As we are led into the last of the three great rooms of this royal house of prayer, we find ourselves in an awesome and holy place, a place where we come face to face with both the ecstasy and the anguish of true godliness, a place where heaven touches earth: ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
As if the rooms were linked by great double doors, this petition is all of a piece with the one before it: ‘Your kingdom come.’ It is found in the early texts of Matthew’s gospel and in some of those of Luke, and is an outworking of the same principle: that God’s rule may be seen as we live in practical obedience to our heavenly Father’s instructions and guidance.
How then shall we pray it? How should we apply it to the great sweep of human activity here on earth and also to our own particular circumstances and concerns? We can make this petition on many levels: personally, locally, nationally and internationally. It is a very spacious room and from its windows we can look out and pray for those we love, for our church, for our community, for our land and our world. The great scenes of prayer are all here: ‘Your will be done.’
It is a prayer with both an active and a passive side. Actively, we are called to pray for God’s overruling hand on the affairs of this world, that his will may be done. Actively, we are challenged to pursue all that is in accordance with his will in our own lives and in the lives of those for whom we are responsible. Passively, we are called to accept what is his will, even when it is to our own personal discomfort or even anguish.
In heaven our Father’s will is done gladly, willingly, completely and joyfully – may it be like that on earth. May there be a foretaste, a ‘touch of heaven’ about our lives, our decisions and our communities here and now under the pressures and in the cut and thrust of earthly living.
Firstly, personally and actively: ‘Your will be done. May the way I live, all that I do and say be pleasing before you.’
The Lord is our pattern, he did as he taught. This petition is not just, ‘Do what I teach.’ He, himself, did it, lived it and fulfilled it: ‘My meat and essential food, my first priority is to do the will of him who sent me.’ What he said, he said as from the Father. What he did, he did to please his Father.
Here, then, is the all-embracing prayer for those who would follow the Lord Jesus, for those who really want to love God with all their heart and mind and strength.
It is a prayer for every stage of life. When we are young it is our parents who make decisions. So parents might well pray, ‘May your will be done as we bring up these little ones, teaching them love, discipline and right from wrong.’ As we grow older we start thinking for ourselves about, for example, schools and particular subjects for study and so youngsters and parents, together, begin to share the decisions. ‘May your will be done, may your guiding hand be on our thinking.’
With growing independence, ‘Your will be done,’ will work itself out in prayers like these:
- ‘May my relationships with the world around me be honouring before you.’
- ‘May I view its resources as a trust to be valued, used and handed on, rather than to be selfishly exploited, polluted and destroyed.’
- ‘May my treatment of animals be kind.’
- ‘Show me the deep and hidden prejudices of my heart so that my treatment of my fellow human beings from different groups and cultures may be fair and just and pleasing before you.’
- ‘May I constantly seek to use my days as you would wish me to.’
- ‘May my work be done in a way that pleases you.’
- ‘Your will be done, today – even Monday morning! – at work, at college, at home.’
- Work and money, love, sex, marriage, family life and leisure, attitudes to the world and people around us, they are all here! ‘Your will be done,’
In the light of scripture, with its warnings, instructions and commands, this petition, ‘Your will be done,’ enables us to examine ourselves. It is like one of the great wall mirrors so characteristic of stately homes. Here, as it were, is a mirror in which we can look at ourselves as God our heavenly Father sees us. As we look we are brought face to face with a reflection that challenges us and gives us an opportunity to put right each part of our life before him.
Secondly, our Father’s will for our lives accepted – the passive aspect of this prayer.
What a marvellous but terrifying pattern was set by the three Old Testament friends of Daniel. As a public test of loyalty to the state, we read that they were required to fall down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s great statue. Although they were the king’s loyal subjects, in utter loyalty to the Lord God they were willing to face even death rather than offer such false worship. Their response to the king has much to teach us:
‘Our God is able to deliver us from the furnace, and we believe that he will, but if not, let it be known to you that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image.’
Those three short words, ‘But if not,’ tell us that their stand was no mere fleeting act of rash bravado but a terrifyingly courageous submission to the will of God, to whom they had pledged their total loyalty. ‘But if not,’ words echoed by the Lord himself in the garden of Gethsemane as he faced the double agony of the cross. He knew full well that his Father was able to save him from that hour, yet he prayed, ‘Nevertheless, your will be done.’ As he looked ahead to the agony of the cross, our Lord taught his disciples to pray, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ To do his Father’s will was his constant aim and joy, as it can be for us, but in Gethsemane it was his agony, his passion.
Jesus, knowingly, set his face to go to Jerusalem. Events did not overtake him, he was not swept by overwhelming circumstances to his death. He came, as he had said, to do his Father’s will. From the beginning he had accepted that this would mean his death. On several occasions he had taken the disciples aside to warn them of it, and yet humanly he shrank from it. ‘Father, if this cup can pass,’ – the agony and the anguish of it – ‘let it pass, but if not, may your will be done.’ Our Lord accepted his Father’s will, submitted to it, despite the suffering.
Locally, we have been called as a church to pray for a whole series of very sick people, called to pray that God in his mercy would restore them to health. In praying that his will be done we have needed to be ready to accept what comes from the hand of our loving heavenly Father, be it life and health or sickness and death.
Humanly, the Lord Jesus shrank from the cross. Humanly, we would hold on to those whom we love. How hard a lesson to learn: ‘Nevertheless, your will be done.’
John Calvin as he lay dying said: ‘You are slaying me, Lord, yet it is enough for me to know that it is your hand that is slaying me.’ Here is the way to pray, passively, ‘Your will be done.’ For even through sickness and in death we can bring honour to his name.
If we begin to pray it with understanding, we will find this great room of our Lord’s Prayer, this petition, distinctly challenging and uncomfortable. It has within it a great reforming principle which, if really worked out rather than just repeated, will change our thinking, change our speaking and our way of living. It will begin to make us Christ-like, holy.
‘Heavenly Father, your will be done, may we not only hear the beautiful words of this prayer, but follow them, obey them, shape our living and our dying by them.’
- ‘My meat is to do the will’ – John 4:34
- ‘Our God is able’ – Daniel 3:16&17
- Nevertheless, your will be done’ – Luke 22:39-42
- What is meant by the active and the passive sides to this petition?
- In what sense is the petition, ‘Your will be done,’ the all embracing prayer for disciples?
- In what ways does the petition touch our everyday living?
- How hard is it to accept the will of our heavenly Father when it is not to our comfort or to the comfort of those we love?
- How much is the petition, ‘Your will be done,’ reflected in our Lord’s own life, ministry and death?
- To what extent should this petition shape our own living and dying?