Thy Will Be Done

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-f39b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.rOne of the biggest problems we have in prayer is that we have horrifically bad practical theology.  We pray as though we understand God to be a genie and ourselves to be his master.  We present God a laundry list of stuff we want from him, then get annoyed if we don’t get what we want.  “I prayed about that, but it didn’t work.  Nothing happened.”

But God’s not a genie; we’re not his master.  He is the Master; we are his servants.  He’s God.  He doesn’t submit to our will; we submit to his.  One major purpose of prayer is to help us to get this all clear.  Prayer reminds us that we worship and serve him.  Prayer reminds us to orient ours thoughts and desires around his will rather than our own.  Prayer teaches us to submit to God and to his will.

Jesus teaches us this in response to the disciples’ request: Lord teach us to pray.  The third petition is “Thy Will Be Done.”  As in the first and second petitions, this is a third person imperative functioning as a petition.  It could be translated, “Lord please bring to pass whatever you desire to happen.”

Why does Jesus teach us to pray this way?  God is sovereign.  Isn’t he going to do whatever he desires to do anyway?  Yes, he is.  But this is a way of conforming my will, my mind, to his plan and purposes.  This is about adapting myself to God’s plan and purposes rather than to my own.   I might think God ought to do X, Y, or Z, but most fundamentally what needs to change is I.  I need to be transformed from a creature who seeks my will, my purposes, my personal desires, to one who seeks God’s plan, purposes, and desires.

One way of describing human sinfulness is selfishness.  It is “My will be done” rather than “Thy will be done.”  This is part of the narrative of the fall of man, “Eat of it and you will be as God….”  Sin is the affirmation that I am the god of me.  I will pursue my own ends.  But a disciple says, “Thy will be done.”

Jesus wasn’t just blowing smoke.  He practiced what he preached (and prayed).  On the last night prior to his death, he battled the temptation of his own human desire – to live, to not suffer – as he cried out in prayer:

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39  

Jesus came to die, but that didn’t mean it was fun for him.  The cup of suffering was no cup of tea.  As fully man, he would have been happy to have some other means of redemption than his suffering and death.  However, ultimately as a perfect man, as the God-man, he submits to the will of his Father.

Jesus doesn’t just tell us to pray this way; he does so himself.  Submitting to God’s will results in the salvation of the world.  The path of blessing is found not in pursuing our own will (that leads only to brokenness and misery), but in pursuing the perfect will of God.