Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thy Will Be Done

It is striking to me that the prayer Jesus taught his disciples focuses chiefly on God and not us. The first three petitions concern God: his name, his kingdom, his will. This is in sharp contrast with the way I normally pray--too often my prayers are self-centered and egotistical. A failure to give God the glory due him and seek our own glory (be our own God) is at the heart of our sin-marred lives. This petition is meant to bring us to a place of surrender--to pray as Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours be done."

But how are we to determine God's will? Some say that the will of God can be discerned through impressions on the mind or emotions. This usually leads to thought about God's will in terms of what best pleases us. Others think they have a direct line of communication with God that enables them to speak with confidence about knowing the will of God concerning some matter. Others read into unusual events the voice of God directing them in one way or another. Others seek to block out all the noise by making their minds 'blank' so that God can fill them. Does God intend to guide us through these subjective means--through a variety of impressions, urges, dreams and promptings of intuition?

We have been taught the Scripture is our only rule for faith and practice. The Bible is to be our guide. The apostle Paul put it this way: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God gave us his Word to instruct, convince, heal and equip us so that we might live the life he intends. Scripture instructs us concerning God's will: Scripture read, Scripture preached, Scripture interpreted, Scripture applied, Scripture hidden in our hearts, Scripture lived out in our lives.

But is the Bible really relevant to our lives in the 21st century? The truth is that there isn't an aspect of our lives that doesn't fall under the scope of what the Bible teaches. God's will is to be discerned from the Scriptures, either expressly or by inference. The Bible may not tell you which pair of shoes to by, or who to marry, or whether to be a lawyer or a linebacker. But the Bible does give us principles by which to make these decisions. We are to use our common sense, seek the advice of others, and heed to voice of conscience. The subjective nudges that we sense are no more than a conscience which has been trained by Scripture to recognize God's way as opposed to the world's way. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'" (Isaiah 30:21).

Derek Thomas in Praying the Saviour's Way writes that discovering God's will involves four things:
1. Asking what most glorifies God in any particular action and always choosing the best.

2. Studying Scripture to see what it has to say, either directly or by good and necessary consequence.

3. Using our minds and rational faculties: that is, employing the maxim of Psalm 32: 'I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you' (vv. 8-9). Too many errors come at this very point.

4. Only having done these three things first should we ask what 'burdens' God may have placed on our hearts, or what providence may have 'cornered' us into allowing no room but to go in a certain direction.

Going back to the Lord's prayer, we must be ready to give up our will and yield to God's. We must be prepared to discover that God's will may be the opposite of what we desire. We will never go wrong when we pray for what God has promised.

He promised his presence ("I am with you always..."). He promised to accept those who come to him ("those who come to me I will in no wise cast out"). He promised comfort to those who come to him in need ("as one who is comforted by his mother, so will I comfort you"). He promised mercy and pardon for those who call on him ("I have blotted out your transgression and your sins: return to me"). He promised safety to the righteous ("No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague will come near your tent"). He promised protection ("He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways"). He promised strength ("they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength"). He promised wisdom ("He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding"). He promised eternal life ("this is the promise that he promised us, even eternal life").
All of these promises (and more) are granted through Jesus. "For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, to the glory of God by us" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Submitting to the will of God is always difficult. Taking up our cross and denying ourselves is never easy. Doing the will of God is often a process of submission that takes some time. We must deal with the intrusion of our sinful responses to God's will: stubbornness, distrustfulness, anger and resentment, all of which make the process even more difficult. The will of God for our lives is hardly ever revealed in full at any one time. God give us sight of only so much of his will as we are able to take in at the time. The issue is whether we are willing to submit and obey the will of God that has become clear to us. That is the point of the prayer: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

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