One of the most astonishing statements in all of scripture was made on Passover evening nearly 2000 years ago, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Knowing exactly what was about to happen, Jesus still prayed “not my will but yours be done” (Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46). This is the ultimate example of meekness–power submitted to the will of God. Jesus could have asked His Father for “more than twelve legions of angels” to free Him from the arresting mob if He’d wanted to(Matt. 26:51-45). Instead, He said, “Father, if this cup cannot be taken away from me unless I drink it, your will must be done” (Matt. 26:42).
Scripture describes Jesus as being “anguished and distressed” and feeling “deeply grieved” in His soul. Emotionally, that sounds like just about as bad as it can get for a human being. Yet even in such a dire situation, He prayed for God’s will to be done. I suspect He even prayed that in part because of the dire situation, using His conviction that God can be trusted and that His will is best to carry Him through what lay ahead.
For us today, who’ve committed to following Jesus’s example, “Your will be done” should also be our prayer during times of testing and trouble (as well as in good times). That’s not always easy to say, though. We might even be afraid or reluctant to pray for God’s will to be done, especially when the future seems uncertain. It comes down to an issue of trust and perspective.
God Knows Best
I often think about the spiritual implications of my struggles with anxiety. If I give in to catastrophizing and fear, what does that say about my level of (mis)trust in God? Connecting that idea to today’s post, it seems that whether or not we want to pray, “Your will be done,” is often tied-in to all those fears and worries. Is God really good all the time? Does He care enough to make this situation work out for me? What if praying for His will means I don’t get what I want or need?
I think we need to reject shaming people (including ourselves) for weaknesses and fears, and rather encourage each other to keep choosing trust and faith over and over again. Anxieties are “afflictions, not sins” (to quote C.S. Lewis), though they can lead us into sin if we let them. Overcoming fear is an ongoing process and it involves conscious choice, including the choice to trust that God knows what He’s doing.
We know that we should pray for God’s will to be done, but we’re often afraid to. Why? Because we do not trust that His will is best for us. We think His agenda and ours are by nature at odds with one another.
Because of our corruption, they may in fact be at odds. But if we could see the whole picture, we would understand that it is our own will that falls short of fulfilling our well-being, not His.CHRIS TIEGREEN, 365 POCKET DEVOTIONS, DAY 114
It’s often easy to pray, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, NET). When it’s less personal, sometimes it’s easier to wrap our minds around the idea that God changing things and making them better is a good thing (especially when it’s becoming more and more clear how much suffering and corruption is in the world). But it’s often harder to pray, “May your will be done (not mine)” in very personal situations that affect us immediately and directly (especially if we have a preferred outcome in mind). And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did, and what His disciples do.
His Good Plans Will Come to Pass
Paul’s a great example of one of Jesus’s disciples who submitted his own will and plans for his life to God. He started out by persecuting those who believed in Jesus the Messiah, then completely changed his life in response to God making His will known. That cost Paul greatly in terms of physical things, but also blessed him richly in terms of spiritual things.
I’m pretty sure I’ve written before about Paul’s view on trials–“that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18, NET). It might not seem at first as if he’s talking about God’s will here, but he is. Going back to Romans 7:14-21, we find Paul describing the struggle between his unspiritual self and the spiritual law of God–his will versus God’s will. Next, Romans 8:1-17 talks about the leading of God’s spirit and Him saving us from sin, which is something He desires/wills for all people (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Then, Paul describes a struggle in creation, which was not willingly “subjected to futility … in hope,” but as part of God’s will for adopting children into His family (Rom. 8:19-26).
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose …. What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?Romans 8:27-28, 31, NET
God has a plan. It’s a good plan. And because He’s the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe, His good plans for each of us and the whole of creation will come to pass. When we keep this in mind, there’s no need for us to fearfully grasp for control or to worry and fret about the future (Matt. 6:25-34).
We Follow in Christ’s Footsteps
I recently started reading C.S. Lewis’s collection of passages from George MacDonald’s writings. One of the quotes which caught my eye says that because God “is against sin,” sometimes it also feels as if He is against the things that we want, strive for, and dream about. Which might actually be the case, if we’re still living lives influenced by sin, but God is never against us. When God is against someone’s sinful desires,” He is altogether and always for them” (Unspoken Sermons, First Series, The Consuming Fire). God is for us, and sometimes that means showing us that the things we want aren’t good for us. MacDonald also said that God’s “wrath will consume what they call themselves so that the selves God made shall appear” (same source). Coming to the Light isn’t always a comfortable process, but it is always good for us.
What these quotes make me think of is the fact that because God’s will and His love always work for good in the end, sometimes the immediate result of submitting to His will is painful, as it was for Jesus. Jesus knew, though, that His suffering was part of God’s plan to bring about good for the whole world, and things happened exactly as the Father purposed (Acts 4:27-28). Jesus prayed for God’s will knowing with absolute certainty “that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3, NET). We also know that He focused on “the joy set out for him” when “he endured the cross, disregarding its shame,” and that He “has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12: 2, NET). Following His example, we can also pray for God’s will to be done knowing that God has good things in store for us and for the entire world.
Thinking about Jesus’s trust in His Father also adds another layer to how we can understand the verse, “Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Heb. 12:7, NET). Jesus did not need to be disciplined in order to correct bad behavior (since He never sinned), but He certainly suffered. Scripture is clear that following in His footsteps will involve suffering (sometimes from the world, sometimes as an attack from spiritual evil, and sometimes as part of God’s refining process that’s meant to strengthen us and help us grow). When we suffer, we know that we’re not going through anything that Jesus wasn’t willing to go through as well; God is not treating us any differently than He did His only begotten son. We also know that we can look forward to the same goal that Jesus focused on–the goal of eternal life together with God, as a family. We can also pray “your will be done” knowing that God is faithful, that He knows what He’s doing, and that He will work things out for good in the end.
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