Thy Will Be Done
In October of 2019, Bert terHart boarded his 40’ ocean-rated sailboat and set sail from Victoria, BC. His goal was to become the first North American to ever circumnavigate the globe solo, using only a sextant, pen, paper, and almanac for navigation. On July 28, 2020, after 267 days at sea, he sailed back into Victoria having accomplished his goal.
While on the open seas, he faced plenty of danger – extreme weather, regular 12’ to 14’ ocean swells, unanticipated ship repairs, and severe sleep deprivation. But in spite of these dangers, he was dubbed “the safest man on earth.” Well, maybe. Maybe not. He faced plenty of danger. But there was one danger he was completely insulated from – Covid.
When he set sail, we had never heard of Covid-19, or words like “social distancing,” “flatten the curve,” “shelter-in-place,” or “self-quarantine.” And while he was on the open ocean, he was safe from all of it. He faced plenty of danger, but he missed at least the first part of Covid. He likely hadn’t even heard of it. I wonder what he thought when he sailed back into the Victoria harbor to a bunch of people wearing masks.
In a recent interview with Travel+Leisure, he described what he hoped to accomplish through his journey; “I wanted to inspire people to take that first step forward. … Once you take that first step, the next step is easier, and the step after that becomes easier.”
Following God often means heading out into uncertain seas, and because of the uncertainty, most of us tend to procrastinate. We call it “waiting on God” but what we really mean is “waiting until I’m more certain.” We delay until we feel safer taking the leap, whatever it might be. And while the old adage, “The safest place to be is in the will of God,” sounds nice, it really isn’t true. We’re going to face plenty of real and present danger as we follow Christ. We’re also going to face danger if we don’t. And the path with Christ isn’t necessarily the path of least resistance either. So what, really, are we saying when we pray, “Your will be done”? Because that’s what Jesus instructs us to pray, isn’t it? It’s the third petition, or request, in the Lord’s prayer. Turn with me to Matthew 6:9-13.
How many of you have ever spent time worrying that you’ve in some way missed the will of God and are in some way outside of it? How many of you have ever been worried that you won’t ever meet the right person for you, or find exactly the right job or career, or buy the wrong house?
Or if you’re marriage has fallen apart, or you lost your job, you feel guilty because you think you somehow missed God’s will for you all those years ago when you made the decision to follow that career path or marry that person? Or maybe you’re afraid you’ll miss God’s guidance somehow and miss out on something really great that God has for you.
Truth is, today we generally have much more freedom of choice than people did in the past. In the past, even the recent past, you didn’t have to worry about your career path, because unless you were identified as being among the best and brightest by a teacher at an early age, you were probably going to last in school as long as you could and, when you couldn’t go keep up with the expected progress anymore, you’d be staying at home and going into the family business, learning to do what your parents did. And your parents would likely be arranging your marriage and probably helping you find a place to live too.
Many of what we consider to be the big decisions we’ll make in life, things like my education and career path and spouse and things like that were in typically made for you. Perhaps with your input a little bit, but those decisions were made for you. It’s only in the last 100 years or so that the bulk of the population has had some say in those things. And even today, in many places of the world, opportunities to make those decisions are somewhat limited. Limited by finances and social status and available opportunities. Even here in America.
So what do we mean when we say “the will of God?” More importantly, what does the Bible mean when the phrase “the will of God” is used? Well, it always means “what God wants,” right? But there’s some nuance to that. In the Bible, the phrase “the will of God” can have 3 different nuances. The first is God’s sovereign will. This is God’s voice in action. When God speaks, what God says happens. God said, “Let there be light. And there was light.” Why? Light didn’t decide whether or not it should come into existence. It simply became, because God decreed it. When Jesus spoke to Lazarus, dead in the tomb, Lazarus came out immediately. Why? Because the voice of God commanded it. When we talk about God’s sovereign will, we’re talking about the things God in his sovereignty superintends. Absolutely no power anywhere can stand against it. God’s sovereign will is always done in all places.
But that isn’t the only meaning of “the will of God.” There is also God’s moral will. This is how God wants his people to act. How we as followers of Jesus are to live. Is the moral will of God always followed? No, it isn’t. Why? Because we have the freedom to choose to follow Christ or not. And even as followers of Christ, we fall short. We sin. We miss the mark. That’s why we are in need of a savior.
The third meaning of “the will of God” is God’s basic disposition or inclination. God hates it and is saddened when people reject him, reject his offer of forgiveness and salvation. Let me illustrate this using 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “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.” The word translated “wishing” here is often translated “willing,” because it’s one of the two Greek words that are used to describe the will of God in the New Testament. It reads “not willing that any should perish …” So if this is referring to God’s sovereign will, what is Peter saying? That none will perish, right? And that isn’t what Peter is saying here. We know that because other passages in Scripture, including the words of Jesus himself, make it clear that there will be a final judgment in which sin is dealt with in finality.
But it also isn’t speaking directly of God’s moral will for his people, although we can infer that God wants us to share his goodness and grace with others. What its speaking of is God’s basic disposition. God doesn’t want any to perish. God wants all to repent. But some will choose not to repent.
When we pray, “your will be done,” we also say the words “on earth as it is in heaven.” So we know Jesus isn’t referring to God’s sovereign will here, because God’s sovereign will is equally unstoppable on earth and in heaven. It IS done on earth as it is in heaven. What we are praying for is that God’s moral will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are praying that those around us would see and respond to God’s offer of forgiveness and grace. We are praying that God is obeyed, and that God’s purpose is fulfilled.
Not MY will. Not MY purpose. God’s will. God’s purpose. You see, prayer isn’t about getting God to do my will. And yet, that’s how we treat prayer, isn’t it? So often my prayer becomes me demanding things of God like a spoiled child. And that isn’t what prayer is. God isn’t my personal genie. Oh, he wants us to bring our requests to him. Philippians 4:6 says “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Request is the key word. It isn’t the arrogant demand of an entitled child. It is the humble request of a deeply loved child. I want you to notice the order of things in the Lord’s prayer. The first three petitions, requests, are that God’s name would be praised, that God’s kingdom would come, and that God’s will would be done. THEN we move on to our needs – give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. When we pray, all of our requests are preceded by the petition, above all else, may your will be done in such a way that your name is praised. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” With confidence yes. Some translations say boldly. But not arrogantly. Boldly and humbly.
When I pray, “Your will be done,” I am also, by default, also praying, “and not my will.” “Anywhere my will and yours collide, YOUR will be done.” Your will supersedes my will. My comfort. My desires. I places all of those things in your hands. YOUR will be done. And Jesus himself taught us what it looks like to pray that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, because that is EXACTLY what he prayed. Look at Luke 22:39-44.
“Father, if there’s any other way.” “There isn’t.” “Then not my will, but yours be done.” What was Jesus’ will in this moment? It wasn’t to abandon us in our sin. It was to look for another way. And when the Father said, “this is THE way,” “Jesus was in submission.” And he knew, now, fully, what it would cost. Not just the humiliation and physical torture of the trial, beating, and crucifixion. But him, the eternal Son, filled with our sin. His purity marred by sin. And then, the unthinkable – our just punishment. The just punishment for our sin – separation from the Father, spiritual death – because of the sin filling him.
The thought of going through that was more than he could bear. If there was any other way … but there wasn’t. So he submitted. And then what happened? Angels came and ministered to him. The angel strengthened him. That wasn’t just a “for Jesus” thing. That’s what happens when we pray, “not my will, but yours, be done.” We are strengthened by his grace.
And what happened next? He was strengthened like Superman and flew to the cross and took it all without pain. No. Luke tells us that after the angel strengthened him, his sweat became like drops of blood. After he was supernaturally strengthened by an angel from heaven, his distress … got worse.
Sweating blood – hematohidrosis. It usually occurs only I bleeding disorders, but it may occur in individuals suffering from extreme levels of stress. Around the sweat glands, there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form, which constrict under the pressure of great stress. Until they rupture, and the blood passes into the sweat glands and out onto the skin as the stressed person sweats. It’s very rare.
Jesus submits his will to the Father’s, is strengthened by an angel, and the stress, the anxiety, the fear continue to build. Jesus prayed, “take this cup from me.” What cup? The cup of God’s wrath. The prophet Isaiah says, “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering … Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more” (Is. 51:17, 22).
Who drank the cup in our place? “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus. It was a horrible cup. He recoiled from it. But he drank it. He drank the cup of God’s wrath. And he staggered under the weight. He sweat drops of blood. He died. But he did not fall. Submitted to the will of the Father, he fulfilled the will of the Father. He drank that cup. The cup of God’s wrath. The cup of staggering. And he drank it to the dregs. So that you and I don’t have to.
The cross was the ultimate clash between God’s will and ours. We as human beings condemned him to die, humiliated him, beat him, and crucified him. But what we intended for evil, God in his sovereign will superintended for our ultimate good. God’s will and ours clashed on the cross. And God’s will carried the day. For our sin was punished, our forgiveness made possible, because Jesus drank that cup, the cup of God’s wrath, and he drank it to the dregs. He took all of it.
Now, check this out. In Romans 8:11, St. Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The one who gave life to Jesus will give life to you. The one who strengthened Jesus is at work in you, strengthening you. When I submit my will to my Father’s, this is what happens: the Holy Spirit, the one who raised Christ from the dead, who resides in and with every follower of Jesus, will strengthen you. That may not keep you from sweating blood, but it will allow you to keep submitting to the will of the Father, even when the ask is big. When we pray, “your will be done,” we are praying, “Father, make me willing to submit to your will, and make me able to carry it out. May you be glorified in my life. May your will be done.”
Martin Luther expounded on these words in this way: “Let they will be done, O Father, not the will of the devil, or of any of those wo would overthrow thy holy Word or hinder the coming of thy kingdom; and grant that all we may have to endure for its sake may be borne with patience and overcome, so that our poor flesh may not yield or give way from weakness or laziness.”
John Wesley said it this way: “I am no longer mine, but thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee, exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Thou are mine, and I am Thine. So be it. And the Covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.” Amen.
Do you have the courage to pray a prayer like that? You won’t, until you understand that you are praying this prayer to your heavenly Father, who loves you, who cares for you, who strengthens and sustains you. But you are praying it, every tie you pray, “Your will be done.” Let us pray.