Your Will Be Done

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I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.

Psalm 40:8

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
Ps 143:10 NIV

The psalmist, and indeed the whole testimony of scripture, asserts that God’s will is something to be known, learned, and most of all something to be done. Jesus said he came, not to do his own will, but “the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38, 4:34, 5:30). Paul affirmed to the Ephesian elders that he had proclaimed to them “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). The most common description of God’s will in the Bible is a way of life to be learned and followed, not as something to be experienced, nor as a set of events or circumstances, nor something to be endured and pondered.

Eli the priest, hearing God’s word of warning, viewed God’s will as something immutable and irresistible (1 Sam 2:18) and rather than correcting what God condemned he fatalistically surrendered to consequences. Mary the mother of Jesus on the other hand saw God’s will as a dynamic plan and purpose that she could obey and follow, accepting difficulties but choosing to be God’s servant (Luke 1:38).

When making plans it is always right to acknowledge our own limitations and that God has no such limitations. James teaches Christians to make plans contingent upon God’s greater control and knowledge, “if it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15, 13-17). James is warning against pride and self-confidence, but he is not advocating inaction or determinism. Christians are not to feel that they are helpless puppets, waiting for God to pull the strings. In fact, James ends his discussion of the topic by concluding that “anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). Christians should know the limitations of their own power and knowledge, and acknowledge God’s greater (limitless) power and knowledge, but still are called upon to do the good they know they ought to do (see also Acts 21:10-15, 18:19-22).

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-
Revelation 2:26 NIV

Disciples of Jesus are taught to pray that God’s will be done (see Matt. 6:10) but that very submission shows that God’s will is not generally an immutable force in our lives. Jesus prayed, “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) in part because he was not stuck in the circumstances of God’s will, but free to choose, and chose to pursue God’s purposes through obedience (Hebrews 5:7-9). God’s will did not force Jesus to the cross, but Jesus’ desire to do God’s will took him there.

Paul taught Christians to pray for God’s will to move in certain ways, particularly in reference to his travels and work as a preacher of the gospel (see Romans 1:10, 8:27, 15:31-32). With the help of God’s Spirit Christians can pray according to the will of God, and in obedience can act according to the will of God. However, to act in obedience to the will of God requires knowing the will of God. The Psalmist prayed, “teach me to do your will.” Jesus came to do God’s will, but in order to do it, he had to know it. Paul taught Christians to pray for things “according to” the will of God, which again requires that Christians know the will of God.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
1 Thess 5:16-22 NIV

God’s will is knowable, and not something dependent upon our feelings or experiences. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that by turning away from the world and toward God we can gain the capacity to “test and approve” what God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is. God has told us what he desires (his will) and by our obedience to what he has already said we become more and more adept at applying his will to our decisions. God’s will is clearly expressed in describing the way of life he wants Christians to have (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). God’s will is that we live in a particular way, governed by good behavior and rejection of the world’s values and goals. He wants Christians to embrace a particular attitude of life, characterized by joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. God’s will is expressed for our lives in specific terms in his word, defining the moral behavior and attitudes to be embraced and obeyed by his people. When Peter wrote “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men,” (1 Peter 2:14-16 NIV) he again puts God’s will in the context of something (good) to do. God’s will is more about what we choose to do, or should choose to do in all kinds of circumstances, than about what happens to us.

For Jesus, submitting to God’s will in obedience required accepting great suffering (Matthew 26:38-44), which he did. Christians also may be called upon, by the will of God, to endure suffering (see 1 Peter 3:17, 4:19). Even in this, the call to accept and endure suffering as part of God’s will for our lives is not mysterious, it is still a call to obedience, living the life God wants Christians to live in any and all circumstances. Jesus could have chosen not to obey, but instead he endured the cross, “not my will, but yours be done.” Similarly, the writer of Hebrews enjoins patience, saying, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Heb 10:36 NIV) If Christians persevere in suffering, particularly unjust suffering, then they are doing the will of God. Those who choose a different path to avoid suffering are not doing the will of God and “if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (Heb 10:38)

Again, in the Bible God’s will is something to be learned, by consideration of his word and by practice. God’s will is something to be accepted and obeyed, something to be done, in moral choices and attitude, in good deeds and perseverance. It is said of Jesus incarnation, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:5-9). In Jesus’ teachings we learn that it is not where you start on the road to doing God’s will, but where you finish that matters (Matt 21:28-32).

“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35 NIV

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:17 NIV

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