Pray Then Like This: Meditations on the Lord's Prayer part 5

…your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

When the Bible speaks about the will of God, it does so in two different ways.

God's will is sometimes presented in terms of His sovereign control of all things. Ephesians 1:11 says God “works all things according to the counsel of his will”. In this sense, God’s will is never broken (see Romans 9:19) and encompasses everything that happens.

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:35)

The Bible also speaks of God’s will in a different sense.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' (Matthew 7:21-23)

This is obviously speaking about God's will in a sense different from Ephesians 1:11. The ones who don’t do the will of God are called ‘workers of lawlessness’. The fact that they don't do it shows that this will can, and regularly is, broken. We might define God's will in this sense as the way He directs us to live. This is the sense of the will of God Jesus has in mind when he instructs us to pray, "Your will be done". He is calling us to pray that God would be obeyed.

But Jesus is not merely interested in obedience per se. He is also interested in the manner in which we obey; hence he adds, ‘as it is in heaven.’ In other words, we are asking God to make His commandments obeyed on earth in the same way they are obeyed in heaven.

Jesus is not interested in an obedience motivated by a slavish fear of punishment, or by hypocritical self-promotion. He wants obedience that flows from joy in and love for God. This is the obedience of the angels in heaven.

Jesus is also after perfect obedience. The angels of heaven obey God perfectly, whereas even the best of us disobey God on occasion. Even when we do obey Him, it is often from mixed motives. The standard of heaven beckons us higher. We are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

'Your will be done' is praying that God would enable us and others to joyfully and perfectly obey Him.

When we pray, “Your will be done” we ought to think through all this petition entails and pray intelligently. You can study the prayers of Paul for examples of what to pray in relation to this request. Read the following example and think through the kinds of things we need so as to live lives of joyful obedience:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (Colossians 1:9-11)

This third request implies something that is very important for us to understand. Obedience to God comes from God. Think about it. We are asking God to make His will done. You can only obey God if He enables you to obey Him.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Only through abiding in Jesus can we bear the fruit of righteousness (see Philippians 1:11).

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

What is God doing in us? Two things: He is working in us to give us the will to do His good pleasure, and He is working in us to do His good pleasure.

 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Paul recognised that, not only was his apostleship a gift of God’s grace, but also all his labour as an apostle. This of course didn't mean he was passive (in a let go and let God kind of way). He said that he worked harder than any of the other Apostles. He actively engaged his God-given task, trusting God to provide enabling grace. There was an 'I, but not I' thing going on. Inability doesn't free us from responsibility. This truth should make us desperate to call out to God for His help. He will enable us.

The third request relates to the other two. It is only those who are brought into the kingdom of God who begin to obey God’s will. Subsequently their obedience of faith results in God’s name being hallowed.

…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

So far we have considered the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

  • Hallowed be Your name 
  • Your kingdom come 
  • Your will be done 

As we said at the beginning, Jesus is not only teaching us how to pray. He is establishing in us a framework and priority of values that will shape how we pray, think and live. How well does your present life and prayers reflect these values?

‘These first three petitions, though they focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, are nevertheless prayers that he may act in such a way that his people will hallow his name, submit to his reign, and do his will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course.’[1]


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[1] D.A. Carson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, page unknown


Pray Then Like This
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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