In this post I am going to be looking at the third petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The will of God is a difficult thing for many people. Sometimes we are unclear about God’s will. Other times, we are clear about his will, but we don’t want to obey it, and at still other times, we struggle to accept God’s will for our lives.
The story is told of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. “Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked. “Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.” She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go!
Similarly, many of us can find that when we are “seeking” the will of God, we are really seeking our own will…and have suffered the consequences of forcing our own way!
Today, I want to briefly investigate this petition (“your will be done”), so that we can know how to pray for God’s will to be done.
First, you need to understand that there are two wills of God. One is his secret will and the other is his revealed will.
Theologians sometimes call these God’s decretive and preceptive will. Decretive because it deals with God’s sovereign decrees, and preceptive because it deals with God’s precepts or commands. We find these two wills side by side in Deut. 29:29:
The secret things [decrees] belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed [commands] belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Let’s start with God’s Secret Will. God’s secret will is made up of those desires of God that he has decreed will come to pass, although he has not necessarily made them known to us. To us they are secret, but to Him they are fully known. Some examples from Scriptures are found in:
- Matt 24:35-36: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
- Rom 1:9-10: For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. [Paul did not know whether he would get a chance to see the Christians in Rome.]
- Also, compare 2Peter 3:9 with Rom 9:27: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Rom 9:27: And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, [God desires that all should reach repentance, but Rom 9:27 and many other passages tell us that this will not happen. Who will be saved? This too is God’s secret will, hidden from mankind.]
God’s secret will includes the answer to questions about how long you will live, how a new president will do in office, the state of our economy next year, and whether your neighbor will ever accept Jesus.
What are we to do, how are we to respond to God’s secret will if we don’t know it?
- Trust God. -Matt 6:25-33 instructs us about worrying about serious needs (not wants, which are even less pressing). It says,
25Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
There is so much in this life that is unknown. And if we dwell on these things we can become paralyzed with fear. But the Lord tells his children not to be anxious. Yes, we should pray for our needs. He has revealed that he will take care of us and give us our needs. But instead we have “little faith” and begin to wonder how it is that he will care for us instead of just trusting him with a child-like faith.
- Humbly submit to God’s will, for He is good-Ps 111 reminds us of this in a powerful way. It says:
1Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!
The Lord is great and greatly to be praised. Even when things become stormy around us, praise him anyway. When things grow dark, praise him anyway. And when you find yourself “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” don’t forget that our Good Shepherd is with us every step of the way. You may not see the terror by night coming, but you do need to remember that our God is good and he has a perfect plan that goes far beyond our own understanding.
Secondly, there is God’s Revealed Will, or his Preceptive Will.
This is the will of God shown to us in the pages of Scriptures. The revealed will of God is God’s desire for us to obey Him. Here is another distinction between his secret will and his revealed will. His secret will is always accomplished. Job 42:2 says, I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. However, God’s revealed will, is often disobeyed. God says we shall not bear false witness—but we do. This is never to be taken that God approves of our disobedience. But it does show that God passively permits us to sin, and yet we will be held responsible and those who refuse to cast themselves at God’s mercy will be punished in eternal fire.
Some examples of God’s revealed will include:
- Eph 5:15-17: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
- 1Thess. 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;
- 1Thess 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Of course, the Bible reveals much more of what God requires of us.
Back in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This will of God is to be obeyed. After all, what king makes a decree and does not expect his subjects to obey him? How do the angels respond to God’s commands in heaven?
- Ps. 103:20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!
- Matt. 13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
- Matt. 24:31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Let me ask you, does God expect any less from us? The psalmist prayed as all of God’s children should pray, Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! (Ps. 143:10).
What about if we don’t walk in the ways of the Lord? What then? Jesus foretold of a future day when he will speak to those who had that attitude.
- Matt. 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
We really are without excuse in obeying God’s will because God has told us so clearly in his Word what he expects from us. Therefore, when we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are praying that God would align our hearts and our lives with the divine commands of God in the Bible. We are praying that God would help us to live as he calls us to live. We are praying that we desire that God would make our lives a living Bible, that people can see our daily walk, witness our speech and our conduct and from that discern what God wants them to be.
A tall order? Yes! But that is why we pray for God to do this in our lives. It cannot be done otherwise.