We pray, “Thy will be done,” but do we really mean it? Really? Do we want God’s will to be done, rather than our own? I have a good sense of what I believe to be right and wrong, and I bet you do too. I get angry when I see injustice, and when I see people hurting others. In the aftermath of the horrible human tragedy at a summer camp in Norway this week I am reminded of why we pray this prayer. The world can be a very scary place, it is a very scary place, when our
will is done. The scariest part is that monsters like Anders Berhing Breivik think they are doing the world a favor, believing the evil they cause to be what is right in the world by asserting their will, their hatred, their fear, and their distorted worldview over others. It is always the innocent that suffer for it.
What about God? Are we capable of truly praying for “God’s will to be done” without any less fear or terror? After all, the world is a scary place, and tragedies are in no short supply. Could not God’s will have prevented 93 people from a violent death? Why do insurance companies call “acts of God” horrible weather that leaves destruction, rather than acts of kindness, mercy and generosity we have been taught to believe are the “acts of God” in the world? Why doesn’t God do more, if we say who we think he is? We are not the first ones to ask these questions.
Leslie Weatherhead was a pastor in London during World War II and twice during the early 1940s the church where he served was bombed and burned during air raids. “Where is God in the midst of such destruction?” was a question he dealt with ona daily basis. What emerged out of his reflections on those days was a little book he wrote and published in 1944 called The Will of God.
In his little book, Weatherhead divided God’s will into three categories – placeholders that I have found to be very helpful when thinking and talking about God and his will for our lives and the scary places where we live. Here they are:
God’s Intentional Will. When we think of God’s creation as essentially “good” we see God’s intentional will for us and the world in which we live. That will is that we would be in communion with God and the world around us. Whenever we see the world around us and those in it full of life, beauty, joy, and faith we catch a glimpse of God’s intentional will. Jesus came as one to be followed, showing us God’s intentional will by what he said and did. But because of our sinfulness, and the assertion of our own willpower over others and in spite of God, we see the face of evil, which appears (at least on the surface) to be winning the battle over our lives.
God’s Circumstantial Will. To know God’s circumstantial will is to ask how we might best serve others in the circumstances placed in our lives. Weatherhead believed that when Jesus faced betrayal and arrest, his prayer for his Father’s will to be done (Luke 22:42)
showed him the cross as the necessary outcome of his circumstances. We face many grave circumstances too. The cross shows us how to face them. Our prayers for our Father’s will to be done shows us how to use those circumstances to serve others. Using what God has given us for the sake of others makes good out of dire circumstances, even if it costs us. This is what we get wrong so often, because our first reaction to hardship is self-preservation at any cost. Jesus was open to what the circumstances demanded, which revealed the cross. To see God’s will is to see our cross, placed upon us. But that is not the end of the story…
God’s Ultimate Will. God will win the final victory. This is the promise of the scriptures, and is the story of Christ, who suffered and died at evil’s hands and is now raised from the dead. It is the promise that our lives do not end in death, violence, or despair, but in restoration, resurrection, and peace. When we experience the violence, injustice, and suffering around us it is the promise of God’s ultimate victory over sin, death and evil that gives us the hope and courage to face it head on in faith, knowing God will win the final battle.
Praying for God’s will frees us from the burden of creating a world of our own. Rather, it is to see God’s design for us and our failure to live up to it while showing us God’s mercy in the midst of a world we cannot fully understand. At the center stands the cross – a symbol of suffering and death, transformed into the reality of new life and restoration by God’s revealed ultimate will for us. As you face the scary world around you, take heart and pray with assurance that God’s will is done in, with, and under your life, for Jesus sake.
Peace, Pastor Geoff
How do you see God’s will in the midst of difficult circumstances? Do Weatherhead’s categories help?
(Leslie D. Weatherhead. [Nashville: Abingdon Press], 1944.)
“For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord
Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)
Luther’s Small Catechism:
Lord’s Prayer: 3rd Petition
Thy Will Be Done.
What does this mean? In fact, God’s good and gracious will comes about without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.
How does this come about? Whenever God breaks and hinders every evil scheme and will – as are present in the will of the devil, the world and our flesh – that would not allow us to hallow God’s name and would prevent the coming of his kingdom, and instead would wherever God strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his word and in faith until the end of our lives. This is God’s good and gracious will.