Thy Will Be Done – Midweek Sermon (March 26, 2014)

prayer 3 will

Thy Will Be Done

John 6:35-40; Genesis 50:15-21

Midweek Lenten Service (Lord, Teach Us to Pray)

March 26, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

“Thy will be done.”  On the one hand, it sounds like a simple prayer.  “Lord, please break and hinder every plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  For they do not want us to hallow your name or let your kingdom come.  Let your will be done instead of theirs.”  It sounds so simple at first glance.  God wants one thing for us, Satan wants something different, so we are praying that God’s will would be done instead of Satan’s.  But then the wheels in your head start turning.  The difficulty begins to present itself.  We begin to wonder how, if God is truly God, could his will not be done?  If he is truly the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the universe, then how could anything happen against his will?  If in him all things live and move and have their being, then doesn’t he have control over all things?  Sure, things happen against my will all the time.  But that’s because I’m powerless to stop them.  God’s not powerless to stop anything.  If he was, he wouldn’t be God.  And it does little good to talk about God allowing things he does not will, for that seems like nothing more than a matter of rhetoric.  Whether God is actively responsible for something or not, nothing happens without God’s approval.  If God was powerless to stop something, then there would be something more powerful than God, which is impossible.  So it appears that if God is truly God, his will always done.  But then why would Jesus have us pray for it?

As if trying to sort that out wasn’t bad enough, the world around us muddies the waters even further.  When we look around us we see bad things.  We see sadness.  We see death.  We see pain.  Poverty.  Sickness.  Abuse.  Neglect.  Rape.  Fraud.  Why are these things happening if God’s will is truly all-powerful?  If he can stop these things, why doesn’t he?  And if he can’t stop these things, why bother calling him God?  It’s quite the problem.

But if this question perplexes you – take heart.  It is a question that has been discussed and debated for as long as there have been people discussing and debating questions.  Take heart.  One answer to the question is simply that we don’t need to know.  We have the clear and certain words of Jesus teaching us to pray that his will be done, so if this problem troubles you, cling to those clear and certain words of Jesus, and continue to pray “Thy will be done.”

Mere-Christianity-Cover But if you’re interested a bit more understanding, more can be said.  In his monumental book Mere Christianty, C.S. Lewis addresses the conundrum of God’s will through analogy.[1]  He asks us to consider a mother.  It may be a mother’s will that her children clean up their mess and do their homework each night.  It may also be a mother’s will that her children learn to take personal responsibility for making sure those tasks get accomplished.  If you walk into her house one evening and find toys strewn across living room and an uncompleted math assignment on the kitchen table, you might assume that the mother’s will is not being done.  However, that is not necessarily the case.  The presence of things that contradict the mother’s will is not necessarily an indication that her children have conquered her.  Neither is it necessarily the case that the mother must have decided those things were suddenly unimportant and changed her will with regard to her kids cleaning up their own mess.  Rather, perhaps the mother’s will that the children take personal responsibility trumps her will that the house be clean and the homework be done.  Her will has not changed; she still wants her house clean and the homework done.  But it is also her will that her children to do these things, and that they do them gladly and without reminder.  This aspect of her will (namely, the desire that her children clean up on their own) allows for the possibility that her will for a clean house might not happen every night.  So her greater will – that her children learn responsibility – has taken priority over her will that the house be clean.  But you can be sure that when the in-laws are coming, when the dinner party is about to start, when it really matters, the mother will make sure the house is clean, even if she has to clean it herself.  Lewis compares this to the will of God on earth.  It is most certainly not God’s will that wickedness, pain, or suffering run rampant through his creation.  But the presence of these things does not automatically mean that God is powerless to stop them anymore than toys on the floor mean a mother is incapable of cleaning up.  Perhaps a greater will is in play for God; perhaps something more important than earthly circumstances is at stake.

And so our Lord teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done.”   When we pray these words, we are praying that all aspects of his will would be done.  It is a prayer that has implications both for daily life as well as for eternity.

The prayer that God’s will be done finds its ultimate fulfillment on the last day.  On that day the Almighty God will impose his will on a creation powerless to stop him.  Jesus tells us that his Father’s will is that all who look to the Messiah will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day.[2]  That will happen; that day is coming.  When we pray “Thy will be done” we are praying, in part, that our Lord would bring about that day.  To borrow from C.S. Lewis’s analogy, we may live in confusion today about why the house that is this world is so messy, confused as to why things are out of order, out of place.  We might be tempted to wonder what is going on with God’s will.  How can God allow these terrible things to happen?  If he is all-powerful, why doesn’t he just impose his goodness on this his creation?  The answer is: be patient.  That day will come.  And when it does, the good and gracious will of God will be known and seen and experienced by all.  He will wipe every last drop of evil off the face of the earth.  He will put the house back in order.  He will usher in a new creation – a perfect creation free from the effects of sin.  On that day we, like Joseph at the end of his struggle, will have the benefit of hindsight.  We too will be able to look back over our days of struggle and say that what the world meant for evil God still used for good.[3]  Our Lord teaches us to pray for that day, and to wait patiently for him to answer our prayer, trusting that God is not slow to fulfill his promise according to the world’s definition of slowness.  Rather, he is patient, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.[4]  Take heart, the day of deliverance is coming.

But this prayer is not only a prayer for the last day.  It is not only a prayer that God would give us his gift of salvation and eternal life.  It is also a prayer that his will would be done on earth now, among us in our lives today.  To borrow from the analogy once more, it is a prayer not only that the house would be clean, but also that we his children would be willing and eager to clean it, or at least to clean our own room, gladly living the life he has created for us.

The Law of God shows us the life he created us to live; it is a marvelous reflection of his will.  Because we are unable to keep it to perfection, the Law of God is always accusing us, magnifying our shortcomings against the backdrop of its perfection, crushing our attempts at self-justification under the weight of its unattainable standards.  But the Law is not the problem, sin is the problem.  God’s Law is not some random set of rules that he invented so that he would have a reason to punish us.  God’s Law is a description of who he is.  God’s Law is a description of what he intended this creation to be.  It is a description of what the next creation will be.  It is a description of what he wants for us in our relationships with him and with one another.  It is a summary of his will for us.  When we pray “Thy will be done,” we are not only praying that he would take us to the new creation, but that he would shape our lives according to his design here and now so that they begin to look a little more like the relationships of the new creation already today.

Viewed in this way, God’s will is no mystery.  Do you want to know God’s will for you?  Look to the 10 Commandments.  God wills that you love him with all your heart, soul, and strength; and that you love your neighbor as yourself.  God wills that you fear, love and trust in him above all things, for he alone is able to provide for your needs of body and soul.  Because God alone can help, He wills that you gladly and willingly call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks in his name.  God wills that you be fed and nourished by his Word and Sacraments, for they are the means of restoration that He has provided.  God wills that your relationships would be peaceful and marked with self-sacrifice, that you would gladly honor those in authority over you and treat others well when you have authority over them.  He wills that you would neither hurt others nor be hurt yourself in your body.  He wills that you would live in the joy of sexuality as he created it rather than treating it as a means of self-gratification at the expense of objectifying and manipulating another human being.  He wills that you would neither steal nor have your property stolen.  He wills that you would speak the truth in love, putting the best construction on every situation, and that others would do the same for you.  And he wills that you would be grateful and joyful for what you have instead of living in discontentment as you obsess over other people’s lives.  This is the good and gracious will of God for you.  This is what your life will look like in the new creation.  You are praying that this will of God would shape your life here and now, not only in eternity.

jesus-garden But this is a prayer that is never fully answered for us – at least not this side of heaven.  Like the mother in C.S. Lewis’s analogy, certain aspects of God’s will are at odds with each other in this fallen creation, for we are toddles who stubbornly refuse to clean up after ourselves.  We are teenagers who rebel against the wishes of our parents for no reason other than they are the wishes of our parents, and we don’t like being told what to do.  And because we so foolishly and childishly, God sent his own Son to fulfill his will in our place.  Jesus always did his Father’s will.  Even when faced with the imminence of his own death, Jesus’ prayer was, “Take this cup of suffering from me, O Lord.  Yet not my will, but yours be done.”  And God’s will was done.  The Son was sacrificed, atonement was made.  The Son of God was dead and buried, then burst forth to new life in order that he might bring us to new life.  Our Lord desires that all men would be saved and would come to the knowledge of the truth,[5] that we would live in faith toward him and love toward one another.  But he will not compel us by force; he works through his word.  He speaks to us through the voice of Jesus, inviting us to live in communion with him, for that is who we were created to be.  He invites us to share the forgiveness we have received, living in self-sacrificing communion with one another, for that is who we were created to be.  That is the will of God.

Remember that while God may not yet impose his will on us by force, but he did impose his will on Satan.  From the moment he corrupted this creation, Satan was destined to have his head crushed by the Lord’s Anointed.  And there was nothing Satan could do to stop it.  Satan may be more powerful than we are, but he is not more powerful than the one who showed his love for us in that while we were sinners, he died for us.  God remains the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and Satan is powerless against his will.  Sure, Satan has his moments, but he is ultimately powerless to truly stop the will of God when it really matters.  Where Satan’s deception ushered sin and brokenness into this creation, our Lord Jesus brings peace and restoration – and Satan couldn’t stop him.  When Jesus walked this earth, he put back together what Satan had broken.  He gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, and Satan was powerless to stop him.  Where Jesus is, creation is given a taste of its former and future glory.  The prayer “Thy will be done” is a prayer that the same Jesus would be living and active among us, that what is broken in us and in our relationships would be put back together as Jesus lives in us, that the Holy Spirit would work in our lives through Word and Sacrament, that the blindness and deafness and paralysis of our sin would be replaced with a new and contrite heart that lives a God-pleasing life in thought, word, and deed.

“Thy will be done” is not simply a prayer that this world would be more like what our Lord created it to be, but more personally, that we would be more like who our Lord created us to be.  Like a mother who not only desires a clean house, but also desires that her kids learn to keep it clean with a happy heart, our Lord desires that we would not only live according to his design, but that we would do so with a happy heart.  But that requires a new heart, a new creation given through the water of Baptism.  Until every person on earth is free from the effects of sin, the will of God will continue in conflict with itself.  There will be times when we wonder whether God is truly in control.  So we pray in this petition that as we wait for our Lord to bring about his will for all the world to see on the last day, he would continue to bring about his will among us even now so that Jesus would be living and active in our lives through his Word and Sacrament, giving us relationships in the present that are seasoned with a taste of their future glory.  This is God’s good and gracious will.  May it be done among us.

[1] Mere Christianity. Book Two: What Christians Believe “The Shocking Alternative”

[2] John 6:39-40

[3] Genesis 50

[4] 2 Peter 3:9

[5] 1 Timothy 2:4

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