With this petition, our Lord snatches from our hearts a great and perverse desire: that our will be done in everyone, in all things, under all circumstances, and that even God must submit to it. That is why we make such great efforts and offer such great works attempting to convince God to come around and do our will. The plea “Your will be done” strips us from such selfish desires. Oftentimes we piously hide our will within the petition. “Yes, Lord, your will be done, but let it coincide with mine, if you will be so blessed to have me put my trust in you.” We condition our faith in our Father as long as his will merges with our own.
Yes! “The heart is deceitful above all things, and who will know it?” (Jer 17:9). The Third Petition lets us know what’s in our own hearts, and exposes it like a CT scan, displaying our selfishness and self-worship. That is why our Lord placed on our lips that Third Petition, “Your will be done.”
We condition our faith in our Father as long as his will merges with our own.
But the will of the Father is different. He sees our deceitful heart and nonetheless shows us his will proclaimed over the hills of Bethlehem. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). God’s goodwill toward sinners is seen in the incarnate Jesus beginning in the manger and throughout his life, death, and resurrection. He is God’s living goodwill toward sinners. That is why with all confidence and in the imperative we may say, “Your will be done!” (1) What Jesus brings to us with his perfect life and sacrifice, takes our sins upon his body, and dies and rises on our behalf, that is God’s good will toward us. As the KJV puts it, he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). God’s will is that all should come to repentance, and thus we pray, “Your will be done!”
But, of course, our own will rebuffs God’s will. We are determined that if given the right steps and a measure of power, we can cooperate in such great effort. “Don’t leave my will out of it! When my will cooperates with the will of God, all things are possible!” our flesh cries out. But the Third Petition nullifies such efforts. It is God’s will to save. My own desire to insert my will into the action is indeed the reason for heeding the Third Petition, “Your will – not mine – be done.”
But taking a deeper look at the sincerity of our petition, in the best of scenarios, our sincerity looks more like we resign ourselves to God’s will instead of affirming it. When things don’t turn out quite the way we wanted, or more likely, expected, we rather grudgingly accept God’s will.
The imperative “Your will be done!” needs to precede not follow the outcomes of our petitions. But it is when things do not turn out the way we wanted that we mutter with measured acceptance, “Well, after all, it was God’s will.” But the Third Petition teaches us that before any outcome we have already cried out “Your will be done, because your will is good, holy, and righteous, no matter what happens!
The place where it is most difficult for us to accept God’s will is when suffering, calamities, and finally, death itself. In all else, we take a measure of comfort saying “As long as there’s life, there’s hope.” What we’re really saying is “As long as there’s life there’s hope that things will turn out the way I want them, according to my own will.” But death is final, overpowering in its frozen silence. That is when we find it the hardest even to whisper to ourselves, “Your will be done.” After we watch that loved one draw one last breath, what have we got left? A broken, crushed, and empty will. That is how we see the disciples on the way to Emmaus. They had seen their Master laid on the tomb and watched as the Roman seal was pasted on the stone. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Their will was for Jesus not to die a shameful death and still redeem Israel.
Our sincerity looks more like we resign ourselves to God’s will instead of affirming
The void death leaves is immense, and what is left of our will is not very willing to go into rehab. Its best attempt to find a quick cure is by blaming God, for after all, couldn’t he have prevented the whole thing? That is also our reaction when facing chronic disease, those diseases that simply won’t go away, no matter how much or how hard we pray. It’s the same with calamity, catastrophes, or accidents that create untold woe, hurt, and loss.
Thus, the only way to anticipate these great injuries to our will, is to daily and often utter the plea, “Your will be done.” It is before we are surprised by tragedy and death that we lift up the Third Petition, “Your will be done.” Daily, and often: “Your will, not mine.” And we have already seen that God’s will is overwhelmingly good, even when death overtakes us.
The only reason why when facing death, we may lift up the imperative “Your will be done” is because Jesus the Christ proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). These were not just words. They became living words when he walked away from the tomb. When he rose from the dead, all who’ve departed us were raised, and we too who have believed on him as our resurrection. With his resurrection from the dead, he became God’s good will toward us, even when death overtakes us! And it is with the faith we are given as we hear this gospel that we daily cry out, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.