The Lord’s Prayer: Third Petition
Trinity 6| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| Matthew 6:10| July 31, 2011
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” St. Matthew 6:10
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is this done? When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow God’s name nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and preserves us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.
When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we are asking God to do what he wants to do. But God is going to do what he wants to do whether or not we pray to him. God is free. He is under no one else’s power. He is almighty. No one can oppose God’s will and get away with it. Why should we pray, “Thy will be done”? It’s going to be done without our prayer.
We pray, “Thy will be done” because Jesus tells us to. We are Christians. Christians do as Christ says to do. Jesus Christ is the Lord of his Church. He commands his Church to pray, “Thy will be done.” This is why we pray, “Thy will be done.”
We pray, “Thy will be done” because we want to agree with God’s will. We want to be in agreement with God. When we pray, “Thy will be done” we are saying that we want what God wants. We want our will to be conformed to God’s will. What does God want us to do? That’s what we want to do. What does God want us to believe? That’s what we want to believe. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are all opposed to the will of God. We pray that God would fight against this unholy trinity that would take us captive. We pray that God would oppose the will of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature and bring our will into conformity with his will. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:1,
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
We should distinguish between God’s revealed will and God’s hidden will. God’s revealed will is what God has revealed to us in the Bible. God’s law is his revealed will for our behavior. God wants us to live according to the Ten Commandments. He wants us to hold to him alone as our God and to reject all false gods as idols. He wants us to revere his holy name. He wants us to treasure his holy word. He wants us to honor our parents and all legitimate human authority. He wants us to befriend those in bodily need. He wants us to live chaste lives and avoid all sexual sins. He wants us to respect our neighbor’s property and reputation. He wants us to be content with what we have. All of this is clearly revealed in the Bible as God’s will for our behavior. When we pray, “Thy will be done” we are praying that God would guide and direct us in our thinking, speaking, and living that we would live lives in conformity with his commandments.
God’s gospel is his revealed will for our faith. The law accuses and condemns us all. We trust in the gospel to save us from the condemnation of the law. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law. In our place he has done what God told us all to do. As our substitute he has suffered the punishment that God’s justice required us to suffer. The gospel tells us that for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience God forgives us all our sins against his law. The gospel doesn’t tell us what God will want to do if we meet this or that condition. The gospel tells us what God’s will is for us right now. He wants to be gracious to us for Christ’s sake. He wants us to believe this gospel and through this faith to receive the forgiveness of sins. He wants to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to establish in us a firm faith in the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. He wants to keep us steadfast in the true Christian faith in the face of all adversity and persecution. He wants to continue to feed our souls with his gracious and life-giving gospel throughout our lives. He wants to forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, and to deliver us from evil. He sincerely wants to do everything he has promised to do.
God’s revealed will is what he wants us to do and what he wants us to believe. We call it his revealed will because he has clearly revealed it to us. All we need to do is read the Bible and we can know what God wants us to do and what God wants us to believe. If our faith and our lives are to conform to God’s will we must listen to God’s holy word. We must believe what it says and do what it commands.
But not everything God wants is revealed in the Bible. In fact, God’s will is often hidden from us. We learn this especially at times of terrible loss and tragedy. The Catechism speaks of God’s “good and gracious will” but we often see nothing good or gracious about it. We lose the job and our income. The baby is born with a severe defect. The accident closes off a bright future. The fire or the flood destroy what we spend a lifetime acquiring. True love turns into betrayal. The one we loved most in this world dies an untimely death and leaves us alone. Our Father in heaven is almighty. He rules the wind and the waves. He clothes the fields with flowers. He feeds the birds of the air. He numbers the hairs on our heads. Where is he? What is he doing? Is he powerless to prevent these tragedies from occurring? If not, why does he not act in our best interest? Why does the almighty God want us to lose and suffer? As we attempt to understand what he wants for us we enter into a cloud of darkness and doubt. We cannot figure out the will of God. We can only suffer in ignorance of why a loving God would permit evil to fall upon those he loves.
What is God’s will for us when we are failing? Or when we are suffering? Or when we are losing what we worked so hard to get? Or when we lose those we love? What is the good and gracious will of our loving God when we experience evil, sin, and the cruelties of senseless suffering in our lives?
We don’t know. We can guess. We can speculate. We can seek out answers in a variety of places. But we must, in all humility, admit that we are ignorant. Why does God permit this suffering to take place? Is he preparing us for something? Is he using us to teach others? What is his aim, his purpose, his goal?
God withholds from us the specifics, but he does tell us all we need to know. St. Paul writes:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
How will God do it? He’s not saying. Does he need to prove himself to us? Listen again to St. Paul:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:31-32
We want answers. Remember Job? He wanted answers, too. God told Job that he wasn’t going to give him answers. His revealed will is all we need. To insist on understanding God’s hidden will is to go where we have no right to go. God’s will for us must be good and gracious because God is good and gracious and if we cannot figure out how this is so by considering what is happening in our lives perhaps it’s time for us to look outside of our own experiences and troubles and direct our attention to the source of our faith instead. That is where Jesus was crucified for us.
The will of God for us who look to Jesus in faith is that we have eternal life. It is that we will rise from the grave on the day of Christ’s return and inherit the kingdom that God prepared for us before time began. The will of God is that we repent of our sins every day and die to them, trusting alone in the blood and righteousness of Jesus, our Savior.
It is not ours to know the specifics of what God has in store for us here in this life. This doesn’t mean we are ignorant of God’s will. It means that God would direct us to where he wants to enlighten us. When we are puzzled, troubled, or deeply distressed about God’s will for us because of what we see and feel and experience in our lives, God would direct us to his revealed will, both law and gospel.
When we suffer for doing what is good and right we should not consider that suffering to be a sign of God’s disapproval. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. To hold on to the standards of Christian love and decency that God has revealed to us in the Bible is not always the popular thing to do. But God approves. God’s will is what matters. His clearly revealed will is a solid rock on which to stand both for our lives and for our faith.
When God’s will is hidden from us we consider this account recorded by St. Luke:
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22, 41-42)
What was the cup of which Jesus prayed? Was it not the cup of all human sin and suffering, indeed the very cup of God’s wrath and eternal punishment of all sinners? So, tell me. What was the Father’s will concerning that cup? Who was to drink it? You? Me? Or Jesus? God’s will was that Jesus drink the cup. Why? So that we would not have to drink it. When Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done,” he entrusted our past, our present, and our future into the gracious hands of our loving Father. Then he proceeded to secure our eternal life by drinking the cup of divine judgment all the way to its bitter dregs.
When we pray, “Thy will be done” we are praying to the One whose will it was to require his beloved Son to suffer the damnation that we deserved instead of requiring us to suffer it. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we are praying to the One who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. Do we need to know how our problems will be solved and how our suffering will end and how we will fare in this or that contingency of life? No. We need only know the One in whose almighty hands our future lies. Knowing him, we know also his good and gracious will. And if in this life we cannot always reconcile God’s love for us with the trials he sends us we know that now we see only through a glass dimly, but in heaven we will see face to face. Now we know only in part, but then we will know even as we have been known and we will see with perfect clarity that God’s will for us was always good and gracious. Amen.