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Your will be done

January 30, 2014

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray to their heavenly Father “Your will be done” (Mt. 6:10), he was not talking about what “only God knows.” In contrast, many Christians now pray this phrase after they have asked God for healing or help in difficult situations; since they don’t know if God will do what they want or ask, they acknowledge that it’s up to God: Your will be done (whatever that might be).

As he faced suffering and death in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to his Father, “If it is possible, let this cup be taken from me; yet not as I want but as you want” (Mt. 26:39). In this case, Jesus knew very well his Father wanted him to drink this cup of suffering and death. He understandably wished another way were possible. A little later, Jesus prayed again, “If it is not possible that this (cup) be taken away unless I drink it, let your will be done” (26:42). Jesus was not trying to persuade God to do what he wanted; he was persuading himself to do what he knew God wanted. His prayer expressed his submission to doing the difficult will of his Father.

The same should be true when we pray “Your will be done.” The context around Mt. 6:10 (the Lord’s prayer) is full of Jesus’ teaching about what his Father wants. All that Jesus teaches his disciples to do in Mt. 5-7 is part of what his–and their–Father wants. And just before 6:10 is teaching about how not to pray: don’t pray like the hypocrites in the synagogues, who make prayer a public spectacle for other people to admire; and don’t multiply words like the Gentiles, who try to flatter and persuade their many gods to do what they want (6:5-7). Instead of using prayer for their own purposes–like those religious “fathers” in the Jewish synagogues or Gentile temples–Jesus’ disciples should focus on the one true Father, the one in the heavens. Instead of praying in order to be revered by others, disciples should pray that only the Father is to be revered; instead of praying that they be blessed with a powerful and prospering nation, disciples should pray that the Father’s kingdom should come, a kingdom where the Father’s will is done–by obedient children of the Father (6:9-10).

Matthew’s emphasis on the kingdom of heaven means that this kingdom comes first of all from heaven. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens open and the Spirit descends, anointing Jesus as the new king. And this new king will baptize his disciples with the Spirit in the future; this Spirit will come to enlighten and empower disciples all over the earth; they will then be part of the kingdom of (and from) heaven and please their Father, the one in the heavens. So praying for the Father’s kingdom to come–and will to be done–includes praying for the Spirit from heaven to come and enable them to be obedient children as part of the family/kingdom of their revered heavenly Father.

The prayer also looks forward to the final end of history, when the kingdom of heaven will become the only kingdom on (the new) earth, when the meek/gentle disciples will inherit the earth (5:5). But Jesus concludes all his teaching about the Father’s will (in Mt. 5-7) by warning disciples that only the one who does the will of his Father, the one in the heavens, will enter the (final) kingdom of heaven (7:21). Those who call Jesus Lord, and do impressive religious deeds, can still be “evildoers” who fail to obey many of his commands (7:23). It is not simply the one who knows Jesus’ teaching that is wise; it is the one who does what Jesus teaches who is wise (on solid rock) (7:24-27).

When we pray “Your will be done,” it should mean that we know what our Father wants us to do; and through the presence and power of the Father who has come to be with us–as well as the royal Son and empowering Spirit–we actually do the Father’s will on earth.

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