(This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Michael's brand new book, Pray Then Like This)
As a child, prayer was a perplexing subject for me. I remember a particular moment in my second-grade year. My great passion was soccer, and I could not wait for Saturdays to arrive because that was game day! But as my parents watched the news one Friday, the weather forecast predicted rain for the next day. Saturday rain meant game cancellations. I began to pray that it would not rain!
But as I prayed, my heart became conflicted. I had always heard that farmers needed rain. Would I inadvertently harm the farmers if I prayed for the downpour to skip over where I lived? For some reason, in my eight-year-old mind, this proved to be a real dilemma. So much so that I still remember the emotion of that spiritual predicament decades later.
What is God to do? If a little boy prays for dry weather and, at the same time, an area farmer prays for rain, how does God resolve such a conundrum? It was the first time I remember struggling to balance the biblical call to pray with the uncertainties of how it fits into God's will. It may seem a trivial concern for our grown-up minds today, but I assure you, my troubled feelings about how prayer really works were sincere.
“Your will be done…"
In what is commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer, after Jesus taught us to pray that God's name would be glorified and His Kingdom known, He then showed His followers to ask for the will of our heavenly Father to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. The statement, while brief, demands that we understand what He means by “will.”
God's will can be an intimidating and overwhelming question for many. How can I know it? Am I in it or out of it? Wouldn't life be easier if we could go back to Old Testament times when God spoke audibly? Wrote on walls? Sent vivid dreams?
Throughout the centuries, theologians have attempted to explain the will of God by defining it in two aspects. First, there is what is known as His providential will. This term speaks of God's will of decree; those things that happen simply because He has willed it to be. God's providential will includes His act of creation (Genesis 1), the decree of His unchangeable, eternal purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10), as well as anything that is in harmony with His good pleasure (Psalm 115:3). We know God's providential will is not what Jesus had in mind in this model prayer because it is not something that we can choose to obey or not. It just is!
There is, however, a second aspect of God's will, for which we are held accountable to know and obey. God's preceptive will is His commandments (or precepts) that are revealed to us in the pages of Scripture. This is His will of instruction, which can either be followed or disobeyed (James 4:17). The Bible records God's preceptive will for us in numerous places. Examples include Micah 6:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Romans 12:1-2, and many others.
Clearly, this is what Jesus is speaking of when He teaches us to pray, “Your will be done.” God speaks to us through His Word and lets us know what He requires of us. We should pray that we would be quick to obey His instructions. Or, as Paul succinctly said, “…do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).
As we follow the instructions of Jesus in our daily prayers, we must remember that the pronouns in the Lord’s model prayer in Mathew 6 are plural, which reminds us to pray not only for ourselves but also for those in our lives. So, we pray for God's will to be accomplished in our personal lives, homes, church, and world. We are taught to pray for God to work in our hearts so that His will is obeyed and His name is glorified in all we do. As we live in accordance with this prayer, we lay down our own agenda and live in harmony with His precepts and instructions. He commands; we obey. It is never the other way around.
As we pray the way Jesus taught us, our prayers become uniquely Christian prayers. They should be prayers that a non-Christian could not and would not pray. Everyone wants to feel better when they are sick, and all people struggling to make ends meet want a dependable job. Every parent wants their child to make friends. These are issues of everyday life that are worthy of prayer, but these desires are not exclusive to believers. We should be faithful to pray about such things but do so in accordance with the instruction Jesus gives us.
The difference between the prayer of a believer and the prayer of the godless is that we lift up our needs in a way that reveres God's name. We live our lives with a desire to fulfill His Kingdom's purposes. We express our supplication in obedience to His will. Christian prayers ask that the God of the Bible be glorified, His name be magnified, and His will be exemplified in the lives of His people.
“…on earth as it is in Heaven”
Jesus teaches us to pray for God's will to be accomplished in our lives. But then He adds a word of clarification. He specifies the manner in which it should be carried out. We are told to pray that we (and others!) would obey God's will the same way the angels in Heaven obey His will.
So how do angels obey God? A few words are helpful to consider when applying this specific instruction to believers. First, God's will in Heaven is done immediately. Angels in Heaven are given commands and obey them right away (Psalm 103).
We are also to do God's will completely, just as the angels do. It should be said of us, just as it is said of the inhabitants of Heaven, “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word” (Psalm 103:20). We are to pray to do God's will immediately and completely.
We also imitate the pattern of Heaven when we obey God's Word joyfully. Because the desire of the heavenly beings is the glory of God, they obey God's commands with joy. Part of our downfall when we disobey is that, at the moment of our rebellion, we are not finding our joy in the glory of God. If we stop to consider how best to exalt His name in the moment of decision, then no matter the sacrifice, we will find our joy in simply knowing the Lord is pleased with our obedience. Let us pattern our submission after the heavenly ones who worship at His throne every moment: with joy!
Finally, let us accomplish our Father's will for His glory. Scripture records the preeminent mindset of those who dwell in Heaven: “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come’” (Revelation 4:8). The chorus of Heaven is proclaimed in their continual praise as revealed in Revelation 5:11-12:
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
We follow the teaching of Jesus when we pray to be obedient to the will of God as revealed to us in Scripture. As we study our Bibles, we learn what our Father asks of us. When we discover His preceptive will, we obey it. And we obey immediately, completely, joyfully, and for His glory alone.
Let us learn from the instructions of our Savior and pray then like this!