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23. May Your Will Be Done (Matthew 6:10b)

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May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Matthew 6:10b (NET)

In Matthew 6:9-13, Christ teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. It is the ideal prayer—meant to be the Christian’s primer and pattern. It is not that a Christian cannot pray without going through this pattern. Certainly, there are times, like when Peter was sinking into the water, that we just cry out, “Lord, save me!” (Matt 14:30). However, in this pattern, we see the priority of prayer which is often neglected when we pray without its structure. The invocation of the prayer, “Our Father in heaven” sets the atmosphere. We are praying to our all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful Father. We must pray with trust and out of love. This intimacy with God was purchased by Christ on the cross; therefore, we can come into God’s presence at any time.

The first three petitions are consumed with the Father’s name, kingdom, and will. Often, we enter prayer as though the priority is our name, kingdom, and will. It is not. In fact, when we pray properly, prayer conforms our desires to the Father’s. Therefore, prayer is a tremendous part of our sanctification process. For this reason, those who spend little time in prayer often care little about the things of God. They typically are very consumed with self and anything that negatively affects themselves instead of with God and others. True prayer delivers us from our natural selfishness.

The petition that probably delivers us most from the rule of self is “your will be done.” Martin Luther called it a “fearful prayer.”1 Kent Hughes said this about praying “your will be done”:

In praying this we invite God to conquer us, and that is why this petition is so scary. When we pray this prayer, we are asking God to do what is necessary to make his will prevail in our lives. And God then comes with gracious, kind violence to root out all impediments to our obedience. To pray this prayer may terrify us, but it will also deliver us from ourselves. It can truly be said that we have not learned to pray at all until every request in our prayers is made subject to this one. “Your will be done” is the petition that determines the authenticity of the other upward petitions, for if we do not mean it, we cannot truly pray, “hallowed be your name” or “your kingdom come.” Truly praying “your will be done” is fundamental to all true prayer.2

As we pray through this petition, we bend our desires to that of the Almighty. It is here where we choose to trust God, even when circumstances are difficult and don’t make sense. It is truly a scary prayer.

In this study, we’ll consider the meaning and applications of this petition in the hope that it will further conform our will to that of God’s.

Big Question: What does it mean to pray “your will be done”? What are some applications of this prayer?

God’s Will

Interpretation Question: What is Christ referring to with the petition, “your will be done”? What are different aspects of God’s will?

One of the most controversial aspects of Christian doctrine is understanding the will of God. It is common for believers to be confused and have questions concerning it: “What is God’s will? How should one find it?” There is good reason for this confusion: When considering Scripture’s teaching on God’s will, it is clear that there are different aspects of it. One could say there are three wills of God. There is:

1. God’s sovereign will

God’s sovereign will is the aspect of God’s will that is always done. It includes things like election, creation, the fall of man, the coming of the messiah, and his eventual return. It is the comprehensive, tolerating will of God that includes good, evil, intentional, and unintentional acts—all working together for God’s glory and the benefit of his people. Ephesians 1:11 says that God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” Amos 3:6 says, “…If disaster overtakes a city, is the Lord not responsible?” Amos does not deny that disasters have secondary causes like evil men or the devil. But Amos sees evil men and the devil submitting to God’s sovereign will. This is how Moses could write in Exodus that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21) and then later say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:2). Similarly, Peter could say that Christ being handed over to the Jews and Romans for execution was part of God’s will. In Acts 2:23, he says, “this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.”

This is a mysterious aspect of God’s will because, at the same time, Scripture says that God does not commit evil, nor can he be blamed for evil. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.” First John 1:5 says, “… God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” Creatures are to be blamed for their sins and not God. However, Scripture does say that God controls evil and evil events in such a way that he can be said to cause them, as in the case of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23, 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chr 21:1).

Again, this is a mystery to us, but it is not a mystery to God. Finite creatures cannot fully comprehend an infinite God. What he has revealed about himself, we must believe even if it is paradoxical. This is true with other mysteries like the Trinity and the full humanity and deity of Christ. Though we may not fully understand them, we must accept them. If we reject them or twist these mysteries so that we can better understand them, we do this to our own peril and that of others.

The doctrine of God’s sovereign will is always taught in such a way as to give believers comfort. Evil people are not in control; Satan is not in control, and neither are we. God is in control, and he works all events, even the sins of his creatures, for the good of his people and in accordance with his sovereign will (cf. Rom 8:28, Eph 1:11). Without accepting the reality of God’s sovereign will, we will become anxious, angry, and even unforgiving. When Joseph looked at the evil his brothers had done to him, he said, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day” (Gen 50:20). He could forgive his brothers because he saw God as being in control and using it for the good. This is one aspect of God’s sovereign will.

Application Question: How do you reconcile God’s sovereign will with the free will of others and evil within the world? Is God’s sovereign will comforting to you or terrifying, and why?

2. God’s ethical or preceptive will

This is what we see in the commands of Scripture. Repent and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15). Flee from all appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22). Flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18). Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself (Matt 12:30-31). It is this aspect of God’s will that is not always done. People reject the gospel. They enjoy evil conversations, entertainment, and thoughts. People pursue sexual immorality instead of fleeing from it. God’s ethical will is not always done. In fact, since Satan is the ruler of this world, the opposite is commonly done instead.

3. God’s will of desire

This aspect refers to God’s disposition or inclination. Like God’s preceptive will, this is an aspect of God’s will that is not always done. For example, in Luke 13:34, Christ said this about Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!

God repeatedly sent prophets to Jerusalem. He sent his Son to preach repentance and perform miracles before them; however, they still rejected God, and the majority still reject him today. Though he longed to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks, they would not allow it.

We also see an aspect of God’s desire in 2 Peter 3:9. It says, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Of course, this verse is not referring to God’s sovereign will because other Scriptures tell us that all will not be saved. It is referring to his disposition or inclination. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that they would turn from their ways and live (Ez 33:11).

Interpretation Question: What aspect(s) of God’s will is Christ referring to with the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer?

Some believe Christ is referring to God’s ethical will (and possibly God’s will of desire), since this aspect of God’s will is not always done, unlike God’s sovereign will.3 However, in the previous petition, Christ calls for us to pray for his kingdom to come (Matt 6:10a). Certainly, this includes praying for God’s sovereign will, since Scripture promises that Christ will return and bring his kingdom to this earth (Rev 11:15). God has chosen to establish his kingdom, as well as other aspects of his sovereign will, through the prayers of his people. In fact, God’s ethical will and will of desire are, at times, part of God’s sovereign will when they are accomplished. Therefore, “your will be done” probably is comprehensive—referring to all aspects of God’s will. Christ prayed for God’s will to be done even when it included his murder by evil men, which clearly wasn’t part of God’s ethical will—though it was part of his sovereign will (Lk 22:42). This is hard to comprehend, but again, God uses all things to bring what is ultimately good on this earth. This means that true prayer includes us trusting our all-wise, all-just, and all-powerful God.

It must be recognized that in some way or another, when people don’t pray, God’s will is not done. In Ezekiel 22:30-31, God said:

“I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one. So I have poured my anger on them, and destroyed them with the fire of my fury. I hereby repay them for what they have done, declares the sovereign Lord.”

It is for this reason that God commonly gives people prayer assignments. In Isaiah 62:6-7, God says,

I post watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they should keep praying all day and all night. You who pray to the Lord, don’t be silent! Don’t allow him to rest until he reestablishes Jerusalem, until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth.

Even as he has burdened some to continually pray for the nation of Israel, which will one day repent (Rom 11:25-27), God still places burdens on people to pray for nations to repent, friends and family members to get saved, and families to be restored. We must be sensitive to these burdens for this is how God’s will gets done on earth. He finds a few watchmen who are willing to watch and pray.

Battle of Wills

As we consider this, it must be remembered that initially, when God created the heavens and the earth, everything was good because there was only one will—God’s. However, when Satan rebelled against God because of pride, there became two competing wills—one good and one corrupt. When the angels and people fell, there became billions of competing wills, but only one of them is perfect, and that is God’s.4 Therefore, all that is bad, evil, and destructive in the world comes from rebellion against God’s will. James Boice said it this way:

If we are to understand the fullness of what this statement means, we must begin by realizing that all the troubles that exist in this world exist because someone, or some group of people, wants man’s will instead of the will of God. The Bible says, “As for God, his way is perfect” (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30). Only God is perfect. Consequently, any way that is not God’s way is imperfect; it is sinful, and thus it is contributory to the problems of this world.5

When people ultimately submit to God’s will and only his, there will be complete righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom 14:17). That is why God has given us his Word and his Holy Spirit to save us and enable us to obey him. When people rebel against God’s will, there is lack of peace, discord, war, and ultimately death. Therefore, the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer cries out for God’s will to be done, which will ultimately restore every good thing to this earth.

Application Question: Why is it important to pray for God’s will to be done? What burdens has God given you to pray for until they happen? How do you reconcile the need for man to pray, even though God is sovereign? Should believers pray for God to bring to pass prophetic events, which God has promised will happen? Why or why not?

Praying for God’s Will to Be Done

Application Question: How can we pray for God’s will to done? What does this mean practically?

1. To pray for God’s will to be done means that we cannot pray for anything immoral.

It’s unfortunate that this needs to be said, but we should not pray for grace to cheat on a test or to not get caught in a lie. Prayer is about God’s will, and therefore, true prayer is always moral and conforms to God’s will. James 4:2-3 says, “…You do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.” First John 5:14 says, “And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” That’s really what Christ meant when he called us to pray in his name (John 14:13-14). It doesn’t mean to tack his name on the end of our prayers. It means that we should pray in line with his character and purpose. Therefore, to pray outside of God’s ethical will is to pray amiss.

2. To pray for God’s will to be done means for people to be committed to pursuing the knowledge of God’s will.

To pray effectively, we must know God’s will. The primary way we know God’s will is by knowing Scripture. The more people know what Scripture says about parenting, dealing with conflict, serving, working, decision-making, marriage, etc., the more they can obey God’s will. Sadly, even the church is woefully ignorant about what Scripture teaches. Kent Hughes gives a stinging rebuke when considering this reality. He says:

It pains me to hear Christians insist on the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures, if those same Christians do not diligently work at learning the Scriptures. What are the themes of Zechariah and Galatians? What do we learn of God’s will from Exodus and Ephesians? How do the portraits of Jesus painted by Matthew and John differ from and complement each other? In studying God’s will, what have we learned this week that has prompted improvements in our lives?6

To pray for God’s will to be done is to commit ourselves to reading, studying, memorizing, and applying Scripture. It also means praying for others to do the same.

Are you committed to understanding God’s will through the diligent study of Scripture?

3. To pray for God’s will to be done means that we must pray for God’s commands to be obeyed throughout the world, especially in areas where they are disregarded.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means that we should pray for people to be obedient just as the angels and saints obey God in heaven. Psalm 103:20-21 says, “Praise the Lord, you angels of his, you powerful warriors who carry out his decrees and obey his orders! Praise the Lord, all you warriors of his, you servants of his who carry out his desires!” Those in heaven always obey God’s will immediately and without delay. That should be our constant prayer for ourselves and others.

We should pray for governments to practice God’s ethics—that there would be no corruption in our politics. We should pray for parents to raise their children in the Lord and that children would honor their parents. We should pray for the church to be holy, preach God’s Word, evangelize, serve the needy, and impact society in a way that draws people towards God.

In one sense, to pray this petition is to pray for righteous rebellion. It is to pray that people would be like Christ was, as he lived in a demonically influenced culture. When God was dishonored and people cheated in the temple, Christ flipped tables and rebuked the religious establishment (John 2). Where there was false teaching, he corrected it. We must do the same in our societies as evil plagues our education system, our government, and even our churches. Christians must not passively accept abortion, trafficking, the redefinition of marriage, the watering down and secularizing of our churches, etc. They must fight against immorality just as Christ did. John MacArthur explains it this way:

To pray Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven is to rebel against the worldly idea that sin is normal and inevitable and should therefore be acquiesced to or at least tolerated. It is to rebel against the world system of ungodliness, the dishonoring and rejecting of Christ, and also the disobedience of believers. Impotence in prayer leads us, however unwillingly, to strike a truce with wrong. To accept what is, is to abandon a Christian view of God and His plan for redemptive history.7

4. To pray for God’s will to be done means to pray that people would obey God’s will joyfully.

In heaven, God’s will is not done with bitterness. It is not done out of resignation, like one who is defeated by God: “Fine, Lord! Your will be done.” It is done with joyful obedience. In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the world as unthankful towards God. He says, “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.” The world rejects God—it doesn’t glorify him or give thanks to him. Sadly, many Christians don’t even give God thanks. They obey him with angry or defeated hearts, rather than joyful ones.

To pray this prayer is to pray that people would obey God, just as those in heaven. In the book of Revelation, we are shown visions of the heavenly court where continual worship, praise, and glory are offered to God and Christ from angels and people (Rev 4, 5). Lord, let that happen here on earth.

5. To pray for God’s will to be done means we must submit to God’s perfect wisdom and sovereignty, even when going through trials.

We see this with Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). As he considered bearing the sins of the world and being separated from God, he asked God if there was another way. Certainly, Christ knew that this was the only way. He previously declared that he came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). Therefore, the reason he prayed this way was for us (cf. John 11:41-42). Christ is our example in prayer. When we encounter hard times and difficulties, which is part of God’s sovereign will to conform us into the image of his Son (Rom 5:3-4), we must trust and submit to God. Like Job, we should pray, “Lord, you give, and you take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, paraphrase). We must cry out in faith, “Lord, I trust you. Your will be done.”

It should be noted that this conflicts with the popular understanding about how to pray in faith taught in many churches today. Often it is said that praying in faith simply means that we must speak and declare something, without any doubt, until it comes to fruition. However, true faith is always based on revelation—what God has said. Where we have a clear promise, we should pray with no doubt. To doubt would be to call God a liar and say he is untrustworthy. But, there are some things that God hasn’t promised clearly. For example, it is not God’s will for all people to be physically healed. Scripture clearly teaches that it was appointed for people once to die and then the judgment (Heb 9:27). We all will die at some point. Therefore, we cannot pray with absolute confidence for healing from every disease or ailment. Similarly, we can’t pray in absolute confidence for God to give us a specific job or get us into a specific school. God has promised to meet all our needs (Matt 6:33, Phil 4:19), but not all our wants. In areas where we don’t have clear promises, we must pray with faith in his character. We must pray, “Your will be done.” It is a prayer that says, “Where you lead is always best!” Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.”

Are you submitting to God’s will no matter the situation? Praying “your will be done” helps us do this.

6. To pray for God’s will to be done means that we must pray for God’s final kingdom, where the Father’s will is always done.

As mentioned in the past study, “your will be done” is probably a form of Hebrew parallelism. When we pray, “your kingdom come,” we are praying for the will of the King to be done on the earth. Therefore, this prayer is, in part, eschatological. It looks forward to the coming of Christ and the time when all people will know Christ and obey him. There will be no more murder, discord, or lies. There will be complete righteousness, peace, and joy throughout all creation.

Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to grow in praying for his will to be done in your life, community, nation, and throughout the world? Are there specific acts of disobedience in your community or nation that especially burden you and that you feel God is calling you to intercede on behalf of? How do you reconcile our call to pray in faith and yet our call to pray, “your will be done”? Is there a conflict between faith in prayer and submission in prayer?

Conclusion

As mentioned, praying for God’s will to be done is a sanctifying grace for us individually. It delivers us from pride and selfishness and conforms us into God’s image. It also is the way that God sanctifies our friends, families, churches, communities, and nations. As we pray it, we must pray it in faith, because one day, all will bow to Christ as Lord and all will obey his will (Phil 2:9-11). Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen!

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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1 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 175). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 177). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 R.C. Sproul. The Prayer of the Lord (Kindle Locations 518-522). Kindle Edition.

4 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 185). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

5 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 184–185). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

6 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 384). Chicago: Moody Press.

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