One of the most common cliches that we can hear from people, especially from Christians is the statement “Let your will be done”. We sometimes use this statement when we are in a situation where we can no longer do anything else but to trust God and leave the matter to His sovereign hands. For others who don’t really mean what they say word-by-word, let your will be done means bahala na si Batman or whatever will be will be.
But what does it really mean when we say “Let God’s will be done?”. And what does it mean especially when we take it in the context of the Lord’s prayer?
The Will of God
To know what the petition “thy will be done” means, we must first know what the will of God is. In the Bible, the term will of God are used in different ways. One use of the term pertains to the decrees of God concerning future events. This is also called God’s Decretive will. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, “for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”. God’s decretive will is absolute and can never be broken.
Another use of the term will of God pertains to the commandments or precepts of God. The preceptive will of God tells us how to live our lives, how to conduct our relationship with others and how to worship God. Unlike Decretive will, Preceptive will can be broken by an individual. However, no one can break the Preceptive will of God with impunity. Everyone who breaks God’s laws will suffer the consequences of it either in this life or in the life to come.
The third use of the term pertains to God’s Will of Disposition. This refers to God’s attitude or disposition over a certain matter, whether he delights about it or not. For example, in 2 Peter 3:9 it says, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The text says that God is not willing that any should perish, however, we all know that every day many people who die go straight to hell. There is no contradiction here. It’s just that, the decretive will of God determined that there are people who will go to hell but God’s will of disposition expresses that he is not pleased or he does not delight in the fact that there are people who will perish someday.
The will of God may also be classified as revealed will or unrevealed will. Revealed will is obviously the will of God which are made known to us, while the unrevealed will are the ones that are kept secret. Some Christians classify the decretive will of God as unrevealed will and the preceptive and will of disposition as revealed will.
While I agree on the second classification, I only partially agree on the first one. The decretive will of God may be classified as revealed will when they are predicted in a prophesy, like the coming of the Messiah or the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, or when the event has already taken place and becomes part of history. The rest of God’s decretive will that are not prophesied and have not taken place yet are the once to be considered as unrevealed will.
The Bible warns from obsessing ourselves in seeking God’s unrevealed will. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” We must focus on the preceptive will of God to be able to obey them, the revealed decretive will of God to learn from them, and God’s will of disposition to live our lives according to what pleases Him.
Now that we know the different uses of the term will of God, the next impending question that we need to answer is what specific will are we talking about when we pray thy will be done? Are we praying for the decretive will of God to come to pass? Are we praying that his precepts and commandments be obeyed? Or are we asking that God be pleased?
If we are going to look at the 49th Lords Day, Question and Answer number 124 of the Heidelberg Catechism, we will easily come to the conclusion that the will of God that is being referred to in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is the preceptive will of God. It reads:
Q: What does the third request mean?
A: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven means,
Help us and all men,
To reject our own wills
And to obey your will without any back talk.
Your will alone is good.
Help everyone carry out the work he is called to
As willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.
The answer of the Heidelberg Catechism involves the rejection of one’s own will, obedience without back talk and the carrying out of one’s own duty or calling. Only the preceptive will of God is capable of being obeyed or carried out by us. We cannot obey or disobey God’s decretive will because it is outside our control. God’s will of disposition only expresses His attitude over a thing. This too is not capable of being obeyed or disobeyed.
One might say, “So what?” “So what if the Heidelberg Catechism interpreted thy will be done that way? Is the Heidelberg Catechism the final authority in interpreting the Lord’s Prayer?” Well, I’m not going to attempt to argue the credibility and the competency of Zacarius Ursinus & Caspar Olevianus in interpreting the Scripture, but I will argue through the text itself.
If you will notice, the first three petitions are all interconnected and the fulfillment of one leads to the fulfillment of the other. For example, when the petition Hallowed be they Name is fulfilled, people will get a true knowledge of the Holiness of God. With this knowledge, they will also have an understanding of their wretchedness and the condemnation that is awaiting them. These people who understand the holiness of God and their own sinfulness, with the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit will be converted and be transferred to the kingdom God.
With the advancement of the gospel and as more and more people are converted, we see the fulfillment of the second petition which is the coming of the Kingdom of God. And with the coming of the kingdom, the precepts of God are obeyed by the people who belong to the Kingdom, hence the fulfillment of thy will be done. If someone would ask if it is possible for the precepts of God to be obeyed by people outside the kingdom, the answer is no. Only converted and regenerated persons can obey God’s command because faith is a necessary element for true obedience. For without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:16).
Thy Will Be Done
Now that we have established the meaning of the will of God, we can now answer the next question which is “what is the meaning of thy will be done?”. The Heidelberg Catechism answered this question in two parts. First, it means help us reject our own will and obey God without any back talk. And the reason for doing so is because God’s will alone, and not ours, is good. The second is help us carry the work we are called for as willingly and as faithfully as the angels in heaven.
As to the first part, we need to pray to God that He help us reject our own wills because we cannot fully obey Him if we ourselves are still the ones in-charge of our lives. There is only one throne in your heart and it is either occupied by you or by God. You cannot fully obey God’s will unless you have decided to renounce your own will. That is why in Matt. 16:24, Jesus said, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Before God can govern your life, you have to be ousted from your throne first. But the thing is, you cannot dethrone yourself because you love being on that throne. You want to be in charge. You would rather choose to die than to leave that high chair. That is our attitude because as fallen creature, we think we are autonomous and we love being autonomous.
And since the old man inside us is too powerful, too stubborn and too protective of its freedom, we need someone who is more powerful than him to throw him out. And friends, only God alone can do that. He is the only one powerful enough to seize our thrones from us. We cannot deny ourselves using our own strength. It is impossible because it is basically going against our own nature.
Sometimes our hearts can be more subtle. There will be times when we thought that we have ousted already the old man inside us and that God is finally in control. We are happy because we are now able to submit to God’s will by external acts of obedience, only to find out that the old man inside us is just playing dead. And the manifestation that he is still alive is that, although we obey God’s commands, we murmur and talk back.
This is worst than not obeying God at all because here, we make an outward appearance of obedience for other people to see. But deep inside we hate submitting to God’s will and that angers God a lot. Here, we are no longer just disobeying but we are adding hypocrisy to our sin.
In the history of Israel, we have seen the Israelites kindle God’s wrath many times by obeying Him and then grumbling, murmuring and talking back afterwards. Every time the Israelites will complain about the food, water, leadership etc. in the wilderness, God would send them plagues, enemies, and fiery snakes killing thousands of them as a result.
Our supreme example of absolute obedience and denial of self-will is Christ. In the garden of Gethsemane, while Jesus is praying in anguish to the point of sweating blood, Christ said “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And in Philippians 2:8, it says of Christ, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Only our Lord Jesus Christ was able to deny his own will in order to submit to the will of the Father, even if it means taking unto himself the full force of the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Our Lord is the only one who can obey the Father, even unto death, without talking back. But we are not like our Lord. We are not as strong as Him even in his humanity, that is why we have to be dependent on God for denying our own wills and obeying His will. This is precisely why we constantly need to pray for it.
One of the reasons why we are having difficulty submitting to the will of God is because we are not fully convinced that God’s will alone is good. Sometimes we think that our own will are also good, if not, even better than the will of God. And worst, some of us think that our will is good while God’s will is not good at all.
Because sinful people like you and me are so in love with our sins, we view the precepts of God as shackles that prevents us from obtaining our own happiness. For example, women who want to disregard gender roles, especially in the family, and usurp the authority of men as the leader of the household, accuse God’s teachings on the submission of the wife to the husband as misogynistic teachings.
Members and supporters of the LGBT community who wants to justify their immoral and unnatural sexual relations, accuse God’s laws on homosexuals as homophobic, barbaric and full of hate. God’s law on murder, including the murder of babies in the womb of the mother is being accused by pro-choice or the pro-abortions as an encroachment on the right of the women to decide on what to do on their bodies.
In an attempt to defend God’s precepts from the world’s attack against its goodness, we try to explain to people how the will of God protects us, preserves us and prevents us from destroying ourselves. While this is very helpful and we really ought to do it, without the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, the depraved minds of wicked people will never appreciate the goodness of the will of God. That is why it is a must for us to pray that the Holy Spirit instill in our minds and our hearts that the will of God alone is good.
Now we can go to the second part of the Heidelberg Catechism’s answer to the question, and its say “Help everyone carry out the work he is called to”.
Every member of the kingdom of God has their own duties to which they are called to. None of us is saved to be mere expectators or audience in the Kingdom of God. The duties that we are pertaining to here may be classified in to two: the common duties and the special duties.
Common duties are those duties or works that are shared by all Christian, like prayer, worshipping God, loving and fellowshipping with another, pursuing holiness and etc. Special duties on other hand are the proper calling in life of each individual, whether ministerial or secular. For example, being an office-bearer like a pastor, elder or deacon are callings that carries with them special duties. On the other, being doctor, teacher, soldier, lawyer, streetsweeper are all callings too, and they carry with them special duties that these individuals have to carry out.
Some Christians are not giving their best in their secular jobs because they think that because it is only secular, then it is also not special. We have this attitude because we think that if we work on secular jobs, then we are just working for men, unlike when our calling is ministerial, then we are serving God. Certainly, this is not the correct thinking brothers and sister. Whether you are called to be a pastor or to be an office staff, both callings are from the Lord. So, if you are a Christian, and you are working in in a secular job, your boss is not only your employer, but first and foremost, God.
And since both ministerial and secular callings are from God, then we ought to exert the same diligence, commitment and faithfulness to both, as if we are serving God and not men. In Ephesians 6:5-8 it says:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ, not with a slavery performed merely for looks, to please people, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul. Render service with enthusiasm, as for the Lord and not for humans, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are enslaved or free.
However, we know that this is easier said than done. It is already hard to be an employee, but it gets much harder when you become a Christian employee. Let me just share to you my experience as a lawyer. As a young attorney, I have observed that as long as you are ruthless, ambitious and hardworking, it is not impossible for you to thrive in the legal profession. However, because I am a Christian lawyer, my career journey is not that simple because unlike the others, I have lines that I cannot cross, cases that I cannot take, and strategies that I cannot use because they will go directly against my faith. This is precisely the reason I took a break in preaching for a few months, and then later on I decided to live my previous law firm.
Sometimes, being a Christian in a profession is like having a handicap in a race. Unlike the other competitors, we don’t have the freedom to do anything and everything to succeed and win. Instead, we do things according to the precepts of God. And this becomes harder and harder the more we realize that we are living in a dark and wicked world that has no regards to God’s moral standards. That is why we have to pray that God help us carry out our duties to which we are called to. We have to realize that we are living in a hostile environment, and without God’s help, we can never carry out our duties in this world.
Lastly, the words on earth as it is in heaven was added to the petition in order to specify the standard obedience that we should ask from God. We must obey God’s will and carry out our duties as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.
However, one might ask, why must we pray that we become obedient to God’s will and carry out our duties in the same way as the angels in heaven do, when we know that we can never be perfectly obedient in this life? We all know that as long as we are in our earthly bodies, we can never rid ourselves of the power and influence of sin, hence it is impossible to achieve the level of willingness and faithfulness of the angels in heaven.
The question may be valid, but what we are really praying in this petition is our continues growth in our obedience to the precepts of God, which includes the fulfillment of our duties, as we progress in our Christian walk, until our Savior takes us home and transform us into His image so that we will actually be as willing and as faithful as the angels in heaven in obeying God.
So we are not praying for perfection, but a continuous and consistent growth in sanctification which will continue until we die and are brought to glorification.
So ZCRC Imus, let us pray to God and ask him to renounce our will and obey God’s will without grumbling and murmuring, because we understand that His will alone is good. Let us pray for God to help us to carry out our duties and callings, may it be ministerial or secular, and have a consistent growth in these things until we are brought to heaven and our obedience be just like that of the angels in heaven.