Not My Will – 4. The Hardest Prayer You'll Ever Pray
Matthew 6: 9 - 13
Some prayers are harder to pray than others. I learned that 8 years ago when my sister died. She was dying and I could do nothing about it. I prayed during that time. After all, I was in a pastor helping other people to draw near to God. But I didn’t pray with words. In those terrible moments of utter helplessness, prayer did not come naturally. Theology aside, I knew my sister was dying. I could hardly pray, “O God, heal her,” for I knew in my soul that God was not going to answer that prayer. I could not pray, “O God, take her home and end the pain,” for she was my sister and much too young to die. I prayed, “O God,” but that’s about all.
Praying in the Darkness
Most people have been there place. You have stood beside the bed of a loved one and found that prayer was nearly impossible - faced a difficulty so immense that you truly did not know what words to use - there have been times in your life when you have not prayed because you were afraid of the answer God would give.
Prayer can do that to even the best of us. It seems easy on Sunday morning. Why is it so difficult to pray in the darkness? Perhaps we are afraid of what God will say in response. We ask for guidance and He guides us in ways we don’t want to follow. We pray for wisdom and the wisdom we receive seems more like nonsense. We pray for patience and the answer means nothing but trouble. This should not surprise us. Jesus hinted at the problem when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer - “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When I pray, “Your will be done,” I am asking for God’s will to prevail over my will.
When we ask that God’s will be done, we are asking that our wills be overturned, if necessary. It’s not easy to pray that way when you’re standing beside the hospital bed of someone you love.
But that’s only part of the problem. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
A Little More Like the Angels
How is God’s will being done in heaven? Psalm 103:20 “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!” In heaven, God’s will is always done - instantaneously done - completely done - joyfully done. Jesus asks us to pray that we might become a little more like the angels (who always obey) and a little less like the demons (who never obey). When that happens, the earth will become a little more like heaven and a little less like hell.
Do you see God’s will being done around you? Pick up the newspaper and read about a serial killer - the killing in Pakistan -the slaughter in Sudan - the corruption in high places - the rise of child abuse. It looks like someone else’s will is being done. “Your will be done” seems like the most hopeless of all prayer requests. Seldom do we mean it. Seldom does it seem to be answered. “Your will be done” is a difficult prayer to pray sincerely.
The hardest prayer you will ever pray. Jesus asked us to use these words - at least 4 reasons why we find it difficult to do so.
1. It means giving up control of your own life
God has a will (or desire) for your life. But you also have a will (or desire) for your life. When you pray, “Your will be done,” you are asking that His will take precedence over yours. Either God calls the shots or you call the shots. Either He is in control or you are in control. It’s not easy to pray like that because it means giving up control of your own life.
“O God, I give you the right to change my agenda any time - you don’t have to inform me in advance. Amen.” That’s the kind of prayer God answers because it’s based on the truth that God is God and He has the absolute right to do whatever He wants. Many of us are unhappy because we’re fighting God at the point of His sovereignty. We must surrender our agenda to His control.
2. We often doubt that God wants the best for us
The first reason touches our will, the second one touches our mind. The first reason is practical; the second is theological. Often we’re scared that if we give God control of our lives, He’ll mess it up. We wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s how we really feel.
We’ve all known the frustration of unanswered prayer. Perhaps it was for something small – like a new dress, or a puppy, or you asked God to open the door to go to a certain university. Or perhaps it was for something big – prayer at the bedside of a loved one, prayer for a wayward child, prayer for a failing marriage.
Does God Know My Name?
Our biggest problem is not, “is there a God?” Virtually everyone agrees that the answer is yes. Even people who never come to church and people who consider themselves irreligious would answer yes. Here is the bigger question: “Is there a God in heaven who cares about me?” A God who is there – yes. A God who cares for me – maybe not.
If there is a God, surely He cares about me. If He doesn’t care for me, who cares whether there’s a God or not? The question about God’s personal concern is often asked by those who have known deep pain and suffering. For them the question is very personal: “if God cares for me, how could He let my son die? Where was God when my husband lost his job? Why didn’t God keep that man from shooting my father?” These are not abstract questions – they come from the depths of horrible despair.
How do you pray, “Your will be done” when you aren’t sure that God really cares for you? If you really knew that He had your best interests at heart, you might dare to pray that way. But as long as you doubt, that prayer will be almost impossible.
There are many answers to the question, “does God really care for me?” But there is only one that really matters. It’s the answer God gave 2,000 years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. On a hot Friday afternoon the Romans crucified a man they thought to be a Jewish rabble-rouser. Only later did they understand who He was. His name was Jesus. He came from Nazareth in Galilee. He began His ministry preaching in the synagogues. He went from village to village, His fame spread, thousands came to hear Him. The powers that be found Him a threat, and they decided to eliminate Him. They finally arrested Him with the help of a traitor.
Once arrested, He was tried, beaten, mocked, insulted, cursed, abused, slapped, scourged, and crowned with thorns. Eventually He was condemned to die. For 6 hours He hung on a cross–naked before the world, exposed to the elements, reviled by the crowd, jeered by His enemies, mourned by those who loved Him. At the end, after suffering excruciating pain -
He Bowed His Head and Died
After that God says, “Do you still wonder if I love you?” For some people, even the death of God’s Son will not be enough. But for them, nothing God can do will make any difference. If someone will give His own Son to die, is there anything else He will hold back? "Our Father in heaven.” To call God Father means that you recognize what He did when He gave His own Son to die on the cross. “Father” is not some phrase to toss around when we pray. It’s what prayer is all about. God is called “Father” because He has done what good fathers must do–He has sacrificed the best that He had for the welfare of His children. Look to the cross, my doubting friend. Gaze on the Son of God. Who is that crucified there? His name is Jesus. Study His face. See the wounds in His hands, His feet, His side. Was it not for you that He died? Do you still doubt that God loves you?
That’s why this prayer is difficult. Many of us doubt that God truly cares for us. The third reason moves us into a completely different arena.
3. God’s will sometimes involves suffering and pain
That was true for Jesus. The scene is late Thursday night. The Lord retreats to His favourite spot–the olive trees in Gethsemane. Leaving Peter, James, and John behind, He wrestles in prayer. He knows that the time has come for Him to die. It was for this moment that He came into the world. Nothing will surprise Him–not Judas’ wicked kiss, not Caiaphas’ mocking words, not Pilate’s curious questions. The pain, the blood, the anguish–all of it is as clear to Him as if it had already happened.
Most of all He sees the darkness. Sin hovers over Him. Sin! The very word is repugnant to Him. Sin in all its ugliness now looms before Him. It is as if a giant sewer is being opened, and the stinking contents are flooding over Him. All the evil that men can do, all the filth of uncounted atrocities, the total iniquity of every man and woman from the beginning of time!
As Jesus sees the cup filled with human scum approaching him, He recoils in horror. These are his words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39. These are not the words of unbelief. They are words of faith. They are the words of a man who understands fully what it will cost to do the will of God.
Was it wrong for Jesus to pray this way? Did it somehow reveal a lack of trust in God? No one was ever more committed to doing the will of God. He did not pray because He wished to be released from the will of God. He prayed because he knew how much the will of God would cost him personally. He was willing to pay the price, but in the horror of seeing the “cup” of suffering draw near, He asked that it might be removed from him.
If Jesus struggled with the will of God, should we be surprised if we do the same? If it was difficult for Jesus to pray, “Your will be done,” is it likely to be any easier for us? It cost him his life.
4. You are praying against the status quo
God’s will is seldom done on the earth. Too many things that go on are obviously not God’s will. Abortion … broken homes … rampant pornography … men starving, women freezing, children wearing rags … racial prejudice … ethnic hatred … serial killers on the loose … corruption in high places.
Sometimes it seems as if God has gone to sleep and Satan has taken over. Now think about this - God does not accept the status quo. He does not accept Satan’s usurping of His rightful place in the world. He does not accept that sin should reign forever on the earth. He does not accept that the killing should go on forever. God does not sit idly by while the world goes to hell. God does not accept the status quo!
In fact, He sent His own Son into the world to change the status quo. What the prophets couldn’t accomplish with their words, His Son accomplished. At Bethlehem God sent a message to the world: “Things are going to change.”
To pray, “Your will be done” is to follow God in opposing the status quo. This prayer goes against the grain. In a world where God’s will is not done, we are to pray that God’s will will be done. All too often when we pray, “Your will be done,” we do it with resignation: “O God, since I am helpless to stem the tide of events, may Your will be done.”
But if God does not accept the status quo, neither should we! To pray, “Your will be done” is an act of God-ordained rebellion! This is not a prayer for the weak or the timid. It is a prayer for believers who look at the devastation all around them and who say, “I’m angry, and I’m not going to take this lying down.”
It is a prayer that leads to action. If you see injustice being done, you cannot just pray, “Your will be done” and then walk away. If you really mean it, you’ve got to jump in and help make it happen.
You’ll Never Know Until You Let Go
It’s not wrong to struggle with this prayer. After all, Jesus struggled with it Himself. But the happiest people are those who have said, “I’ve decided to let go and let God run my life.” So many of us go through life with a clenched fist, trying to control the uncontrollable, trying to mastermind all the circumstances, trying to make our plans work. So we hold tightly to the things we value–our career, our reputation, our happiness, our health, our children, our education, our wealth, our possessions, even our mates. We even hold tightly to life itself. But those things we hold so tightly never really belonged to us in the first place. They always belonged to God. He loaned them to us, and when the time comes He will take them back again.
God orchestrates the affairs of life—both the good and the bad—to bring us to the place where our faith will be in him alone. Slowly but surely as we go through life, he weans us from the things of the world. At first the process touches only our possessions (which we can replace), but eventually it touches our relationships (which may not be replaced), then it touches our loved ones (who cannot be replaced), finally it touches life itself (which is never replaced). There is nothing left but us and God.
Through all this process our Heavenly Father leads us along the pathway of complete trust in him. Slowly but surely we discover that the things we thought we couldn’t live without don’t matter as much as we thought they did. Even the dearest and sweetest things of life take second place to the pleasure of knowing God. In the end we discover that he has emptied our hands of everything and then filled them with himself. Happy are those people who hold lightly the things they value greatly. The happiest people - “All right, Lord, I’m letting go. I’m going to relax now and let You take over.” What are you struggling with right now? What are you holding on to so tightly that it almost makes your hands hurt? What is it that you are afraid to give to God? Whatever it is, you’ll be a lot happier when you finally say, “Your will be done” and open your clenched fist. But you’ll never know until you let go.
C. S. Lewis said there are 2 kinds of people in the world - those who say to God, “Your will be done” and those to whom God says in the end, “Your will be done.” Which kind are you?
Here’s a simple prayer that may help you loosen your grip on the things with which you are struggling: O Lord, Your will be done–nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen.
As always, we who pray that prayer are called by God to be part of the answer. We are to pray, “Your will be done,” and then we are to see that God’s will is done in our own lives. Your will be done … in my life - in my family - in my finances - in my career - in my children - in my dreams for the future - in my words - in my friendships - in my world.
When we pray that way, God will always be pleased to answer us. The answer may not be what we want or what we expect, but the answer will come, and we will not regret having asked. And best of all, when we pray that way, we are doing our little part to make the earth a little more like heaven and a little less like hell.