Introductory Note:

The following excerpt comes from The Universe in 57 Words, written by Renovaré’s Director of Education, Carolyn Arends. Carolyn teaches Renovaré’s newest online course: “Living Inside the Lord’s Prayer.” She writes: “The Lord’s Prayer — the Our Father, as some traditions call it — is the most famous prayer in history. But what does it mean to pray it with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? How do we live inside it?”

We invite you to explore this excerpt and consider engaging even more deeply with the prayer Jesus taught.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from The Universe in 57 Words

Thy will be done … in earth, as it is in heaven.

The third petition that Jesus teaches us flows naturally out of the second. When we begin to see what it means for God’s kingdom to come, why wouldn’t we want the effective range of his will to extend further and further throughout the earth? 

Lisa Koons, a leader in the 24/7 prayer movement, was asked how Christians could possibly pray together during a divisive political season. We pray sweeping prayers, prayers we can agree on, while leaving the outcome to God,” Lisa answered. Even if we have very different theories about what God’s will might look like in a given situation, our hearts can be united in our desire for his will to be done. 

So Jesus gives us a compact petition that can embrace every need, every longing, every complex issue, even our disparate ways of seeing the world: Thy will be done.

How do we know God’s will?

Years ago, I toured as an opening act for Rich Mullins.1 There was something about Rich’s music that stirred up people’s deepest longings. I loved overhearing conversations at the autograph table; they often turned serious and urgent.

More than once, a fan asked Rich how to discern the will of God. Rich would listen, and then offer an unexpected perspective.

I don’t think finding God’s plan for you has to be complicated,” he’d begin. God’s will is that you love him with all your heart and soul and mind, and also that you love your neighbor as yourself. Get busy with that, and then, if God wants you to do something unusual, he’ll take care of it. Say, for example, he wants you to go to Egypt.” Rich would pause for a moment before flashing his trademark grin. If that’s the case, he’ll provide eleven jealous brothers and they’ll sell you into slavery.”

When I find myself wrestling with life decisions, I think of Rich’s Egypt Principle. It makes me laugh, and then it asks me to get down to the serious business of determining which of my options allows me to best love God and other people. Such an approach reminds me, once again, that my life with God is personal but never private. It usually rules out certain possibilities, while affirming — even creating — several others. 

Sometimes, once I’ve narrowed down my alternatives in light of the Great Commandment to love God and other people, the determinative jealous brothers” do show up. A scholarship comes through at one school and not another. A job offer is escalated or rescinded. Other times, however, I’m left standing at the junction of several seemingly reasonable pathways, miserable with uncertainty. If only Rich were around to dispatch further wisdom! 

It’s when I reach those loggerheads that I am once again grateful for the passive, imperative verbs Jesus teaches us. Ultimately, the third petition is much less Tell me your will so I can do it” than it is Please do your will in me.”

What’s more, as helpful as this prayer is when I don’t know what to do, it’s even more essential when I do know what God is asking of me, but I’m unable to align my will with his. Even when you can’t be willing to do what God is asking,” a friend often reminds me, you can be willing to be willing.” The third petition invites me to move from a position of willfulness to willingness, giving God an opening to begin to complete his will in me in the way only he can. 

How do we live God’s will?

The Jesus who teaches us to pray the third petition is, of course, its perfect model. My food,” he once told his disciples, is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34).

It’s worth noting that Jesus’ way of doing his Father’s will often seemed to defy productivity models and baffle his disciples. He seldom took the fastest way anywhere, preferring circuitous routes that gave him more time on the road with his friends. He was eminently interruptible, particularly by children and outcasts. And he had a tendency to slip away at seemingly inopportune moments to pray.

It’s a tragedy, Eugene Peterson used to say, when we end up doing Jesus things” in a way that Jesus would never do them. More than once I’ve participated in an evangelistic event where the behind-the-scenes volunteers were treated like cogs in a machine. We’ve all seen debates over right doctrine turn ugly. And I wince when I remember the times I let my graduate studies in theology — a path on which I was clear Jesus was leading me— turn into an obsessive quest for grades at the expense of time with my family.

So as we pray this third petition, it’s important to remember we are asking for God’s will to be done not only in what we do, but also in how we do it. We’re asking the Holy Spirit to teach us how to do Jesus things in the Jesus way.

  1. Parts of this story are adapted from my article You Probably Won’t Be Sent to Egypt,” originally published in the July 2013 issue of Christianity Today. ↩︎

Taken from The Universe in 57 Words by Carolyn Arends. Copyright © 2021 Carolyn Arends. Published by Renovaré and available on

Image: Detail from Exodus (19521966) oil on canvas by Marc Chagall, Courtesy National Museum Marc Chagall, Nice.

Text First Published May 2021 · Last Featured on April 2022