When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He responded with what has become known as the Lord's Prayer. It begins, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9–10). What does it mean to pray that God's will would be done?
In short, praying for God's will to be done means subjugating our own will or desires in order to act according to God's will, following His plan, instead. In John 5:30, Jesus stated, "I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me." Looking for God's will to be done on earth was a way of life for Jesus. In fact, acting according to God's plan was so important to Jesus that He said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34). Just like eating food, carrying out God's plan was a life-sustaining activity for Jesus. He felt, like hunger, a continual inner need to do God's will and, like food, an on-going satisfaction in accomplishing the work God gave Him to do. King David also felt a satisfaction when he followed God's will instead of his own. He wrote in Psalm 40:8, "I delight to do your will, O my God." Setting aside our own plans and choosing to follow God's plans instead can be a satisfying experience.
The Lord's Prayer is not the only time Jesus prayed "your will be done." Right before Jesus was betrayed and turned over to endure the agonies of the cross and drink the cup of God's wrath, He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. He said, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will… My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matthew 26:39, 42). Jesus, understandably, did not want to drink the cup of God's wrath. That experience was not a delight. But Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane provides an example of what it means to surrender our own desires and trust that God's will is ultimately better than any plans we might devise on our own. While certainly not pleasant at the time, Hebrews 5:9 explains that Jesus' decision to obey God's will made Him "the source of eternal salvation." His following God's plan benefitted humankind by offering a way of salvation. Paul tells the Philippians how Jesus' decision also benefitted Jesus Himself: "Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:8–11). Choosing God's will when it came to drinking the cup of God's wrath ultimately led to salvation for humankind, Jesus' own exaltation, and God the Father being glorified. God's will was in the best interest of everyone and proved to be a good (one might say "the best") plan.
When we pray "your will be done," we are praying for God to accomplish His purposes in our lives and to enable us to live as obedient children. Romans 12:1–2 talks about offering ourselves as living sacrifices; we are to honor God in the way we live our lives. Philippians 2:12–13 talks about working out our salvation because God "works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Asking for God's will to be done is a way of submitting ourselves to Him and seeking to do what He has called us to, trusting that He will complete His good work in us (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28–30). It is asking for His help to do His revealed will—things like worshipping God, loving our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8), giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), abstaining from sin and instead living holy lives (Ephesians 4:22–24).
When we pray "your will be done," we are also praying for God's will to be accomplished in a more general sense. God is sovereign so there is no doubt that what He desires will ultimately come about. However, when we are praying for His will to be done "on earth as it is in heaven," we are aligning our desires with God's. We want people to know Him and obey Him. Praying for God's will to be done is an active demonstration of our desire for God to increase righteousness on the earth, to draw more to repentance, and for His kingdom to fully come.
Praying "your will be done" means forsaking our own plans and desires to instead trust God's will, believing in His goodness and His wisdom. May we follow James' teaching in James 4:7 to "submit yourselves therefore to God" by praying "Thy will be done" and may it be to us a delight to do His will.
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