teaches us to deny ungodly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). The more we endeavor to walk in obedience before him, the more our hearts are grieved by the world’s rebellion against his word. Satan has his voices also, and his servants, and they do all they can to disobey God’s will and to cast down the reliability of his word. They rebel against God often with great boldness, sometimes smiling in their sins and parading their wickedness so brazenly that we can only cry to God to work and defend his truth. When we pray for his will to be done, therefore, we must ask him to help us not to follow the evil examples and lying counsels of those around us. Do not be so insistent upon obedience! Live a little; follow your feelings; do not let any old book tell you what to do! And as for pastors and parents who try to restrict your right to live as you please, ignore them. It is maddening to see many in the church who listen to these deceptive but alluring sirens of rebellion. The more men rebel against God’s will, the more we must endeavor not to listen to them but to value God’s commandments all the more highly. Only his precepts are righteous, as this Psalm teaches us. His word endures forever. It is the rock that the furious storms of life cannot move. Our Lord said to build upon the immovable rock of his word, and we shall survive and overcome the furious storms of life and the ever-changing whims of rebellion. To turn from evil influences and overcome evil with God, we must plug our ears and close our eyes to their allurements but resolve to do God’s will no matter who is telling us to do our own wills.
I Offer Myself to Obey You – in Love and Thankfulness (Rom. 12:1; John 14:15)
There is thus a very personal aspect of “Thy will be done.” We desire to obey the Lord. It is our living sacrifice to him for all the mercy he has shown to us. His sacrifices are not elevated emotions and finding our own versions of personal fulfillment but consecrated obedience to him – like our Savior. “I delight to do your will, O my God, and your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). And this is exactly the motivation he calls us to imitate: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Love! It is not guilt that empowers obedience, or fear of what God will do to us if we do not obey him, but love. Faith works through love; love is the fruit of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Faith and love work together to the doing of our Father’s will. We can by the power of the Spirit learn the secret of abiding happiness: to delight in doing God’s will, to make our food to do his will (John 4:34). This must be our heart – to offer ourselves to God our Father, in the fellowship of our Savior, by the strength of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11), to obey him. And since we cannot in our own strength, “Thy will be done” is also a plea for help. And, glory of glories, God has pledged himself to be our helper (Heb. 13:6). He never says, “Obey me in your own strength.” He always says to us as his beloved children, “I am your helper.” Seek his strength always, child of God (Ps. 105:4). Praying and doing his will is the greatest challenge and privilege to which you can commit yourself. It is the purpose of your existence. In union with Jesus Christ and loving him, it can become your greatest delight.