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 247 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 ren​o​vare​.org.

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

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