A group of women recently gathered in my living room for a Bible study on the Lord’s Prayer. The words “Your will be done” sat on our tongues like cough syrup that wouldn’t budge (Matthew 6:10). We had numerous objections.
One of us admitted, “I feel like if I pray those words, I’m going to bring on what I’m trying to avoid. I know I don’t have that kind of power, but it just feels like it.” Another agreed: “His will scares me. I want my will — it feels safer.”
“The hands that hold our future are the same hands that were pierced for us.”
Among us was a mom worried about her newborn baby’s poor hearing tests; another mom whose young boy had been harming himself; a woman who recently lost her job; a third mom waiting on a new son to come home from China; a wife whose husband doesn’t believe; and myself, a daughter whose terminally ill father has rejected the gospel time and time again.
The room was full of reasons to have a white-knuckle grip on the future.
Our Comfortable Illusions
Rather than pray, “Thy will be done,” we prefer to beg God to do things our way. “Please, please, Lord,” we say, “just don’t let that happen. I could never handle it.”
In the face of suffering, why do we struggle to apply to ourselves the proclamation of the cross — that our God is good and trustworthy and will go to any length to secure what’s best for us (Romans 8:32)? Why does a gulf span the distance between our fear of suffering and the rock-solid proof that God will meet us in our deepest distress, just as he did on the cross?
Maybe it’s because we control so much of our lives. We have dominion over the temperature in our homes, the schools our kids attend, the quality of food we buy. We enjoy the repeated and predictable fruit of our labor. We are tempted to boast and say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” (James 4:13). We grow accustomed to the illusion of control.
But sick newborn babies and job losses and gravely ill parents intrude and shake us to the core. We find that James is right: We don’t know what tomorrow will bring (James 4:14). We don’t have the ultimate control we thought we had. Re-centering our faith on reality, James says, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). Again, God calls us to pray for his will!
God’s Good Will
When we say in faith to the God who loves us, “Lord, not my will but yours be done,” we uncurl our fingers. Our rapid heartbeat and fretting words slow to a quiet. We soften and take on a posture that is free to remember that our God wills what’s best for us and always has.
“We can ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, because we know that his will is very, very good.”
Jesus, whose will it was to die in our place, is in charge of all things and holds them all together (Colossians 1:17). So when my friend worries that her baby will be deaf, we can sit together and remember God’s mercy at the cross. When my other friend is wrecked with anxiety over her son’s self-harm, we can remember that Jesus rose from the dead. When I panic because my dad has not yet surrendered to the Lord, I can remind myself that God has proven to be trustworthy time and time again. And after we remember, we can ask with authenticity that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, because we know that his will is very, very good. The hands that hold our future are the same hands that were pierced for us.
And God beckons us to go even further. We can count our trials as joy (James 1:2–4) — yes, even joy! — because we know our God’s character. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can thrive when we are weak because of “Christ in [us], the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Suffering becomes a tool in our Maker’s hand to mold and shape us into his image.
“Your Will Be Done”
Deep down we know this, don’t we? We know that surrendering to God’s will in suffering sanctifies us. Which friend in my living room would not want the faith of Joni Eareckson Tada, or Elisabeth Elliot, or Corrie ten Boom? These heroines said, “Your will be done” when they suffered paralysis, widowhood, and a Nazi concentration camp. We desire this depth of intimacy with our Savior, and yet it comes through pain.
If we remember the cross and uncurl our fingers, we will be washed in the kind of peace that only comes to a submissive heart. We will rejoice in the will of our good Father, who goes to any length to do what’s best for each of us. And we will be able to pray with eagerness and expectation, “Your will be done.”