4th Sunday in Lent March 11, 2018
171:1-2,8-9, 354, 518:1-4, 518:5-7
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
#4) The 3rd Petition
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
What does this mean?
God’s good and gracious will is certainly done without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it be done among us also.
How is God’s will done?
God’s will is done when He breaks and stops every evil will and plan of those who do not want us to hallow His name or let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, of the world, and of our own flesh. His will is also done when He gives us strength and keeps us firm in His Word and in faith for as long as we live. This is God’s good and gracious will.
A boy lies down on his bed at night and remembers that fantastic five-speed bike he saw in the store while out shopping with Mom and Dad. He begins to think of how great it would be to cruise out of the driveway and out through the neighborhood on that new bike. Remembering what Jesus said in their Sunday School lesson, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do” (John 14:13), he decides to pray for it.
So he prays, “Dear God, please let me have that bike. I’ll be good with it and treat it well. Just leave it in the front yard tomorrow morning. In Jesus name. Amen.”
He wakes up as the sun beginning to stream in through his window. He jumps out of bed to look at the front yard, but he sees only disappointment. There is no bike. Has God gone back on His promise to answer his prayers?
The will of that boy is simple: I want a new bike. But what we pray in the Third Petition is that God’s will would be done, not ours. Learning to pray in Jesus name is not about telling God what to do, but listening to what God is doing already and praying together with Jesus that His will would be done among us also.
We will study this petition in two parts. First, God’s will is done when He breaks every evil will of the devil, the world, and our flesh. Second, God’s will is done when He keeps us firm in His word and in faith.
The will of that boy is simple: I want that bike. God’s will is also simple, but not everyone sees the will of God the same simple way. Many think the will of God is to help us progress and reach some glorious success. Others think the will of God is is give us free will and, rather than direct our future, He leaves it to us to chart our own destiny. Still others think the will of God is something that is already determined and therefore it is foolish for us to pray, since God already knows what will happen. Let’s examine each of these views of the will of God.
Some believe that God’s will is done when our lives show the glory of success. They view God’s will as a progressive movement: fighting off the evils of society and getting closer and closer to the ultimate good. Here we are led to think God will reward the good we do with the glory of success. If we have been good enough and resisted enough evil, then we can expect that bike to show up in our front yard in the morning. We are progressively getting closer to the rewards of our goodness and the end of evil.
This way of praying is a related to something called “dualism.” Dualism is the belief that our spiritual life is an ongoing battle and balance between the dual powers of good and evil. Neither is fully in control, but in the end, good will triumph. It is what we see portrayed in comic books and Star Wars movies. It is Superman triumphing over Lex Luther. It is the hope that there is still good in Darth Vader. “Thy will be done,” then, means that we will see our world progressively getting closer and closer to the final triumph. While there is a degree truth to this, something is missing.
The difference is discovered when Jesus kneels to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus does indeed face the forces of evil. It is a sort of “dual of the fates.” Jesus stands against the devil, the old evil foe. Yet, an unexpected thing happens. Rather than proving His super human strength to overthrow the evil one, He reveals His weakness and frailty. He is taken bound by scorn and crowned with thorns. His glory is not a path to a progressively better life, but a path to bitter death. Could this truly be the will of God?
Another view is that the will of God is determined by what we do or don’t do. In this view, the will of God is more like something for us to do than something to pray for. It is a decision, a free choice, a human dream that becomes reality. So we are told that to make our dreams come true we must forge our own path and make our lives what they should be. In other words, God’s will is done when we prove our strength and make the right choice.
This way of praying has to do with something called “humanism.” It is the belief that it is human kind who will determine the future. God’s will is to give us free will. Then the responsibility is totally on us and while we might pray for God’s will to be done, we really just mean that we would choose the right thing.
But why then does Jesus pray, “Not my will, but Yours be done?” As Jesus is kneeling in the Garden, agonizing over the cross before him, He prays, “Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is praying that God would make the decision, not Him. He is leaving all things to God’s direction. It is true that He has free will. He could choose to go the way of the cross or to go the way of freedom. He could make His dreams come true and avoid the pain, the scorn, the shame. And that is as human as it gets. But this is no humanism. Jesus knows the path forward is not His to decide. Rather, Jesus must forfeit His will to save Himself in order to do God’s will and save us. So he prays, “Not what I will, but what You will.”
Still others might think that there is really no point in praying. After all, God says in Matthew 6, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). God’s will is done even if we never pray. So why pray? Why not just sit back and assume God will do it all His way anyway?
This version of prayer is known as “fatalism.” It is the belief that Fate is God. Whatever the “fates” decide will come true, and we are just puppets. We are just a strand of the grand tapestry that is already woven, already complete, already decided.
But why then does Jesus pray? Why does Jesus pray, “if there is any other way?” Why does He say, “Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me?” He is praying that God would change His mind. And it is no empty prayer. He is really asking this. And there are several examples from the Old Testament where God did change His mind. When God told Jonah to proclaim judgment upon Nineveh, He really mean it. It was no empty threat. But when they repented, God changed His mind. He relented from the disaster and had mercy.
At least from our perspective, God changes His mind. Not that He changes, nor does His will change, but His plans do change. And His greatest example is the answer God gives to Jesus’ prayer. God sees us as He saw Nineveh. God would be perfectly just to bring the judgment of hell upon us for our sins. Yet He relents. He does not bring the curse upon us. His will is done when Jesus accepts the judgment due to us. In His death and resurrection He frees us from the fate that was upon us. This is the saving will of God.
Whether we are talking about Dualism, Humanism, or Fatalism, each are opposed to God’s will. Dualism was first taught by the devil who believed that he could accomplish a better good than what God had planned. Humanism led man to believe that our own technology, talents, and wisdom could make a better future for the world. Fatalism fights against God and teaches us not to pray. It teaches laziness and destroys faith. It leads to depression, suicide, and all sorts of evil that oppose the saving will of God. It submits to evil and indulges in it.
Jesus has come to break such wills. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God would break the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh. This is why Jesus kneels and prays, “Thy will be done,” because the will of God is to break all will that opposes His saving will. Jesus does this by surrendering. By offering Himself freely and innocently for us, He renders the devil powerless, He rebukes the world, and He puts to death the will of our flesh. In His resurrection God is victorious, we are united to Christ, and we are given a new man. And we begin to understands that the will of God is something deeper and more lasting than that new bicycle.
In Mark chapter 11, Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says” (Mark 11:23). So why did that boy not get his new bicycle? Did God go back on His word? Did he not pray hard enough? Did he not believe enough?
There is a very good reason that prayers of faith do not produce bikes in the front yard, nor do they move the mountains in the way we imagine. Just prior to the moving mountain verse, the very first thing Jesus says in Mark 11:22 is, “Have faith in God.” So the very strength which is said to move mountains is really not strength at all. Rather it is reliance, trust, firmness that is founded in God. Faith is relying on God and His Word. That means that prayer has nothing to do with the strength of our will power. It has to do with the strength of God to do what He has promised.
Elsewhere, in John 15, Jesus says “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5,7) So we see that the prayer of faith is a prayer that “abides in Jesus word.” That is the prayer that moves mountains. And the mountains which it moves are the mountains which God moves for us.
Think then of the mountains which Jesus moved. Sure He did many miracles and great works. But the greatest mountain He ever moved was the mountain of pride that stood between Him and the cross. When Jesus prayed “Not mine, but Thine be done,” He was submitting in total humility to the word and promise of God. He trusted totally in God’s word and command.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are learning to pray according to God’s word. Each petition in the Lord’s Prayer is an appeal to what God has already promised to give us. When we abiding in the Word, our prayers and expectations become shaped by the promises of God. This breaks every evil will and keeps us firm in the faith. “[For God our Savior] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
God is perfectly fine taking away every bicycle, keeping every mountain of tribulation firmly fastened, and just plain saying “no.” He is a good Father. He has no problem denying us what we ask if it means we are taught to trust Him and to rely on His word more firmly. Yet, He does want us to ask. He does take us seriously. And He does take our prayers into account when He works out His will among us. To pray in Jesus name is to pray, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” God’s will is done when He keeps us firm in His word and in faith.
It is like that little boy who tells his dad about the bicycle disappointment. “Well,” Dad says, “God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what is best. As your dad, I do the same thing. You can ask me for something and I will answer, but I don’t always give you what you want. But I do try to give you what is good.”
So the boy responds, “Dad, can I have that new bike?” His dad pauses with a long thoughtful look. And he says, “Ok son, you can have it. Only, you need to sweep out the garage, rake the yard, and clean out the gutters on the house.”
What are you praying for? Maybe God wants you to clean out the gutters first. Maybe there is something He still has to teach you. Maybe He wants you to learn that His will is done when He breaks every evil will of the devil, the world, and your flesh, and when He keeps you firm in His word and in faith all your days. “Thy will be done.” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“The Third Petition” and Explanation are from “Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, A Handbook of Christian Doctrine,” by Michael A. Sydow; Published by the CLC Board of Education and Publications, 2006.