"Thy Will Be Done"
“Will,” is a peculiar word, especially when coupled with reference to God. This is a word we throw around a lot when we pray. It’s a word that adds flavor and style to our conversations with God. It’s a word that Jesus and His disciples often used. It’s an important word. But what does it mean?
If this word means that God has a particular will that undergirds all things, then does that mean we don’t make our own choices? If it means that His will is separate from ours, does that mean He isn’t fully in control? If this word implies more of a sense of “design” or an ultimate plan of God, then why does He allow suffering to be a part of it? And, if we don’t really know which one these is the case, then why does Jesus tell us to pray for it?
Maybe we are just overthinking it. I mean, it can’t be that difficult to understand God’s will. Can it?
Well, let’s look at a couple of instances where this references was used. One place in particular, a place which we are all probably familiar with now that we are exiting the Easter holiday, is when Jesus uses this phrase while praying in the garden of Gethsemane before His arrest.
In this instance Jesus is facing the horrific death and suffering that He knows is about to head His way. He knows He won’t be able to face these circumstances alone. He is worried. He is lonely. He is anxious. And it is in this setting that we find Him praying these words.
“34 He said to [his disciples], “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” 35 He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:34-36, emphasis added)
Jesus knows what He is about to face. He knows what needs to be done. He knows the horror that is coming. And rightfully so, He is worried over it. So, Jesus prays that it might be taken away. That the cup should pass, that something else can be done.
However, after praying for any other possibility, Jesus ends by saying, “But regardless, Father, let Your will be accomplished.”
Now, this is where the struggle starts. “Why does God’s will have to involve such death and suffering?”
One might say, “Well, because Jesus had to die. It might not seem right, but it was needed in order for God’s divine justice to be satisfied on our behalf.”
This would be a great theological answer. It checks all the boxes of satisfying God’s wrath, justice, and love all at the same time. However, this answer doesn’t really get to the heart of the question. Why does God’s will always seem to involve suffering?
Let’s take a look at another passage, one that takes place after Jesus’s resurrection as His church is growing and expanding. In this passage, the Apostle Paul had just received a prophecy from a man named Agabus. This prophecy stated that Paul was going to bound, and delivered over to the gentiles, giving the connotation of punishment. After hearing this prophecy, Paul replies in what may be considered unusual to us, but normal to him.
“12 When we heard this, both we and the local people pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
14 Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21:12-14)
So, wait… someone came up to Paul and his companions, told them that God had declared Paul would face trial and punishment, and their reply was, “Well… The Lord’s will be done!”
They didn’t have any questions? They didn’t wonder, “Well golly, why would God want this to happen to us?” It seems as if this theme of “God’s will,” is one which permeates the faith of the early Christians, and Christ Himself.
But what do we learn about God’s will, and the way we interact with it, through these passages?
I think, more than anything else, we learn this: Living in God’s will is about letting go.
I’m sure Paul, his followers, and all the early church leaders had a plethora of plans and ideas for expanding the followers of Christ. A lot of their plans and ideas were probably great! However, anything they could come up with was always subsequent to what God desired.
This is such a difficult type of faith to have, especially when you see all of the people of faith throughout history who have suffered as a result of their faith. However, in order to maintain this type of faith, in order to be able to consistently say, “Thy will be done,” we also have to remember that regardless of what happens to us, God does intend for us to prosper.
This prosperity may not come in the form of health, wealth, or well-being (at least not in this life), but it will always ultimately culminate in the eternal Kingdom He has designed. Because that Kingdom is His will.
So when you’re praying, “Thy will be done,” remember that His will might not be what you think it is or should be, but it will always end in the establishment of His Heavenly Kingdom. Therefore, living in His will is about letting go of our finite desires, and anticipating His glorious eternity.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What is the most difficult part of trusting in the will of God in your life? What are some distinct instances where you have trusted in His will?
2. The will of God is a theme that permeates throughout all of scripture. What other instances come to mind when contemplating this theme? What are some differences and similarities with these other instances in comparison to the two we used?
3. From a Christian standpoint, how do we advocate for the will of God to a world who doesn’t know Jesus, when that world is experiencing so much suffering?