Praying the Saviour's Way (IV)
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by Timothy Cross
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)
In praying to God ‘Thy will be done...’ we face a paradox. The paradox is that we are here praying for something which will most definitely happen whether we pray for it or not. The will of the omnipotent God will most certainly be done, for He cannot be frustrated in doing what He desires. He ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will’ (Ephesians 1:11). ‘The LORD of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’’ (Isaiah 14:24). With Job therefore, we bow before God and say ‘I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted’ (Job 42:2).
The above notwithstanding, the Saviour exhorts His disciples to pray to God ‘Thy will be done ...’ That is, May what God our Father desires be done, and may His wisdom be carried out as perfectly here on earth as it is obeyed perfectly in heaven. With our true well-being in mind then, the Saviour is here encouraging us to pray ‘that God, by His grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey and submit to His will in all things, as the angels do in heaven’ (Shorter Catechism).
As ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), He only wills our good. His will is thus ‘good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans 12:2). How vital it is then that His children should pray this petition sincerely and earnestly, with a view to knowing, obeying and submitting to the will of our Father in heaven. But what does this mean in practice?
Knowing God’s Will
Knowing God’s will cannot be separated from knowing the Bible, as the divinely inspired Scriptures are the revelation of God and His will. ‘The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man’ (Shorter Catechism). It is through the diligent, dogged and daily reading of the Bible that we discover God’s mind and will. Our zeal to know God’s will therefore, is to be matched with our zeal to read and understand His Word, seeking the Holy Spirit’s illumination as we read the pages He caused to be written. Knowing God’s will then cannot to be divorced from knowing the Scriptures. The Psalmist could say ‘Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105).
Obeying God’s Will
Praying ‘Thy will be done’ implies a readiness and willingness to actually do God’s will, as well as know it – or at least the desire ‘to be willing to be willing.’ James wrote ‘But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’ (James 1:22). In Ecclesiastes 8:4 we read ‘For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him ‘What are you doing?’ How much more is this true in relation to the King of kings? God requires and demands obedience to His will – His moral law, as summarised in the Ten Commandments. These are binding on us for all time.1 The Ten Commandments are the Maker’s instructions. Christians are to obey them, not to be saved, but because we are saved. They express the mind of God for Christian living – the Creator knows what is best for the creatures He has both created and redeemed. Grace does not give us licence. We are not free to revise or flout God’s moral law. His moral law is the expression of His will. ‘Thy will be done.’
Submitting to God’s Will
Almighty God rules the world in general and the lives of His children in particular by His providence. It is by His providence that He executes His will. Jesus said ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will’ (Matthew 10:29). Just as God in His wisdom balances the seasons of nature, so He also balances the seasons in His children’s lives for their eternal benefit. He sends just the right amount of sunshine and showers, sorrows and joys to accomplish His eternal purposes of grace and glory. His children can expect to experience seemingly harsh providences in the will of God – disappointments, frustrations, losses, perplexities etc. It is here that we pray to God ‘Thy will be done,’ trusting in His greater wisdom and infinite love, knowing that He is too wise to make mistakes and too loving to be unkind. ‘It is the LORD; let Him do what seems good to Him’ (1 Samuel 3:18).
The will of the Lord therefore is a matter of passive submission as well as active obedience. For the ultimate example of submission to the divine will, we return to the Saviour Himself when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, the sinless One contemplated His impending suffering at Calvary. The prospect of being ‘made sin’ caused Him to shudder to the core. He asked God the Father to remove that bitterest of all cups from Him. But such was not God’s will. The cross of Calvary was integral to His eternal plan of salvation. The Saviour thus passively submitted to the will of God, praying ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt’ (Mark 14:36). The will of God was done. The Saviour was ‘obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8) and the eternal salvation of God’s elect was wrought.
The Saviour, in this instance, prayed to God as He taught us to pray – ‘Thy will be done.’ He too submitted to the will of God, knowing it was the very best. Here, the Redeemer has given the redeemed an example to emulate. God’s will is always best. ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’
Thou sweet beloved will of God
My anchor ground my fortress hill
My spirit’s silent fair abode
In Thee I hide me and am still
O will that willest good alone
Lead Thou the way, Thou guidest best
A little child I follow on
And trusting lean upon Thy breast
O lightest burden, sweetest yoke
It lifts, it bears my happy soul
It giveth wings to this poor heart
My freedom is Thy grand control
Upon God's will I lay me down
As child upon its mother’s breast
No silken couch, nor softest bed
Could ever give me such deep rest
Thy wonderful grand will my God
With triumph now I make it mine
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes!
To every dear command of Thine.
(vv1-2 Gerhard Tersteegen, vv3-5 Jean Sophia Pigott)
Read previous chapters of Timothy Cross's Praying the Saviour's Way: