by Rev. William M. Cwirla
It happens without our prayer. God’s will is done. So why bother praying it? Well, Jesus said to pray it, so that should be enough. But there’s more. He wants us to pray “Thy will be done” for a reason. Jesus wants to actively engage us in the struggle.
Too often this prayer is seen as weak resignation. “I did all that I could do and just messed it all up. Thy will be done. You win, Lord. Do whatever you will.”
That’s not the spirit of this petition at all! This prayer is meant to be shouted, not whimpered. It is a declaration of war, not surrender. That “unholy trinity” of the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves is at war with Christ. The devil wants us to distrust God’s Word—to doubt His goodness and mercy. The world wants us to despair of any good and even to despair of God. And our own sinful selves, the “old Adam” in us, would tempt us with all sorts of shame and wickedness.
“Thy will be done!” we shout in baptismal faith, against the devil, the world, and even our own flesh. “Thy will be done!” Not the devil’s will, not the world’s will, not even my own will, but Thy will, O Lord, be done!”
What a great and powerful petition this is! Martin Luther said that even a couple of Christians armed with this single petition are a mighty fortress against anyone and anything that would rage against the Gospel of our salvation. And that’s what the will of God is really about—the Gospel of our salvation. “God would have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) God’s will is that everyone would look to His Son, Jesus Christ, for salvation and live. God’s will is that you be saved from sin and death by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Thy will be done!” Jesus prayed this petition in His darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was facing His death, the bitter cup that was His alone to drink for us and for our salvation. He sought another way, wrestling with His Father’s will. But in the end, He prayed, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” That prayer took Him to His cross where the will of God to save the world was done to death.
“Where God’s Word is preached, accepted or believed, and bears fruit, there the blessed holy cross will not be far away,” Luther wrote in the Large Catechism. He knew that from personal experience. “Let no one think that he will have peace.”
In the daily struggle against sin, death, and devil, this petition stands strong and mighty. “Thy will be done. Have your way, Lord. For when you have your way, I know that I am justified before You and rescued from everything that would bring me eternal harm and ruin.”
The will of God is always good and gracious. We need to remember that and believe it, because it isn’t always apparent to us. When we look around the world and see all the terrors and troubles, the senseless murders, the violence and oppression, the suffering and evil, the disasters both natural and manmade, we may well wonder, “What is God’s will in all this?”
We may wonder for ourselves sometimes. What is God’s will for me? What would He have me to do? Why does He permit these things to happen to me? We may doubt and even despair and wonder if God is in charge, that Jesus is Lord, that all things are under His feet and that He exercises His Lordship for our good and our blessing. The only way to know God’s will is to look to Jesus, crucified and risen. Look to Jesus in your Baptism and in His Supper. Look to Jesus in His Word that forgives you.
The will of God is always good and gracious. That doesn’t mean that we’re always happy, healthy or wealthy. It may mean suffering, sickness and poverty in this life. When we pray, we often say, “If it be Thy will,” knowing that we do not know God’s will beyond His will to save us. We may be called to forsake possessions, honor, house, home, husband, wife, children, body, even our lives. We may experience great grief in this life, as did many of the saints who came before us, including Luther.
For this reason alone, we must daily learn to pray, “Our Father in heaven, Thy will be done: not the will of the devil, nor the will of those who hate the Gospel, nor the will of the world, nor even my own stubborn will. Thy will be done.” For we know that when the will of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh is broken, and God’s good and gracious will is done, we will be forgiven, justified, sanctified, and glorified in Jesus, our Savior.
Your gracious will on earth be done
As it is done before Your throne,
That patiently we may obey
Throughout our lives all that You say.
Curb flesh and blood and every ill
That sets itself against Your will.
(Lutheran Service Book #766:4)
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, and the President of Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.