Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….’”
Luther explains, “What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith until we die. This is his good and gracious will.”
Salvageable adds: Those four words, “Thy will be done,” can be the hardest words for a Christian to pray. We are accustomed to delivering our wish lists to God and advising him how to run the universe. We would like to take God’s promises about prayer and use them to make ourselves the lords and make God our slave. The “name it and claim it” approach to prayer completely ignores our relationship to God. He is our Father; we are his children. Because he loves us, he invites us to ask anything of him. Still, because he loves us, he will grant no prayer that is bad for us or that contradicts his master plan for the redemption of the world.
Jesus prayed this difficult prayer in Gethsemane. He begged his Father for another way to rescue sinners; he did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath, filled with the poison of sin and evil and rebellion. Even as he named the gift—“Let this cup pass from me”—Jesus refused to claim it. Instead, he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This example sets the pattern for every Christian as we live our lives and as we speak with our heavenly Father in prayer.
We are nearly half-way through this prayer, and we have not yet said anything about what we want and need. The first three petitions of the prayer focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and what God wants. Even secular business strategy understands this approach: talk to the customer about the customer first, and the customer will keep listening when you switch to your product or service. Christians are not cynical when we begin our prayers talking to God about God. In both Old and New Testaments, believers began their prayers talking to God about God. They spoke of things God had done in the past and promises he had made. They reminded God of his nature—not because God needs reminders, but because the rest of us need reminders. The more we speak to God about God, the more we are pulled away from our selfish sinfulness and gathered into the saintly habit of loving God more than we love ourselves.
The words “on earth as it is in heaven” apply to all three petitions prayed thus far. “Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven.” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s name is always holy, except where sinners profane the name of God. God’s kingdom follows his rules, except where sinners break his rules. God’s will is done everywhere in creation except where sinners rebel against him and follow their will rather than God’s will. Some people wonder why God allows sin and evil to exist in his otherwise perfect creation. That question is not the mystery, though. The true mystery is why God loves sinners and rebels so much that he sends his Son as a ransom to reclaim them. The only answer to that mystery is found in the will of God—a gracious, merciful and loving will that wants no one to perish but wants to redeem and reclaim all people. Because that is God’s will, Christians cheerfully and trustingly pray the words, “Thy will be done.” J.