Teach us to Pray 'Thy Will' not 'My Will' Be Done
The way people talk it must be easy for them to pray, "Thy will be done" rather than their own be done. They say things like, "Of course, I always say, "Thy will be done." Or, "I only want it if it's His will." Or, "Whatever the good Lord wants that's what I want." I must be some sort of big sinner. When I pray, I know what I want, what I need, what I will, and that floods my mind, my soul, my prayer. Sure I say, "Thy will be done," but something very different rages inside. I really want my will to be done.
Yes, it's easier said then done. It's easy to pray "Thy will be done;" it's much, much harder to want the will of God to really be done in our lives. Last week we were with Jesus in Gethsemane as He prayed 3 times, "Thy will be done." In this week's Passion Reading, we see what the will of the Father was for Him. It was the will of the Father to allow one of the officials to strike Jesus in the face. It was the will of the Father to allow many to testify falsely against His Son, although His Son was totally innocent. It was the will of the Father to stand by and do nothing as the highest Jewish court condemned His only beloved Son, His innocent Son as worthy of death. It was the will of the Father to look from heaven wordlessly as they spit on His Child, blindfolded Him, struck Him hard with their fists, and laughed about it. It was the will of the Father that His dear, dear Son should be left with only a betrayer and cowards for friends.
I know what you're thinking. The passionate suffering of Jesus was one of those sad necessities that God the Father had to endure. If you think this way, you've forgotten Isaiah 53:10. This verse comes after Isaiah the prophet has seen 800 years into the future and painted the horrible sufferings of Christ. After painting that gruesome picture, he says, "But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief." The Father was not forced against His will to allow such sorrow, such grief, such torture to come upon His Son. On the contrary, He was pleased to do it.
Now do you see how come I struggle so much with the simple petition, "Thy will be done?" What might the will of my heavenly Father hold in store for me? See, anything at all could be in the Father's will for me. That's the very nature of grace. If the Father dealt with me according to the principles of law, it would all be very predictable and to some extent comfortable. We are all comforted by law principles in regard to our future. How many times have you taken comfort from the fact that insurance actuarial tables say your life expectancy is 75 years? How many times have you taken comfort from the laws of genetics that says cancer doesn't run in your family? How many times have you found comfort in the laws of science about diet, exercise, and medicine?
But God doesn't deal with us according to law but grace. Grace gave St. Paul a thorn in the flesh and his head lopped off by the sword. Grace gave St. Peter a death on a cross. Grace has given people cancer, heart disease, family problems, childhood illness, accidents, disasters, early deaths and painfully long lives. The Father doesn't deal with us according to the laws of mortality rates, disease correlations, or statistics. He deals with us according to His good and gracious will which can bring horrible scary things into our lives.
That's why this prayer is so hard for me to pray. When I think of what I want, what I need, what I will, it is always the path of least resistance. I want to be carried to heaven on flowery beds of ease, contrary to a hymn we sing. I don't want to follow in the train of those Christians who've had to meet the "lion's gory mane," contrary to another hymn we sing. I don't want to lose "goods, fame, child and wife," contrary to our Lutheran theme song. So when I pray "Thy will be done," I'm praying directly against myself. That's what Luther says of this petition, "You will notice that God bids us to pray against ourselves. In that way He teaches us that we have no greater enemy than ourselves."
No wonder it is so hard for me to pray, "Thy will be done." This is the equivalent of saying, "May my will not be done." But I like my will. In my will, everyone ends up happy. Isn't that how it goes with you too? When you're thinking about your will, what you want, except for a very nasty enemy here or there, doesn't everyone end up happy? They do in my will, but I've noticed this. While everyone ends up happy in my will, we don't end up in heaven. My daydreams, my will for the future, doesn't ever end up in heaven singing the praises of the God who redeemed me. No, at best my will ends somewhere on earth with me happy, successful and known that way in the world.
God's will, however, takes a longer view of things. God's will ends up with us in heaven. The Father is not content that His will put us on Easy Street, in a Happy Home, or at Worldly Success. His will takes us all the way to Kingdom Come. O, it may pass through the valley of the shadow of death, of sickness, of hardship, of grief, but He doesn't will that it end there. His will ends with angel, archangels, and all the company of heaven ever more praising God.
But how can God's will ever be true for me? The petition "Thy will be done" sticks in my heart if not in my throat. It's easier said then done for me to actually pray, "Thy will be done," but, thanks be to God, it was done by God the Son, Jesus Christ. God's will is that His name be hallowed and that His kingdom come. Jesus hallowed God's name by living a completely holy life according to the Word of God. Jesus never once did, said, or thought anything contrary to God's Word. This same Word of God foretold how the Son, though holy, would suffer for the unholy, how the Son though innocent would suffer for the guilty, how the Son though of heaven would endure hell. And so Jesus did it. Though He didn't want to be abused, to suffer, or to go to hell, He did all this for your sake. Though you and I never hallow God's name as God wills, Jesus did it in our place.
God's will as clearly expressed in the Lord's Prayer is not just that God's name be hallowed but that His kingdom come. God wants all people to be called out of darkness into His kingdom of light. So Jesus went to the cross bearing the sins of not just you or you, or of those in churches, but of the whole world. Jesus suffers the way He does in our Passion Reading because there is not one single thing anyone has done, said, or thought, that is not being punished. The Father so covered Him with the sins of the world that not one part of His Son was seen. All that was seen was vile, disgusting, shameful sin. As we sometimes feel because of our sins and sinfulness, that is how Jesus feels, looks, and is in tonight's reading. No wonder, those who spit, beat, and humiliate Him feel so right in doing so. Don't men feel right, justified, and even noble when they are beating some child molester, homosexual, or pervert? So stands Jesus before the Father because He carries our sins and not just ours but all of the worlds.
Jesus sees to it that the will of God is done. His Father's name is kept holy. He brings His Father's kingdom to sinners by means of His own sweat and blood. Christ, having done everything for your salvation, is not going to leave you at the mercy of your own will. He teaches you to pray against your will just so you will not go to hell. He teaches you to value His will above your own. Jesus teaches you that now that He has done His Father's will, you can say "Thy will be done." While it is true that praying "Thy will be done" is easier said than done, once the Son did the Father's will, it can be done not just said even by weak sinners such as us. Why? Because the Son paid the price for God's will to be done.
Now we can pray and mean it, "Thy will be done," even though there is never going to come a time when either the devil, the world, or our own sinful flesh will want the will of God to be done. However, since Christ hallowed God's name and brought the kingdom to us, we are able to pray against the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. Isn't this what we have to conclude based upon the Lord's Prayer itself? We are praying for the Father's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. How is the Father's will done in heaven? Read the Book of Revelation. You will find those in heaven falling down before the throne of God saying and singing, "Amen," which means "Yes, yes, it shall be so." Do you think things are any different in the kingdom of God we are in right now on earth?
Of course they're not, the kingdom of God is the same in heaven as it is on earth. His kingdom always wants His will to be done even if it be painful and burdensome to the devil, the world, and sinful flesh. This is nothing short of a miracle. This is not natural. It is not natural for sinners to pray against themselves. But then nothing in the Christian faith is natural. Is it natural for sinners to sing that as long as they are brought nearer God it's alright even if it is a cross that brings them nearer? Is it natural for a cowardly, denier like Peter to later lay down his life rather than deny Christ? Is it natural for a murderer of Christians like St. Paul to give up his head rather than Christ? Is it natural for you people bound by time and chased by money to willingly give up your time and money to Christ?
In the Explanation, we say, if you take out some of the clauses, that "God's will is done...when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die." God's will is not to torment you with cancer. God will isn't to plague you with doubt or despair. God's will is not to put you in fear by the world situation. God will is to strengthen and keep you firm in His Word and Faith all the way till you die. So when you and I say, "Thy will be done," we are saying, "O, Lord strengthen and keep me firm in Your word and Faith until I die." If that means I need to have cancer, family trouble, chronic pain or an early death, so be it, O Lord. Strengthen and keep me firm in your word and faith no matter what it takes.
Now dear friends, being in this Word and Faith what do people on earth say to the will of God? The same thing that people in heaven do, "Amen!" When we remember we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, what do we say? Amen. What do we say after the pastor has sent our sins away from us in the name of Jesus? Amen. What do we say after the pastor has given us the Body Christ gave on the cross and the Blood He shed there? Amen.
"Amen" is what God's people say to His will to work in, with, and under Water, Words, Bread and Wine. "Amen" is what God's people say to His will to work in, with, and under sickness, suffering, affliction, sorrow, and sadness. How come? Because in working through the weak looking means of grace AND in working through the horrible looking hardships of life, God's good and gracious will is one and the same: to save you for all time and eternity. And what can we say to that but, Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent II, Wednesday, 2-27-02, Third Petition