In the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer we prayed for God’s kingdom, that it may be set up and established in our hearts; for His visible kingdom, the Church, that it may increase; and for His heavenly kingdom, that it may soon drive away and put an end to every kind of sin and sorrow. But we cannot desire that He be King over the earth without desiring that His will be done on earth. We do not sincerely own Him as King unless we set His will above our own and every other. A king whose will is not done is a dethroned king. This brings us to the third petition.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS PETITION
1. “Thy will be done” is the foundation of all prayer. What is prayer? It is not a mere means of trying to extort something from God, nor an attempt to change the will of God regarding us, as if, by our continual asking, we might obtain certain things God had hitherto denied us. It is, first of all, an acknowledgment on our part that God knows what is best for us. We cannot rightly ask for anything unless we ask for it in humble dependence upon the will of God—unless, in asking, we are conscious that we do not desire it unless God desires it for us.
2. “Thy will be done” is to be the spirit of every true life. We learn that we do not stand alone. Gradually there is borne in us the triumphant consciousness of a life lived, not according to any self-willed object or desire, but unfolding itself step by step according to “the complete and perfect plan cherished for it in the heart of God.” With the psalmist, we can exclaim, “O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust. My times are in Thy hands.” This mature state toward which all should strive is the following: “If we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses.”1
3. “Thy will be done” is to be done here—here on earth—and now. We are told that the angels of God “do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word,” and that they are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” And the ministry of the angels is, as this petition teaches us, to be the model of our ministry.
II. JESUS’ LIFE MODELED THIS PETITION
1. “Thy will be done” demands assent. Is it possible that Mary herself had a special share in teaching her Son how to pray it? For she herself had prayed it, not in so many words but at least in essence: “I am the Lord’s servant, . . . may your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Jesus learned the lesson, in part from her; when His great moment of crisis came, He knew how to pray in agony in the garden, “Thy will be done” (Matt 26:42, KJV). His was the great assent, the great “Yes” to the will of God, as hers had been.
“My God, my Father, make me strong. When tasks of life seem hard and long, To greet them with this triumph song, Thy will be done.
Draw from my timid eyes the veil, To show, where earthly forces fail, Thy power and love must still prevail, Thy will be done.
With confident and humble mind, Freedom in service I would find. Praying through every toil assigned, Thy will be done.
All power is here and ‘round me now, Faithful I stand in rule and vow, While ‘tis not I, but ever thou: Thy will be done.
Heaven’s music chimes the glad days in, Hope soars beyond death, pain, and sin. Faith shouts in triumph. Love must win. Thy will be done.”
2. “Thy will be done” requires servanthood. Mary had interpreted her assent in terms of servanthood. “Behold the handmaid, the servant, the slave of the Lord,” she said. There is nothing more abject or lower than a slave. It requires absolute subordination and obedience to a master. As it had been with Mary, so it was with her Son. What Jesus learned at His mother’s knee about the meaning of being a servant of the Lord, He found elaborated in Isaiah’s pictures of the suffering servant (see Isa 42:1– 4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). It seems that Jesus interpreted His mission as Messiah in their light. When the great temptation came to Him in the wilderness (Matt 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13), it came in the form of a temptation to interpret His mission in terms of power and popularity. Three times He was tempted; three times He refused the temptation. He was to be the Servant of the Lord and the Servant of His people. Only so could He redeem, restore, and rescue. Messiahship was to be accomplished by love and service and sacrifice. “Behold the Servant of the Lord.” “Here I am, I have come to do your will” (Heb 10:9). His will and the Father’s were one.
3. “Thy will be done” is without any reservations. The prayer of consent, the prayer of assent, my “Yes” to the divine will: What does it mean? In what spirit does such surrender manifest?
- It could be in a spirit of broken and abject surrender, as by one who is beaten to his knees by a superior and ineluctable force.
- It could be in a spirit of weary resignation, as by one who has come to see and admit that further resistance is useless.
- It could be in a spirit of bitter resentment, as by one who has ceased to struggle, who has accepted the inevitable but who still shakes his fist in the face of fate.
- It may be in a spirit of utter love and trust, as by one who does not need to understand in order to submit, who knows that a father’s hand will never cause harm, and who realizes that he is not a plaything of circumstance or the sport of a capricious God. He is certain he can take his life and leave it in God’s hand and be content. Jesus in Gethsemane is the most notable example of this dimension of surrender.
Even in the face of a mystery, even when the heart cries out for some evidence—some token, however small, of the nearness of God, of the presence of Christ— “If only,” we say, “for one moment He could rend the veil, and for one moment the walk of faith might be turned to the wonder of sight.” But no, it does not happen. It is then that God looks to us for our assent: “Lord, if that is Thy way for me, behold the servant, the handmaid of the Lord: but do it according to Thy will.” That will work out in steady continuance—in prayer, Bible study, and service. In that way there will be no embitterment but a deepening of the spiritual life. That way, God will fashion a servant, a handmaid, or more after His own pattern, until the day dawns when faith gives way to sight and “His servants shall worship Him; they shall see Him face to face” (Rev 22:3– 4, NEB). God will give the grace of steady continuance—the grace if not “to mount up with wings as eagles” or even “to run and not be weary,” then at least “to walk and not faint.” And perhaps that is the greatest grace of all.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 668.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.