At our church we’re studying Jesus’ model prayer known as the “Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9—13). Perhaps the most challenging phrase in this prayer is “your will be done.”
Here’s the problem: it seems God’s will is simultaneously clear and unclear to Christians. We know part of God’s will through the Bible. The Ten Commandments are clear: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, Do not steal, etc.
But then we realize God’s will is also unclear. God is God and we are not: He is all-present, all-knowing and all-powerful and we are not. Isaiah 55:9 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
God’s will and God’s ways are higher than our understanding. Meaning God’s will is also incomprehensible. I am talking about those bewildering moments in life when we ask God “Why did I get cancer?” “Why did my loved one die?” “Why did this horrible thing happen”?
A few years ago, a couple in our church took a painful journey through God’s sometimes incomprehensible will. Their names are Jeff and Erin Richer (they gave me permission to share their story. For more info go to: www.allthingsricher.blogspot.com). Erin was surprised when she found out she was pregnant with their fourth child. Thirteen weeks into their pregnancy they discovered their daughter, named Lydia, had a large sack of fluid attached to her brain. The doctors termed her “incompatible with life” meaning she would be born in a vegetative state. Later on she was diagnosed with Turner’s Syndrome, a rare chromosomal condition that stunts the development of female children. Some born with this condition are disabled but can survive. Yet many others many die in utero or shortly after birth. One doctor advised Jeff and Erin to terminate the pregnancy but after prayer they decided to proceed and leave it in God’s hands. They committed themselves to spending their lives caring for Lydia, whatever her condition. Sadly, she died in utero at twenty-four weeks. I visited them in the hospital before Erin delivered her deceased daughter. They felt pain and anguish but also expressed grace, strength and peace. I was so proud of them and I am still inspired by their example. They believe they will one day meet their daughter in heaven. But honestly, many people looked at their struggle, and asked “Why God?” and “How can this be your will?”
And that’s exactly why we need prayer. Prayer keeps us close to God’s heart and reminds us of his love and goodness. Prayer gives us the strength to press on through our hurt and confusion. I believe the pain of life will make people (even Christians) bitter and jaded unless they learn to pray “your will be done.” It’s a prayer of humility and surrender, but ultimately, it’s a prayer of alignment. Simply put, Jesus taught us to pray to align our will with our Heavenly Father’s will. To pray “your will be done” is praying that our desires and plans will align with God’s desires and plans even if—especially if—we don’t understand his will.
It seems to me we can only pray for alignment if we believe God is our loving Heavenly Father. Author Tim Keller puts it this way: “Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say ‘thy will be done.’ Fathers are often inscrutable to little children. A four-year-old cannot understand many of his father’s prohibitions—but he trusts him. Only if we trust God as Father can we ask for grace to bear our troubles with patience and grace. Well, someone asks, how can we be sure God is trustworthy? The answer is that this is the one part of the Lord’s prayer Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, under circumstances far more crushing than any of us will ever face. He submitted to his Father’s will rather than following his own desires, and it saved us. That’s why we can trust him. Jesus is not asking us to do anything for him that he hasn’t already done for us, under conditions of difficulty beyond our comprehension.”
Because Jesus prayed “your will be done,” we too can pray “your will be done.” Because Jesus aligned his will with his Father’s will and died on the cross for our sins, we too can align our will with our Father’s will in prayer.