“Thy Will Be Done” (The Lord’s Prayer)
We continue in our series on the Lord’s Prayer, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” And tonight we come to the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, namely, “Thy Will Be Done.”
“Thy will be done.” Are we sure we really want to pray this? You know, sometimes we think of “Thy will be done” as just a resigned afterthought, after we’ve prayed for what we really want. “Lord, here are the things I really want you to do for me, but I know you probably won’t answer me the way I would like, so I’ll tack on a ‘Thy will be done’ disclaimer at the end.” It’s like we’re bracing ourselves for the inevitable disappointment when God doesn’t come through for us. But we know our prayers are supposed to sound pious, and so a little “Thy will be done” thrown in at the end does the trick.
Well, that’s kind of a minimalist view of this petition. We’re undervaluing it. There’s a lot more going on here than a mere “escape clause” for when our prayers don’t come true.
And the way Jesus places this petition in his Lord’s Prayer teaches us just that. It’s not a pious, resigned afterthought at the end. No, Jesus places it upfront, along with the two other petitions we pray for in the opening of this prayer: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” This is how Jesus would have us start the prayer, to get our priorities in place. If we’re first oriented toward God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, then that will shape the rest of our prayer concerns in a good way.
So the first thing to do when we’re praying this petition in the Lord’s Prayer is to firmly believe that the will of God is always best. Not just grudgingly, reluctantly, to acknowledge this in a glum way. But to really believe it, to actively desire the will of God to be done.
How do we get to that place? By being strengthened in our faith. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We need God to strengthen our faith, our confidence in his goodness, so that we can pray as we ought. And this strengthening happens as we are abiding in Christ, the Holy Spirit working in our hearts through Word and Sacrament. When we focus on Christ, then we know that God’s will is always good and gracious toward us, no matter what.
And as we are in the Word, meditating on God’s Word on a daily basis, coming to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s Word at church, living in and from our baptism, being fortified in our faith through the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood–as this happens, our minds are being renewed, and we better come to understand what is God’s good and gracious will, revealed in Scripture. This then will inform our praying and give substance to this petition, “Thy will be done.” We’ll have a better handle on what God’s will is, and that it is to be highly desired and sought after, so that his will would be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
In the Catechism, Luther explains how the good and gracious will of God is done: “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.”
Note the two sides of this equation. There’s both a negative side and a positive side. The negative side of praying “Thy will be done” is to pray that any and all contrary wills would be hindered and broken. And, typically for Luther, he sums up those contrary wills in a group of three, the unholy triad of the devil, the world, and the flesh.
You see, so far in the Lord’s Prayer we’ve been praying that God’s name would be hallowed and his kingdom come. Well, the devil certainly doesn’t want those things to happen. So he launches an all-out attack against us, against the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of God’s kingdom. And so this petition “Thy will be done” is a prayer to God that his holy will would prevail against the devil’s evil assaults.
Then there is the world to contend with, the sinful world’s value system all around us, which does not honor God’s name and which tries to squeeze out God’s kingdom. The world would shut out God’s will and mock and even persecute those who seek it. We see this every day in the newspapers and on television. Think of the Obama administration yesterday arguing before the Supreme Court that businesspersons with moral objections to abortion still should be forced to pay for abortion coverage. That’s just plain wrong–evil, in fact. The will of the world is to get out from under what they think of as God’s oppressive hand. And so they go after Christians and the church, to try to force their will, which is contrary to God’s will, upon everyone else.
The devil, the world, and now our own sinful flesh. And this one may be the most insidious. For it comes from inside us. Our own selfish desires, when they contradict God’s will and God’s ways–the will of our flesh tries to gain the upper hand. We want, and we do not have. And so we try to manipulate God and rationalize our selfish desires. Who are we fooling? Not God. He knows us. He sees through our rationalizations. But still the sinful flesh persists, and we let that contrary will of ours get in the way of seeking and desiring God’s will. This is the source of many of our problems in praying. We’re afraid to pray for God’s will to be done, because in the back of our mind we know this will interfere with what our sinful flesh desires. Lord, have mercy on us! Even as Christians, our prayers need purifying.
But that’s why Jesus came. To have mercy upon us. To purify our thinking and our praying. To do the will of the Father who sent him. And that will is indeed most good and gracious! It is the will of God to save us from our sins. To redeem us from death and the devil. To save us and to bring us into God’s kingdom, where we have God’s name, his saving name, placed upon us. What could be a better and more gracious will than that?
Christ came to do the will of the Father who sent him. This will he accomplished on earth as it is was set out in heaven. Christ, the eternal Son of God, came down from heaven and carried out the will of God here on earth, for our salvation. He came as our brother and did the will of God throughout, consistently and perfectly, whereas we so often fail and kick against and resist the will of God.
Even in the garden, when Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” Jesus was still committed to doing the Father’s will, no matter what. And when Jesus prays there, “Thy will be done,” this is not some little resigned afterthought tacked onto the end. No, this is the product of the most agonizing struggle. For Jesus had every right to not have to drink of the cup of suffering. He had done no wrong. But he knew the suffering he would have to endure for the sake of fulfilling his mission. The agony of the cross. The intense experience of being utterly abandoned by God, in order to take the punishment we deserve. The immediate prospect of facing all this had to cause the very real man Jesus great agony. And yet he went through with it. And so Jesus’ “Thy will be done” was not some resigned afterthought, a grudging pious add-on, but rather it was a complete yielding to do the will of the Father who sent him.
Dear brothers and sisters, when we know such a Savior, we can be confident that our praying of this petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done”–that this truly is a beautiful and wonderful petition. The will of God is indeed always best. We gladly submit our desires under God’s good and gracious will, even if we don’t know how things will turn out.
And the other thing is, the Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness. For we don’t always know how we ought to pray. But the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. We’re not praying alone. As Romans 8 tells us, “The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The positive side of this petition, then, is how the will of God is for our good. As we heard in the Catechism, God’s will is done “when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.”
You can be confident of this, dear children. God’s will is the absolute best thing you could pray for. If you are perplexed at times as to why the course of your life is not going as you planned, why it seems like God is not giving you what you want–well, welcome to the club. It’s called the theology of the cross, and all Christians experience this. But we know, we really and truly know, that God will bring good out of the twists and turns. Yes, we may not understand it at the time, but still we trust in God’s goodness, in his good and gracious will, because we know his will for us in Christ.