We now find ourselves at the third petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Remember that this petition, like the one that preceded it, serves the first petition to honor the Lord’s name as holy. When we pray, we pray: “Your kingdom come, for the hallowing of your name.” In light of his coming kingdom, we consider another important petition that ought to be included in our prayers: “Your will be done, for the hallowing of your name.”
Just so you understand what it is that we are praying for, there is another important detail in the Lord’s Prayer that you need to see. Remember there are six total petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, the first three petitions are Godward, and begin with the pronoun, “Your.” The last three petitions concern our wellbeing and include the pronoun, “Us.” The will that we are praying will be accomplished is the Father’s will for your life, not the will we hope the Father has for our lives.
To pray that the Kingdom of God come down for the hallowing of his name, is to pray that his will be done in your heart, your life, your family, your neighborhood, your work, your city, your state, your country, in your world.
I read a blog post this week written by David Roseberry about a pastor who suffered from significant shoulder pain. Here is what the pastor said about his experience with the doctor who looked at his arm:
I went to see a doctor for a pain in my shoulder. My shoulder was just hurting all the time, whenever I moved it. The doctor examined me and he diagnosed the problem as “frozen shoulder.” It comes from just being my age, and from use.
The doctor said, “There are a couple of things we need to do. The first is physical therapy,” and he wrote me a prescription for that. “And I can give you a steroid shot, a cortisone shot, right into the joint of that shoulder.”
I said, “Go for it.”
As the doctor’s getting ready to do the injection, he says, “What do you do for a living?”
I told him, “I’m a minister. I preach for a living.” Then I asked him: “Do you have a church?”
He said, “No, I gave that up long ago. … Now listen, just relax a little bit here, and we’ll get that joint all loosened up so you can continue to point your finger at people.”
Anytime you hear a sermon on submitting yourself to the will of God, it may feel like the preacher is pointing his finger at you. I know that for some of you, the “will” of God has been used as a club to beat you into submission to the person who thinks that his/her will is God’s will for your life. I have been a Christian and served as a pastor long enough to know how easy it is for a person to misconstrue his/her own desire for what they want out of life for a child, spouse, or friend, as the will of God.
Determining the Will of God Can be Difficult Sometimes
There is a great example of the tension we sometimes can experience between determining the will of God in Acts 20-21, Paul sensed that God was leading him to leave the city of Ephesus to go to Jerusalem. Paul met with and warned the elders of the Ephesian Church of some of the dangers they would face after his departure; listen to what he said to the elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28–30). Before he left, Paul and the elders prayed together: “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:36–38).
On his way to Jerusalem, Paul spent seven days in Tyre while the ship unloaded its cargo. He spent his seven days with some Christians. We are told that, “through the Spirit they [the Christians who Paul met up with] were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:1-4). After seven days, Paul left those Christians to continue towards Jerusalem. They arrived at Caesarea and stayed in that city for “many days” and met with some more Christians; while staying with Philip, the evangelist, a prophet named Agabus stopped by to tell Paul that he would be arrested and delivered to Rome. Here is what we read of the response of those who loved Paul in Acts 21:12-14,
When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:12–14)
The elders of the Ephesian Church released Paul because they believed it to be the will of God that he go to Jerusalem even if it meant suffering and imprisonment. The people who begged Paul not to go could not understand how it was God’s will for Paul to be arrested, suffer, and maybe even die in Jerusalem. What is clear from these chapters in Acts is that well-meaning Christians may not always be able to make sense of God’s will, but even though not everyone understood God’s will for the apostle’s life, it did not exempt Paul from obeying God’s will for his life.
What is the Will of God for All Things?
What is God’s will? The will of God is, “that attribute of God whereby he approves and determines to bring about every action necessary for the existence and activity of himself and creation.” In Ephesians we get a glimpse of the big picture of God’s will:
In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:7–12)
So, what is the will of God? For starters, it includes the salvation and redemption of people, however, it is so much more than just our salvation and redemption. Ultimately, God’s will is to, “…unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 10). In Romans 11:36, we are told: “For from him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” In Colossians 1:16, we learn that within God’s will, all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). According to 1 Corinthians 8:6, we exist for God: “…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
Where is the will of God moving all human history? According to the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, it will be the obedience and worship of all peoples: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Or, as the prophet Malachi foretells: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations…” (Mal. 1:11a). How is God working out his will among the nations and throughout the earth? He changes times and seasons and sets up kings and removes them according to his will (Dan. 2:21; 4:32, 34-35). He hardens and he softens hearts, for “he has mercy on whomever he wills, and hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:18). Yet, it is also his will that none shall perish: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
In obedience to the will of God, Jesus took on human flesh, was born of a virgin, lived among mankind, and set his face towards the cross so that, “…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16-21). Of the Father’s will, Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38–40). While in Gethsemane with only hours separating him between life and the cross, he had the option to avoid the wrath we deserved, but instead he prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Of Jesus’ death, Peter testified just seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection before some of the same people who celebrated his crucifixion:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22–24)
Now Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, and it is the will of God that all the nations hear and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ as those who have been saved by his cross bring his good news to the nations. Jesus commanded that his followers make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20), and he has promised: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations…” (Matt. 24:14). All of heaven and the redeemed will sing the song of Moses as a testimony and celebration to the fact that all that God wills, he does: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3–4).
This is why Jesus linked in his model prayer with both the petition for the coming kingdom of God and the petition that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What is the Will of God for Your Life?
Within the will of God, there is his “revealed will” and his “secret will.” God’s “revealed will” includes his commandments and what he has commanded us to do. When we pray that his will be done on earth, we are praying for the salvation and obedience of the nations. When we pray for his will to be done on earth, we are praying that the only power that can change lives will come through the word of our testimony as followers of Jesus to our family, neighbors, community, city, and world knowing that no government has the power to change lives like the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, with the apostle Paul, we can confidently assert: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16).
The other thing we are praying for is that God’s will be done in us also. When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth, we are also praying that he will have his way in our lives. When we pray that, “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven for the hollowing of his name…” we are praying that our lives would conform to his will. What is his will for our lives? Listen very carefully to Paul’s answer in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8,
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8)
God’s will for your life does not include anything that is contrary to his character. If you are wondering what his will for your life is, you really do not need to look any further than what we read in the Bible. I can think of no clearer statement in scripture for God’s purpose and will for your life than the one we find in 1 Peter 1:13-16,
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16)
What does personal holiness look like? It looks like the Sermon on the Mount. How do you get there? Follow Jesus and obey all that he has commanded you. As you follow him, what you will discover is that what you desire and long for in life will begin to be molded into what he desires for your life.
Finally, the “secret will” of God has more to do with how God is moving and governing your life to accomplish his kingdom purpose in and through you. To accomplish his redemptive plans for all things, he is in the details. His will for your life is that his Kingdom first expand in your life and heart, and he is doing it in and through every hurt, every joy, and every fork in the road of your life that seems like a detour that it has been his determined plan from the beginning. As you pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done for the renown of his name, he is already at work in your life to that end.
Permit me to share one final story to help you understand the secret will of God as it relates to your life. In Galatians, Paul wrote of how God was in the details of his Christless pursuit to advance in Judaism to the point that he approved of Stephen’s death because he could not stand the Jesus Stephen preached about (see Acts 6:8-7:60). Paul said that before he participated in the murder of Stephen and his role in persecuting the Christian Church, God, “set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me…” (Gal. 1:16). In other words, God was in the details of Paul’s life, both good and bad, for the purpose of bringing his kingdom down in a very tangible way. This is why James wrote what he wrote in his epistle: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13–15).
 David Roseberry, “What Happened at Shechem” SoundCloud (8-26-12)
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic; 2020), p. 252.