1 In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt - on the very day - they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
9 The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.
36 Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” He asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
What do we mean when we pray the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” It’s been said that to pray “Thy will be done” is a difficult prayer to pray sincerely. In many ways it is one of the hardest things to pray, and there is a close link between these words and the previous sentence of the Lord’s Prayer that we looked at last week – Thy Kingdom come means we acknowledge our need for God and His will for our lives. Every day we find ourselves in situations that bring into conflict God’s will and our will.
In fact, this is very similar to what we looked at last week when we considered what it means to pray “Thy Kingdom come” as opposed to “my kingdom come.”
When we pray “Thy will be done,” we are stating that our Father who art in Heaven’s will is the best for our lives. But of course, that principle comes into direct conflict with our own wills. Ask any Christian and they will tell you that even though they want to fully trust in God, it is a lot easier said than done.
The main reason is that as we seek God’s will, more often than not we find that His will is very different to our own will.
And this goes a lot deeper than simply choosing between two options when faced with making a choice about something. This is about our attitudes and about whether we want to live our lives for God or for ourselves.
Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Self-denial is the starting point to becoming a Jesus follower. Self-denial means deciding to relinquish control of our lives to Jesus. It’s an attitude of the whole heart and mind.
One of the questions I hear most is how do we discern God’s will. It’s one thing to pray for His will to be done and leave in in His hands, but how do we actually know what He is saying to us? Is it God speaking, or am I putting words into His mouth, so to speak?
Firstly, we need to remember that God’s will is better and He knows what’s best for us. One of the main reasons for us to pray confidently, is that God sees not only our current situations, but also our past and future ones. He really does see the bigger picture in all its fullness, while we only see a couple of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle at times.
We are limited because often we can only see just one part of the whole at any given time. God knows everything. He does not see us at only certain parts of our life, but our entire life, from birth to death, and He sees it all simultaneously. Because He is so other and exists in a dimension which is hard for us to comprehend, He is not restricted by time and space like we are. He sees things that happened thousands of years ago and in thousands of years in the future all at the same time. Nothing catches Him by surprise because He sees and knows all. So we can draw the logical conclusion that His will is better than ours, simply because He can see the future as well as the present.
This is why we can echo with confidence Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” We may not see or understand His purpose, but we can trust that He knows what He is doing. To pray “Thy will be done” is a great prayer of faith.
We’ve all been through times and some of us are going through them now, when we have prayed earnestly into a situation and it has seemed that God has either not heard us, or the answer was a firm “no.” When you pray for someone to be healed and they’re not, your faith is challenged. The Bible is full of pat answers, but when you are in that situation, crying out desperately to Him and all you hear is silence, your faith can be rocked. But it can also be deepened and strengthened. I often say to people that one of the hardest prayers to pray is “Lord, I don’t understand this. I cannot see your purposes in this, and I don’t know why you are allowing these things to happen. But teach me to trust you. Give me the faith to truly believe that you do know what’s best and that you do work all things for the good of those who love you.”
Call it a cliché if you like, but God does know what is best for you.
When we pray for God’s will to be done, we are asking Him to give us His strength to fulfill His will in our lives.
The greatest example of this kind of prayer is Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. He not only taught us to pray that God’s will be done, but here He also modelled it.
There’s this mistaken idea that Jesus was somehow apprehensive or even terrified of the physical torture that He knew was awaiting Him on the cross, and that His prayer in the garden was to ask God to come up with some alternative to the cross. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus knew that the only way that sinners could be saved was by Him taking human sin on Himself. And He also knew that while He bore our sin and was dying for it, God would abandon Him. Jesus is the eternal God, living and existing in perfect unity within the Trinity with the Father and the Spirit, and this unity has existed for all eternity. But at Calvary that unity would be severed, and the thought of that separation tormented Jesus in the Garden. We experience things with our senses. We are physical beings, so when we think of the cross we naturally think of the physical torture of death by crucifixion. The pain caused by the nails was bad enough, but we have no idea of the anguish and pain behind these words Jesus cried on the cross: “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” But He knew it was the will of God, because His death in our place is the only way we could be saved, and so He prayed, “not as I will, but as you will.”
So praying “Thy will be done” is a prayer of great faith, but we also need to ask the question, how do we know what God’s will for us is? At times the answer is pretty clear, as the Bible has given us some very clear guidelines as to what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes, but what about the specifics?
The Bible reveals God’s general will, but what about His will for me here and now? I’m faced with a big decision or a choice I need to make, so I pray for God’s guidance and direction, but how do I know what He is actually saying to me?
Someone described it like this: There is a pipeline between God and us. Through this pipeline, God speaks to us and reveals His will and His vision for our lives. But our sin has polluted and caused blockages in the pipeline. What this means is that when we find it hard to discern God’s will for our lives, the problem lies with us – not with Him. The prophet Isaiah said that God took no pleasure when the people of Israel brought offerings, because they did not stop doing wrong before God and their hands were full of blood. They needed to be cleansed before they brought offerings. That was before Jesus went to the cross, but now everything is different.
Please understand that I’m not saying that God will not answer your prayers because there is unconfessed sin in your life. Those words are unbiblical and have caused countless pain in countless lives. When you repent and accept forgiveness through Jesus, your sins past, present and future are forgiven. You are now righteous, and the blood of Jesus has purified your heart. We looked at this principle when we studied the Beatitudes a few months ago: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”
The problem we have in discerning God’s will is that we remain tarnished by our sin, forgiven though we are. Remember from last week that forgiveness changes our citizenship from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God, but we bring the baggage from our past lives with us. That pipeline remains polluted, and it is a process and not an event for God to clear out that pipeline, or to put it more accurately and Biblically, God sanctifies us as we journey through life in the power of the Spirit.
So when you feel that you’re struggling to see His will for your life, don’t make the mistake of praying that God will show you what’s wrong in your life so that you can fix it. Jesus fixed it on the cross. Rather pray the prayer of David in Psalm 51 that we looked at last Sunday: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
The closer you walk with Him, the more He will make you like Jesus, and the clearer His will for you will become.
Another point to bear in mind is that it is hard, if not impossible for us to know God’s will in our lives if we do not trust in God’s love and in His goodness.
You often hear the questions, “Does God really care about me? And if He does, how can such things happen to me?” How can we pray “God’s will be done” when we are not sure that God really loves us? Again, pray that God would teach you to trust and to love Him fully, and in so doing that He would strengthen your faith in Him. There’s a wonderful story in Mark 9 where the father of a demon-possessed boy brings his son to Jesus: “Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’ ‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
That needs to be our prayer too. “Lord I do believe, but there are so many areas in my life where my belief is weak. Help me overcome my unbelief.”
Are there times when you doubt God’s goodness and His love for you? When you do, just look at the cross and remember what Jesus has done for you.
Jesus died for your sins on the cross and He rose again from the dead on the third day. Do we still doubt God’s love for us and want more proof? We need to contemplate the cross more often.
“In my life Lord, Thy will be done.”
But what about corporately? What about the Church? I want to look briefly at our reading from Exodus 19, as this may help us. God called His people out of Egypt and into Palestine. For those of you who’ve been to those two countries, you’ll know they are remarkably similar. They are, after all, virtually next door to each other.
But it’s not just about climates and terrains. In those days both countries also faced similar spiritual challenges. Both were full of false gods, idolatry and sin. So the question is, why would God call them out if He was only going to put them in a similar place? The answer is found in verses 5 and 6: “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God’s intention for His chosen people was that they would be His ambassadors in the world. And the call to the Church is the same. So it’s not so much about where God was leading them to, but rather what He was leading them to. And the what is a deeper relationship with Him. The Jews were to be His ambassadors. The Church – you and I – are to be His ambassadors, a people called to relate to Him through love, faith and obedience.
In Jesus’ prayer in John 17 He prays for the Church – for unity of the body, that we may be one.
And if this is His desire, His will for the Church, why is His Church so divided? Because our wills and God’s will have come into conflict. It’s the same old problem, and this is why we should be praying as the Church, and not only as individual believers, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
We have the privilege of taking the message of hope to be found in Jesus into the world, but we can only do it effectively if we are united and all pulling in the same direction. There’s a chorus we often sing: “Build Your church, Lord, make us strong, Lord, join our hearts, Lord, through Your Son. Make us one, Lord, in Your Body, in the kingdom of Your Son.” In other words, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
“Thy will be done.” This third petition in the Lord’s Prayer presents the double edge of Law and Grace. It humbles and it lifts up the spirit of the Christian. It reminds us that we are sinners yet at the same time it restores our strength as it also reminds us that we have been made righteous by the will of God.
One of the most remarkable statements about God’s will is found in Isaiah 53:10. “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” And why did He will that? In order to fulfill His will spelled out in 2 Peter 3:9. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God has declared you righteous by His will. It is His will that you be saved, and it was His will that Jesus die in your place in order to fulfill His will.
And that’s the message we’re to take into the world.
By all means, seek His will for your own life. Continue to pray “Thy will be done in my life,” but don’t forget the bigger task we have as the Church – to play our role in fulfilling the will of God on earth as it is in Heaven. We serve, we give, we witness, we love and we reach out into a world full of despair, revealing God’s will for the lost, that no-one would perish, but that all would turn to Jesus Christ in faith.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Romans 8:26-28
What do you think it means to pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven?”
Why do we struggle to a) find God’s will and, b) to live according to His will?
It’s been said before that “yes” is not the only way God answers prayer. What are some of your struggles when the answer is a clear “no” or “not yet?”
How have you been challenged in trying to discern God’s will for your life?
One of the most remarkable prayers in the Bible is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. (See the accounts from Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32 and Luke 22:39)
Jesus prayed, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
How has this prayer been misunderstood?
What are we able to learn from Jesus’ determination to fulfill God’s will in His earthly life?
The Bible teaches that God’s greatest desire is for lost sinners to come to repentance.
What role are we to play in fulfilling His will for the world?
Close by praying for those in your group who are seeking God’s will in a specific area. Pray that He would reveal His will clearly.
Next week: “Give us this day our daily bread.”