by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
If we are to understand and appreciate the significance of this divine will, then we must, of necessity, know something of the Author and owner of that will. It is not possible to divorce or separate the will of God from God Himself. His will is not something detached from and external to the Person and character of our Father in heaven.
W. Phillip Keller, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 74.
On Wednesday, at the Men’s Small Group, we had a discussion on what is one of the most common theological debates – do humans have free will or is God in control. Many theological issues come out of the tension between these two ideas – God’s sovereignty and free will. I don’t have a scientific poll to back this up, but it seems to me that more people lean toward free will. What I find interesting is that people who emphasize free will don’t struggle with the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
During Lent we are looking at the Lord’s Prayer. As I mentioned last week, Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples, not as a model that must be repeated exactly as he said it, which was probably in Aramaic, not in King James English. It was originally a guide for our prayers but the early church very quickly used it as a prayer that believers would say together, in whatever language they spoke. Today we are looking at the second line – “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven.”
The first part of this line has to do with the Kingdom of God – “May your kingdom come.” God’s kingdom is a topic that is way too big for one sermon. Let me share with you four ways to understand and talk about the Kingdom of God.
First, the Kingdom of God is an eschatological idea. That is a fancy theological word that points to the end of time. Thinking of God’s kingdom with the end of time in mind means that history has direction and purpose. Life is not meaningless or a circle of events that repeats itself. Life has meaning and is moving toward a goal – toward God’s kingdom. As difficult and confusing as life may be today, at some point in time God’s kingdom will become an obvious reality.
The second way to think about the Kingdom of God is political. In the fourth century the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. He established what has come to be called Christendom. Throughout history various empires have claimed to represent God’s kingdom –the Holy Roman Empire, Byzantium, all the way up to the USA in the twentieth century. Many of us tend to be cynical about political candidates using their faith to get elected and claiming that they will take our country back to our Christian roots. However, this political emphasis is one way of living out our faith in the world and believing in God’s kingdom.
The third way to think about the Kingdom of God is to connect it with the Church. God’s reign isn’t found primarily out in the world, but in His Church. Now, we seen and experienced enough of the church at its worst to know that it is far from perfect and is not the same as God’s kingdom. However, the church as the expression of God’s kingdom, is an attempt to live out our faith with other Christians, with Jesus as the head of the church, with God as our king.
The fourth way to think about the Kingdom of God is personal. It focuses on God’s kingdom in our own lives. Everyone has a throne, someone or something that is in control of your life. When we pray “May your kingdom come” we are taking ourselves off the throne of our lives and giving that throne to God. In essence, when we pray “May your kingdom come” we are surrendering our free will. Emphasizing this fourth idea is a way of suggesting that praying “May your kingdom come” means the same thing as “May your will be done.”
In the gospel of Luke there is a passage in which Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. There are a few differences between Matthew’s version and Luke’s version. One of the main differences is that Luke does not have “Your will be done.” Scholars speculate that Luke’s version was written earlier and Matthew included the part about God’s will from the story of the Garden of Gethsemane.
Do you remember the story? After Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Last Supper they went out to Gethsemane. Jesus went off by himself to pray. “Father, I don’t want to die. If there is some other way get me out of this. Yet what really matters is not my will, but your will” (Matthew 26:39). In the gospel of John Jesus declares that he came down to earth for a reason. “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus claims that the one who will enter the Kingdom of God is “the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
The point of all this is that when we pray “May your will be done” we are giving up control of our lives. We are giving up our own will and committing our lives to follow God’s will. We are seeking to live in conformity with God’s will. We are promising obedience.
Depending on which translation you use, the word obey or obedience is in the Bible about 250 times. What does it mean to obey? The English word obedience comes from the Latin word audire, which means “to listen.” The Greek word for obedience is upakuo, which also means “to listen.” To obey is to listen to God and to respond to that message.
A missionary was trying to translate the Bible into the language of the tribe where he worked. He couldn’t find a word in their language for obedience. It was simply not part of their culture. People did whatever they wanted to do. One day he was out in the village talking with the people, trying to learn more of their language and their culture. As he got ready to go home he whistled for his dog, who had gone with him. The dog came running up to him at full speed. An old villager saw that and said “Your dog is all ear.” At that point the missionary knew that he had his word for obedience – “all ear.”
When we pray “May your will be done” we are committing ourselves to obey God’s will for our lives. The question then becomes “How do we know what God’s will is?” Let me make a couple of comments about that.
First, I don’t believe that God’s will for our lives means that God has a blueprint for every detail. I know that some Christians hold that view. God has a plan for your life that includes who you should marry, what job you should take, what type of car you should drive and what house you should live in and what you should eat for dinner tonight. If that makes sense for you and you can work it out, that’s okay. It just isn’t how I look at it.
There are some aspects of our lives that God’s will is very specific and very clear. God wants you to believe in Jesus and to worship him. God wants you honor your parents, to love your wife or your husband and your children. God’s will does not include raping, pillaging, stealing or adultery. In some areas God has a specific will for you, but in many aspects of life God gives us freedom to choose.
The second comment has to do with how we learn what God’s will is. We could spend several weeks in Sunday school talking about this, so I’m not going to say everything there is to say. Let me put it this way. Since God’s will has to do with obedience and obedience has to do with listening, how do we hear God speak?
The best way to hear God speak to us is through God’s word. This is the primary way God speaks to us. If the Bible is clear on what God wants, or doesn’t want, then I think we can assume that is God’s will.
We can also hear God speak through our experiences, through our brothers and sisters in the church, through using our reason and intelligence, through prayer, through the gifts that we have. All of that is true, but I want to give you a different image. The best way to discern God’s will is to get to know God more and more, and to fall in love with God.
Imagine that Chad and I want to take our wives out on a date. The four of us, Chad and Holly, Tanya and I, go to a nice restaurant. We sit down and look at the menu. The waiter comes to take our order, but rather than asking Holly what she wants, the waiter asks Chad what Holly wants and asks me what Tanya wants. I hope that both of us are smart enough not to answer for our wives, but for this illustration let’s stick with our ordering for them.
Tanya and I have been married 31 years. I know her fairly well – what types of food she likes and doesn’t. I know her well enough that I could probably guess, fairly accurately, what she would like. Chad hopefully would have a good chance of guessing what Holly wants. Let’s switch that around. What are the chances that I would be able to guess what Holly wants and Chad guess what Tanya wants? I’m convinced that I would have a much better chance of getting it right for Tanya than Chad would, and he would guess better for Holly than I would.
Because we know our wives we have decent chance that we might get it right. In the same way, the better relationship we have with God, the more we know God, the more likely we are to know God’s will for our lives. If you want to know God’s will for your life spend time getting to know God – read God’s word, pray and listen to God, spend time with God’s people. [15:00]
You can spend a lifetime working on your relationship with God and never fully know God. So start today getting to know God better. However, when you get to a specific question about God’s will for your life, should you buy a new home or take a new job, here is what I would suggest. Start by praying the Lord’s Prayer – “May your will be done.” Tell God that you want to be obedient. Then spend time reading God’s word. Spend time in prayer. Spend time talking with a few close friends who will help you think clearly. If you get a clear answer, follow it. If you don’t, follow your heart.
If God wants us to make a particular decision or go in a certain direction we can trust that God will make it clear. It just might be that God is more concerned about who we are, than where we are going or what we are doing. As we wrestle with God’s will, trying to figure out what God wants, God may be up in heaven thinking “It doesn’t really matter which choice you make. Either way is fine. What I really want for in your life is for you to know how much I love you.”