Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Praying Thy Will Be Done
by Rev. Mendel Retief
Seeking the will of God
(Old Book of Praise, 2004)
Ps. 68: 1, 12
Ps. 115: 2, 5
Ps. 40: 3
Ps. 25: 2, 4, 5
Hymn 47: 4, 8, 9 Scripture reading: Mt. 16:24–28; Rom. 11: 33 – 12: 2
Text: Lord's Day 49 - Third Petition, Will of God
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
All things exist with one purpose: to glorify God and to do His pleasure. Through faith in Christ this has now become our desire, and our petition: a new life of obedience in which we seek to do God’s will. This petition, “Your will be done”, is not an addendum or afterthought added to the glory of God. Instead, when Christ brings us into subjection and willing obedience to the Father, it is the very purpose of our salvation. When we do God’s will we experience the glory of Christ’s dominion, and enjoy the fruit of His salvation. We find this petition, here in the Lord’s Prayer, in a framework where all things are directed to God and to the majesty of His glory. For this purpose Christ died, and for this purpose He rose from the dead: that we may live unto God and glorify Him in a new life of obedience. And thus we pray: Our Father in heaven, Your will be done. Help us to deny ourselves, and to seek and to do not our own will, but Your will only. With this petition we also pray: Father, sanctify me, and fill me with Your Spirit, that I may find all my delight in obeying Your holy will. I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme…
Praying for God’s Will to be DoneWe will note…
The necessity of self-denialThe necessity of self-denial By nature our own will wars against the will of God. This will remain so until our own will is crucified with Christ. In order to do God’s will, we have to put to death our own corrupted will. But self-denial is also more. Our Lord Jesus did not have any sin. He had no corrupted will which had to be put to death. Yet He had to deny Himself in submission to the will of His Father. Before Christ entered His suffering on the cross, He prayed to His Father, saying: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. -Matt. 26:39b Even though Christ’s will was good and perfect He denied His own will in order to do the will of His Father. Our Lord Jesus did not need any sanctification. His will was already in perfect harmony with the will of His Father. Yet, He had to learn obedience by the things He suffered – Heb. 5:8. There in the garden of Gethsemane we see Him as a man in anguish, sweating blood, crying to God for help. And in that suffering we see Him subjecting Himself to the will of the Father. Although His whole being cries for relief, He does not want any relief if it is not the will of His Father. So then, if even Christ had to deny His own will in subjection to His Father, how much more do we need to do so – we, who by nature have a corrupted will. This afternoon we read from Matt. 16 where the Lord says: “…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it”. (verses 24, 25). No one can follow Christ without denying himself. To take up your cross does not mean simply that you will have to bear some difficulties. No, to take up your cross means to die to yourself. Following Christ we do not only share in His sufferings in general, but we also share in His cross; that is: in His death. Our old man has to be crucified with Christ. You have to lose your life in order to save it. It is necessary to deny your own will and to put to death your own desires, first of all, as we said, because of our corrupted nature. The desires of our flesh are enmity against God (Rom. 8:7; Gal. 5:16-17). It is not possible to follow Christ or to do the will of God while you are still governed by your own will and your own desires. To do the will of God, my will has to die; and to do His pleasure, my desires has to be put to death. And thus the apostle Paul says: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” – Gal. 2:20. But, there is also more to self-denial and to the taking up of our cross. As we saw a moment ago, even Christ who had no corrupted will, had to deny His own will in seeking the will of God. Even if we would have a perfect will without sin, then our will would still have to be subject to the will of God. Adam had to subject his own will to the will of God even in Paradise when there was no sin as yet. When Christ comes in His glory we will be changed. On that day we will be made perfect – a perfect will in complete submission to will of God forever. We were not created to follow our own will, but to do God’s will. Understanding this, there still remains another aspect to self-denial. When the fullness of God’s kingdom has come then we will have no cross to bear anymore. But the fullness of the kingdom has not yet come. We still have to share in the sufferings of Christ. We still find ourselves in a melting pot where our faith is tested and tried in every way. And in all these sufferings and trials our Father is teaching us obedience to His will – submission also to His secret will. We do not always understand why certain things are happening with us, because the reason is hidden in God’s secret will – just as the exact cause of his suffering was hidden from Job. We cannot fully understand or comprehend God’s ways and all His dealings with us. Yet we pray: Your will be done! Denying our own wisdom, we trust in the wisdom of God. Denying our own pleasure, we know that God’s pleasure is good. He knows best. And thus we entrust ourselves in His hands to do all His pleasure, no matter what the cost may be for us in this life. Loving Him and trusting Him, we gladly deny ourselves with these words: Father, Your will be done. Yes, without self-denial we cannot pray this petition. For with this petition we ask the Lord to destroy the desires of our flesh that war against His will. Yes, we ask even more. We ask Him to crucify us with Christ, that we may no longer live, but Christ in us. Self-denial is the most basic application of the first and great commandment to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and mind, and with all our strength. To love Him above all things and to seek His will alone, demand nothing less than to die to ourselves. Father, destroy my old mind and heart, and create in me a new mind and a new heart, so that I may have no emotion or desire except that which is according to Your will. Dear congregation, this is no pity or shame. It is the glory of God’s kingdom. It is the fulfilment of God being all in all. When we pray this petition all our desire is focussed on God and His glory; and not on me and what I want. In this petition we ask nothing for ourselves. We ask for the will of God to be done no matter what the cost may be for ourselves. Thus the petition also applies to the longsuffering and perseverance of faith. In this regard we have a classic example, as we said, in the example of Job. We see his godly submission to the will of God when he says: “And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD”. (Job 1:21). And again when he said to his wife: “...Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil...” (Job 2: 10). Yes, when we experience prosperity, the petition “Thy will be done” is an easy request, but do you also submit yourself to the will of God in adversity and in suffering? Look at Israel in the desert. Are we not quick to complain when things are not going our way, or when the ways of God seems to be dark to us? We confess in Lord’s Day 10 that we should be patient in adversity as we trust that all things are in the good hands of our Father. It is a childlike trust that our Father knows best, and that His will alone is good, and therefore we can also patiently submit to it when we have to endure hardships and trouble. But are we not often like Israel in the desert grumbling and complaining against God, and arguing with those whom He has set over us? Dear congregation, let us pray this petition not only in good times, but let us submit ourselves to the will of God in whatever adversity He sends us in this life of sorrow.
That we are to do God’s revealed will
That we are to seek the perfection of His will
In the first place we note...
Father, Thy will; not mine.Brothers and sisters, this applies both to God’s revealed will and to His secret will. Submitting ourselves to His revealed will, we are to obey all that He has commanded us. Submitting ourselves to His secret will, we are to entrust ourselves to Him even when we cannot understand or comprehend His ways with us. However, when we look at our confession here in LD 49, you will note that it does not focus on God’s secret will. The focus is on the revealed will of God, to do His will. And this focus on the revealed will of God is indeed Scriptural. For whenever we are called to seek God’s will, it is His revealed will, as spelled out in His commandments, that is set before us. To seek His will is to seek obedience to His holy law. When Scripture speaks about our duty to seek the will of God, to obey His will, it deals with God’s revealed will only. We are not called to seek and obey God’s secret will which has not been revealed. We are called to obey only that which is revealed, as the Lord says in Deut. 29:29: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Obedience to God’s will is obedience to His revealed law. Thus, in explaining this petition, Lord’s Day 49 says: “...Grant that we and all men may deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey Thy will, for it alone is good...” It is not only a petition in which we deny ourselves and submit ourselves to the will of God, but also a prayer for sanctification in order to obey the will of God. And thus we note in the second place that this petition is about...
Obeying God’s revealed willWe do not pray that the Spirit may teach us the will of God through a mystic experience. Nor do we pray that Spirit may cause the will of God to be done while we remain passive. No, when we pray “Father, Thy will be done”, then we are consciously and actively seeking to do His will, to obey God’s revealed will as spelled out in His commandments. And thus we pray this petition with an open Bible, to study His revealed will, in order to apply His revealed law to every aspect of our life. Dear congregation, there is indeed in our own day a certain kind of mysticism that also starts to creep into Reformed churches. The slogan of many theologians in our day is this: “Follow Jesus, and don’t be too fussy about the details of the law. Forget about careful obedience to the law; just follow Jesus! Do not stick to the law, just live in the style of the kingdom”. To the simple this may sound very pious. Is Christ not the fulfilment of the law? And is Christ Himself not the One whom we must follow? This may even sound to be very Christ-centered. But dear congregation, can we separate God from His law? Or can we follow Christ without obeying Him? We don’t have the time to look at the roots of that heresy now. In short it is replacing God’s law with a vague and mystic “following of Jesus”, where the Holy Spirit has to guide you without clear instructions and without clear commandments. The result is that the will of God becomes a mystic concept. Then no one knows anymore what exactly the will of God actually is. Then you have your opinion and I have mine. Then we all become seekers after some mystic will of God, without ever finding it. Then the congregation is also encouraged to seek the will of God through experiments. Yes, when the will of God is separated from His revealed law, then the will of God becomes a relative matter. Then the will of God becomes a subjective matter – a matter of feeling and experience and experiment. Then the only assurance that you are still doing the will of God is when the rest of the congregation is also doing the same as you do, and when you do as the rest are doing! Where does this error start? It starts when the will of God is separated from the law of God. And: when the law itself is stripped of all its detail, so that the will of God becomes a mystic concept. Then you have to follow the road without a map. Then the Holy Spirit has to guide us without clear instructions. Then obedience becomes simply a feeling. Then you start to live by your own feeling, because this feels right to you, or because that doesn’t feel wrong to you. In this way men start to confuse their own will with the will of God, and to ascribe their own desires to the guidance of the Holy Spirit! Dear congregation, God did reveal His holy will for our lives. His revealed will for our lives is spelled out in His holy law. And all the detail of the law still serves to instruct us in the way of life. The Holy Spirit still uses the detailed instruction of the law to sanctify our lives and to conform us to the will of God. When we pray this petition, “Thy will be done”, we pray with an open Bible, with our finger on the law of God: Father, teach me Your will. Instruct me in Your will, that more and more my feet may be guided by Your Word alone. Give me discernment and spiritual understanding that in the course of my daily life I may know and understand how to apply Your holy law to every aspect of my life. We also read this afternoon the first two verses from Romans chapter 12: “…I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Dear congregation, the Lord will teach us His “good and acceptable and perfect will” only through the instruction of His Word. We will find no righteousness or obedience outside the precepts of His law. Christ obeyed God’s law to the full, and in every detail. That was His righteousness – the righteousness which is imputed to us, and which He now also work in us. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not teach us any other will of God. He saved us unto obedience – obedience to God’s clear and revealed will. That is the will of God that we are called to seek and to obey. And for this we pray: Our Father in heaven, sanctify me through the blood of Christ, and renew me though Your Word and Spirit, that I may know Your will, understand Your will, and consciously and intentionally obey Your will. This petition is not a prayer that things may go its way, and that we may happily drift along, and that the Spirit may guide us through a mystic experience. It is a war cry with the sword of the Spirit in our hand. It is a pleading with God in a context where the kingdom of God is set over against the kingdom of Satan. It is a petition for the hallowing of God’s Name and the coming of His kingdom in a dark world where there is no light to be found except in the clear instructions of God’s Word. And then the Lord adds these words: “…on earth as it is in heaven”. -Matt. 6:10 With these words the perfection of God’s heavenly kingdom is set as an example for His kingdom here on earth. We note that in the third place...
Seeking the Perfection of God’s WillThere are several passages in Scripture that mention the obedience of the angels in heaven. We read this for example in Psalm 103: “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul”. – Ps. 103:19–22. David says God’s throne is established in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all. There He commands His angels, and from there they go forth to do His word. And so Lord’s Day 49 explains the words “on earth as it is in heaven” to mean: “…that everyone may carry out the duties of his office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven”. That is to say: with perfect and prompt obedience to the word of God. Brothers and sisters, we know how far we fall short of this obedience, and we know that we will never reach such perfect obedience in this life as the holy angels in heaven; yet, this perfect obedience has become all our desire and the goal to which we press on. When you were still young and inexperienced in the faith, you were not able to discern the will of God as clearly as you do today. It may happen, for example, that a young believer does not understand that his time belongs to the Lord, or that his wallet belongs to the Lord. And thus, while he may have the intention to serve the Lord, he does not yet understand how the word of God applies to every aspect of his life. But as he grows in the knowledge and understanding of the will of God, his whole life is more and more directed and sanctified by God’s revealed will. And the more we grow in this, the more we long for the perfection of God’s will. It is not only a growth in the height of perfection, but also a growth towards the full expand of the kingdom where every centimetre of our life, every aspect of our living, is more and more brought in submission and obedience under the dominion of God. And thus we come to seek the will of God not only for Sundays, or for certain religious hours in the week, but in all we do and in every motive of our heart. To seek the will of God is then the same as to seek the coming of His kingdom wherein God will be all in all. We pray for that perfection when God will be everything in everyone. We pray for that glory when the good and perfect will of God will have full and unhindered dominion. Dear congregation, how then do we apply this heavenly doctrine to the ordinary walk of every day? Lord's Day 49 speaks of the duties of our “office and calling” – the office and calling of each believer. God is just as much our employer as He is the employer of angels. At home, at school, at work – everywhere we find ourselves employed by the King of heaven and earth. In each sphere of life God calls us to a task, to perform His will behind the school desk, behind your lap top, in the kitchen or in the office, during work hours and after work. Whatever your task may be, it has to conform more and more to the good and perfect will of God. When John the Baptist was preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3), the people asked him: “What shall we do then?” (Lu. 3:10) And he answered them: “…He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” (Lu. 3:11) Then the tax collectors also came to him and said to him: “Master, what shall we do?” (Lu 3:12) And he said to them: “Exact no more than that which is appointed you” (Lu. 3:13) Then the soldiers asked him: “And what shall we do?” (Lu. 3:14) And he said to them: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Lu. 3:14) It is in these ordinary and practical things of life that we should seek the will of God. It is in these ordinary things of our daily life that God takes pleasure. It is in such things that the coming of the kingdom is seen. If a housewife may ask: “And what shall I do?”, the answer may be just as simple: “Love your husband, and raise your children for the Lord”. If a business man may ask: “And what shall I do?”, the answer is not too complicated: “Seek to serve others with your labour, and do not make unjust profit” When the tax collectors and the soldiers came to John the Baptist, he did not tell them to quit their jobs and to become ministers, or builders and bakers, but that they had to do their task as tax collectors and soldiers faithfully in accordance with God’s will. These were the tasks to which God called them. In speaking of our office and calling the Catechism does not only refer to a professional career, but to the task and calling of each believer. That does not have to be a well paid job. You have a task also on your sickbed, or when you are retired, or when you lost your job. You may be without a job, but never without a task and calling. Brothers and sisters, when we are gathered here on a Sunday, you may feel close to heaven, and experience that you are a colleague of the angels in heaven – employed by God. But what about Monday morning when you return to your ordinary task and calling? Are you then also seeking to do your daily task as the angels in heaven – faithfully and in complete obedience to the will of God? Let us confess that we fall far short. When your client is difficult, and the work is pressing, and your time is short, and your mobile rings, and the traffic is jammed, and all is happening at once; your children are nagging in your ears while the food is burning – then it is not easy to meditate on the example of angels in heaven! Sunday, yes, Sunday you will come to that again! But, brothers and sisters, if we understand our office and calling, then we are also praying during the week: “Father, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Unto this obedience Christ saved us. And by His grace God’s will has become all our desire. While we are yet far from heavenly perfection, we pray this petition all the more: Father, sanctify us in Your Son Jesus Christ; renew us by the power of Your Spirit, guide and teach us by Your Word, that more and more we may know and understand and obey Your revealed will, as spelled out in Your holy law, for it alone is good. Our Father in heaven, Your will is my desire. Amen.
© Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief - Rev. Reyief is a Reformed theologian who dearly loves the Lord and is author of many Christ-centered sermons and articles. In 2006 he was delegated to the Synod West Kelmscott (from FRCSA) and is now the Pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Kelmscott, Australia. He is a prolific writer and has a wife, Annemarie, and six children: Daniël, Johann, Joël, Eunice, Sara and Dawid.