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The Plan of Prayer, Part 1

Matthew 6:10 December 09, 1979 2237

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Matthew chapter 6, verses 9 through 13.  I want to read again this passage in your hearing, as a setting for what the Spirit of God would say to us in this study this morning.  Beginning in verse 9 of Matthew 6: “After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.”

The Bible teaches us the power of prayer.  I really believe that.  I believe that prayer makes a difference; I believe that prayer is effective; I believe that prayer works.  Abraham’s servant prayed, and Rebekah appeared, Jacob wrestled and prayed, and prevailed with Christ, and Esau’s mind was turned from twenty years of revenge.  Joshua prayed, and Akan was discovered.  Hannah prayed, and Samuel was born.  David prayed, and Ahithophel hanged himself.  Asa prayed, and victory was won.  Jehoshaphat prayed, and God turned away his enemies.  Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed, and in twelve hours a hundred and eighty five thousand Assyrians were slain.  Mordecai and Esther prayed, and the plot to destroy the Jews was thwarted, and Haman was hanged in his own gallows.  Ezra prayed at Ahava, and God answered.  Nehemiah prayed, and the king’s heart was softened in a moment.  Elijah prayed, and there were three years of drought, and he prayed again, and it rained.  Elisha prayed, and a child was raised from the dead.  Believers prayed, and Peter was released from jail.  And so it goes.

I believe prayer works.  I believe prayer is effective, because there is a record of its effectiveness revealed in Scripture.  But beyond that, there is the explicit statement of the Word of God itself that prayer is effective.  In James chapter 5 and verse 16, it says, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Further, it says, giving illustration of the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availing much, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”  

You say, “Ah, but that’s Elijah; I mean Elijah’s a prophet.”  And so James throws in the little phrase, “But Elijah was a man of like passions as we are.”  If God answered Elijah’s prayer, God will answer our prayers.  We may not be able to pray the same things because we don’t have revelation from God that that is His will.  We, in agreement with God’s will, however, have the same right to expect God to move.  “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  We are to pray.  Jesus said we are to pray always and not to faint.  Paul said we are to pray without ceasing.  Paul said we are to pray always, with all prayer and supplication.  I believe God answers prayer; very specifically and very directly, God answers prayer.

Now, that brings up a very interesting issue – a very interesting issue.  The phrase that we want to concentrate on this morning in our study is the phrase, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  And in just saying that phrase, you’re immediately faced with a dilemma.  Do we really need to say, “God, Your will be done?”  Isn’t God sovereign anyway?  Isn’t that a rather useless thing to say?  Isn’t it apparent that God’s will, will be done?  Now, some people have even taken this concept so far that they question the validity of prayer altogether.  The question always comes up, is not God absolutely sovereign; doesn’t He not only know the beginning and the end but doesn’t He determine everything in between?  Isn’t God in charge of everything?  And if He is, and it’s all working according to His plan, and it’s all flowing down the way He wants it to flow, then why are we praying, “Thy will be done?”  Isn’t it anyway? 

And then the question comes, “Does God change His mind?”  Are we really praying to get God to do something other than what He had planned to do?  Someone else may say, “Well, does our will prevail over God’s will?  Does God will a certain thing, but if we’re persistent enough, He says, ‘Well, if you’re going to be that persistent about it, go ahead and have it?’”  Does God have to answer our prayers at all?  Just how does prayer fit in to who God is?  I guess you could sum the whole thing up by asking two very simple questions: if God is sovereign why pray?  If God is sovereign why pray?  Or maybe another question: if prayer is commanded, then how can God be sovereign?

Now, I believe that there’s an answer to this, but I don’t know what it is, because I believe this is one of the great paradoxes of Scripture that tells me again that the mind of God is infinitely beyond my own mind, for this is an impossible dilemma, for me – but not for God.  The majesty of God, the incredible gap between the best of human thinking and the knowledge of God, is illustrated to me in the fact that I have no ability to resolve such an apparent contradiction, which is no contradiction at all in the mind of God.  And it can be illustrated so many ways.  For example if I say to you, “Who wrote Matthew?”  I’ll probably get two answers; some will say, “Matthew,” and some will say, “The Holy Spirit” – which is right?  Well, you say, it was Matthew and the Holy Spirit.  What do you mean?  Did Matthew write a verse and then say, “All right, Holy Spirit, Your verse,” and back and forth?  No.  They didn’t alternate verses, or chapters, or sections.  Was Matthew nothing but a robot, and the Holy Spirit dictated it through him?  No, because it’s Matthew’s heart and soul, it’s Matthew’s feelings, it’s Matthew’s vocabulary, it’s Matthew, but it’s the Holy Spirit, too.  You say, “You can’t be 200% of something” – not in your mind.  And that’s just a good reminder of where you are in comparison to where God is.

If I say to you, “Who lives your Christian life?” you say, “Not I, but Christ liveth in me.”  And yet Paul says, “I beat my body to bring it into subjection.”  Who’s doing it, you or Him?  Both.  It’s got to be all of you, total commitment – present your body as a living sacrifice – but it’s all of Him – not I, but Christ.  How can it be all of me and all of Him?  Well it can’t be in our reasoning, but that’s again the proof that God is infinitely beyond us.  If I ask you, “Was Jesus God or man,” what’s the answer?  Yes.  It’s like the old question, is it colder in the mountains or in the winter?  Yes.  Again, you have the paradox.  He is God, 100%.  He is man, 100%.  You can’t be 200% of something – only in our minds, because of the limitations of our conception.  That’s a paradox. 

How did you become a Christian?  You say, “It was settled before the foundation of the world.  I was chosen in Him.  He wrote my name in the Lamb’s book of life.  It was all predetermined.”  But how did you become a Christian?  “I came because I chose Jesus Christ.”  Was it you or Him?  Both.  All you?  Yes, with a whole heart.  All Him?  Yes, totally designed in sovereignty.  Well, how can you possibly understand both of those?  Listen, I believe both of them, and do me a favor, when you find those kinds of paradox in Scripture, and you’ll find them at all the points of great doctrine, don’t come up with something in the middle and ruin both of them.  That’s what the temptation is.  It’s like the guy who said, “Salvation is God throws one vote for you, the devil throws a vote against you, and you cast the deciding vote.”  That isn’t true.  Don’t try to find some middle ground; let them exist.

Listen: God is sovereign.  God has predetermined the flow of the universe.  God knows the end from the beginning.  God will do what God will do.  On the other hand, prayer works.  If you don’t understand how those come together, don’t let your theology destroy your prayer life; and that happens.  That kind of attitude that says, “Well, it’s all going to be done His way anyway, so what’s the need to pray,” literally denies the Scripture.

Now, in looking at the phrase “Thy will be done,” we opened up for ourselves an incredible amount of understanding, and you can relax because we’re not even going to begin to cover it this morning.  It’s going to take us awhile.  “Thy will be done.”  Now, what about this prayer?  Look back at it for a minute.  Is this a ritual that’s to be prayed every Sunday morning?  No. It’s all right to do that.  I think sometimes over-familiarity can kind of kill the meaning, but it’s not wrong.  But what is this?  Well, this is a pattern for every prayer.  And the last thing God wants somebody to do is just to recite it as a routine.  It must be something which flows out of a truly committed heart.  I mean this ought to be a definition of your spirit, your attitude toward God, what’s inside of you, and it ought to come out in different terms, and different words, all centered around these same thoughts.

Let me tell you what I mean by that.  Some unknown author put it this way: “I cannot say ‘our’ if I live only for myself in a spiritually watertight compartment.  I cannot say ‘Father’ if I do not endeavor each day to act like His child.  I cannot say “who art in heaven” if I am laying up no treasure there.  I cannot say “hallowed be Thy name” if I am not striving for holiness.  I cannot say “Thy kingdom come” if I am not doing all in my power to hasten that wonderful event.  I cannot say ‘Thy will be done’ if I am disobedient to His Word.  I cannot say ‘in earth as it is in heaven’ if I’ll not serve Him here and now.  I cannot say ‘give us this day our daily bread’ if I am dishonest, or if I am seeking things by subterfuge.  I cannot say ‘forgive us our debts’ if I harbor a grudge against anyone.  I cannot say ‘lead us not into temptation’ if I deliberately place myself in its path.  I cannot say ‘deliver us from evil’ if I do not put on the whole armor of God.  I cannot say ‘Thine is the kingdom’ if I do not give to the King the loyalty due Him as a faithful subject.  I cannot attribute to Him the power if I fear what men may do.  I cannot ascribe to Him the glory if I’m seeking honor only for myself.  And I cannot say ‘forever’ if the horizon of my life is bounded completely by time.”  

What is he saying?  He is saying this is an expression of a heart attitude, of a right relationship to God.  And it becomes then a pattern of praying, that will dominate all our prayers.  If the focus of our heart is right, this is the way we’ll pray.

Now, what have we seen already?  Well the prayer opened with God’s paternity, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and then God’s priority, “Hallowed be thy name.”  And then God’s program, “Thy kingdom come.”  And now, God’s plan, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  And again we’re focusing on God.  We saw God’s paternity.  When we pray we recognize in the beginning of our prayer that God is a loving Father, that we’re not going to a fearful dragon, we’re not going to some evil deity, we’re not going cowering for fear of what He’s going to do to us, but God is our loving Father, and He wishes the best for us, and He seeks the best for us.  Not only that, He is in heaven, it says, which means that He has at His disposal all of the resources of eternity to meet the desires of His heart toward His beloved children.  So we come to “Our Father who art in heaven.”

The first petition that we have is “Hallowed be thy name.”  That’s God’s priority.  We seek that in us and through us, His name would be holy, His name would be sanctified.  And then we see God’s program, “Thy kingdom come.”  Our desire is for the manifestation of His kingdom on the earth, our desire is that His rule and His reign be seen here, and we showed you that that comes in three ways.  First of all, in conversion: the kingdom comes to the one who believes, as Christ become s ruler of His life.  Secondly, in commitment: as a believer lives by righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit, Romans 14, the kingdom of God is manifest in his life; and thirdly, by His coming again, as He returns to set up His earthly and millennial kingdom.

And now we come to this great thought of God’s plan, “Thy will be done.”  Whenever we pray we are to pray in accord with God’s will – we are to pray in accord with God’s will.  Now, I want you to think this through, because it is a very important statement.  All our prayers, I suppose, come down to that bottom line: “God, Your will be done.”  Now, taking the literal Greek of this simple statement, it says something like this: “Your will, whatever You wish to happen, let it happen immediately.”  And then the Greek says, “as in heaven,” puts heaven first, “so in earth.”  In other words, “God, do what You want.”  That’s the bottom line in prayer.  “Do what You desire, do what’s in Your heart to be done.”  That’s the petition. 

I think David prayed that way in Psalm 40, verse 8 when he said, “I delight to do thy will, 0 my God.”  I love that.  “I delight to do thy will, 0 my God.”  He wanted to know it, and he wanted to do it; that was his heart.  You see it with Christ, don’t you?  In John 4:34, He said, “My food is to do the will of him that sent me.”  In John 6:38, He said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will but the will of him that sent me.”  In 3:35 He says, “Whosoever doeth the will of the Father, the same is my mother, and sister, and brother.”  And several of the Gospels record Him in the garden, praying in agony, and saying, “Nevertheless, not my will, but” – what – “thine, be done.”  Jesus always prayed that God’s will be done.  “Thy will be done.”

Now listen, what does that mean to do that?  What are we really saying?  Today I want to cover the negative, and next week the positive.  And I want you to listen, because I think this will give you some fresh insight into prayer.  There are people who pray, “Thy will be done,” but they pray it with the wrong understanding.  First of all, there are people who say, “Thy will be done” in an attitude of bitter resentment – in an attitude of bitter resentment.  In other words, it is a statement of someone who believes they cannot escape from the inevitable, and they’re mad about it.  Now, I believe this is built on a lack of knowledge about God.  They think God is an oppressive, dictatorial, overbearing, selfish, cruel individual, and so saying “Thy will be done” is a bitter resentment. 

William Barclay says, “Some people say ‘Thy will be done’ not because they wish to say it, but because they’ve accepted the fact that they can’t possibly say anything else.  They have accepted the fact that God is too strong for them, and that it is useless to batter their heads against the walls of the universe.”  You may have been through that in your life.  You may have come to some situation in your life where you say, “Thy will be done,” almost with clenched teeth.  Maybe in the loss of a dear precious child, someone you loved, a broken love, physical extremities, and you said, “God, Your will be done,” bitterly.  Omar Khayyam had an amazing view of God; listen to what he wrote.  “But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days; Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays, And one by one back in the closet lays.”  He saw God as a Checker player, with total power over the pieces, moving them at His whims, and when He was done He put them in the closet.  He wrote another verse, he sees God as a cricket player with a bat, and man as the ball, which has absolutely no choice about where it goes, and he writes, “The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes, But Here or There as strikes the Player goes; And He that Toss’d you down into the Field, He knows about it all - He knows - HE knows!”  Bitter resentment toward the inevitable “Thy will be done.”

The first hymn you sung this morning was “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The melody was written by Ludwig van Beethoven, but Beethoven didn’t understand the English words.  By the way, I understand the English translation was very favorable to the original German, which didn’t express the same thought at all.  In fact, instead of the love of God, the original has the magic of God.  The whole idea is humanitarianism, and it’s talking about the brotherhood of man.  The English translation has been given a Christian sense.  Beethoven wrote beautiful music, but I’m quite sure he wouldn’t identify with the Christian and English words, because life was very hard to Beethoven.  For a man whose entire soul was committed to music, it must have been an unbelievable fate to become stone deaf.  The biographers tell us that when Beethoven died, they found his body, and his fists were clenched, fingernails literally digging into his palms, as if he were to strike God; and his lips were drawn back in a snarl, as if to spit defiance and bitterness at the God who had made him deaf.  You see, some people approach life that way; they just become bitter and angry at God.  “Thy will be done,” it becomes the statement of the inevitable, of a cruel and uncaring God.

There are other people who say, “Thy will be done,” and they don’t necessarily mean bitter resentment; they mean what I’ll call passive resignation.  “Thy will be done.  Whatever You want to do, Lord; I can’t do anything about it anyway.  Thy will be done.”  This isn’t so much a lack of knowledge about God.  The first one I see as a lack of understanding that God is a loving Father, a lack of understanding that God cares, that God’s heart breaks over the pain of man, a lack of understanding that God loves, so much so that He died in the midst of His love.  There’s a lack of understanding in the bitter resentment perspective, but here it’s a lack of faith – the passive resignation that basically feels, “You know, I just don’t get too concerned about the whole thing, because prayer doesn’t do much anyway.  Just resign yourself; it’s God’s will.”  It’s kind of like admitting defeat, sort of passively. 

I think I personally can identify to that in my own life.  After my freshman year of college, when some of you know I had a car accident that almost took my life – I was thrown out of a car going 75 miles an hour, slid down a highway about a hundred and ten yards, and lost a lot of my backside, and friction, and third-degree burns, and then some tearing, and whatever happens when you slide down a road – I don’t advise it.  It was an amazing experience.  I was wide awake the whole time, never lost consciousness.  My eyes were wide open = I even stayed in my own lane.  But when it was all said and done, I remember very vividly I was still conscious, and didn’t have any broken bones because of the way I had slid rather than rolled or tumbled.  

And I walked off the highway, and I stood on the side, and I can remember very vividly, among many thoughts that passed through my mind the thought of, “All right, God, if You’re going to fight this way, I give.  I mean I can’t handle this.”  I knew God had called me into the ministry, but I was trying to chart my life in another direction, and I think God just grabbed me by the nape of the neck, and hit me on the pavement a few times, and said, “Now are you willing to listen?”  And at that point, I realized I couldn’t fight it, right?  And I actually had a passive resignation; I said, “Okay, Lord, if it’s this big of a deal, You’re going to get so excited about it, and You’re going to roll this car over with five other kids in it, and chase me halfway across the state of Alabama on my backside, if it’s this important to You okay, okay.”  And it was at that point that I passively resigned myself to the fact that my plans were over.  And over the period of the next three months that passive resignation became an active commitment, as God really began to refine my life and draw me to Himself. 

But I know there are people who just say, “Thy will be done,” at the end of a prayer, and what they’re really saying is “God, I don’t have any kind of faith at all that my prayer is going to do a bit of good, and so I’m just going to say this ’cause I know this will cover everything.”  Is that how you pray?  “Thy will be done.”  Just a little thing you tack on to cover the inevitable, because you really don’t believe your prayer is going to make a difference anyway.  This is accepting that it’s all going to turn out the way God wants it to turn out, joylessly, in a rather tired, weary, defeated, resigned un-thrilled way.  This is what Barclay calls it, and I think this is a great phrase, “Prayer with a gray acceptance” – “Prayer with a gray acceptance.”

The perspective, you see, is very, very often true of Christians.  We manifest this over and over again.  The primary reason – I really believe this – the primary reason – I really believe everything I say I just thought I’d throw that in.  The primary reason that I believe our prayer life is as weak as it is, is that we don’t really believe it’ll do anything anyway.  We just bail out on the passive resignation.  We talk to the Lord about something, and then we just sort of leave it and go on, because we really don’t think it’ll make a difference anyway.  We say, “Thy will be done,” as if we already know in advance that what we’re asking for probably won’t happen. 

Classic illustration, Acts chapter 12: Peter’s in prison and the church is concerned, why?  “Well,” you say, “Peter’s been in prison before.  What are they so upset about?  That’s just a new ministry for him.”  Well, they were upset because there was another one of their number who had been in prison just prior to Peter, under Herod, and he lost his head, and his name was James, the brother of John.  And so they saw a new wave of anger, and so when Peter was in prison, they feared that the same thing would happen to Peter that happened to James, the brother of John, and he would be beheaded or something.  

And so they got over to Mary the mother of John Mark’s house, and they started this prayer meeting in Acts 12, and they began to pray, “Oh God, release Peter, oh Lord, release Peter,” and they were having their little prayer meeting, and the angel of the Lord came in and got him out of jail.  And Peter thought he ought to go across town to the prayer meeting and see the folks, and so he went over and he banged on the door, and Rhoda the little maid came to the door, and she didn’t even open the door.  She just asked who it was, and she recognized his voice, and she ran in and that’s a fast answer folks – they’re not even done with the prayer meeting yet, and he’s knocking on the door.  And she ran back in and she said, “It’s Peter at the door, it’s Peter at the door.”  And they said, “Oh, Rhoda.  Don’t you know he’s in prison?  That’s why we’re praying here.  We’re having this prayer meeting because he’s in prison.  Now get back on your knees.”  And she persisted; she said, “No, it’s Peter!”  

And some astute theologian said, “Perhaps it’s his angel.”  What a dumb statement.  If it’s Peter’s angel, when did Peter ever need his angel more than when he was in prison?  What was his angel doing trying to get in the prayer meeting?  And finally, she persisted, and they went out, and they brought Peter in, and the Bible says, “They were all astonished.”  Why?  Because I think they were like so many other evangelicals; even at that time, when they had seen the hand of God, they questioned whether their prayers would do any good anyway.  How easy it is for us to fall into that passive resignation that makes our prayers insipid. 

And let me take this from another angle that disturbs me –

we want to just classify everything.  It’s Thy will, it’s the Lord’s will, it’s the Lord’s – now, this may shock you, but the very statement, “Thy will be done in earth,” assumes that that’s not always what?  True.  Did you get that?  That’s so obvious it’s silly, but it’s profound.  To say, “Thy will be done on earth,” assumes that it doesn’t always happen.  We said, “Hallowed be thy name.”  Are there times and places when His name is not hallowed?  Yes.  “Thy kingdom come.”  Are there hearts that reject is reign?  Truly, there are.  And so when we say, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  We have to say the same thing it isn’t always His will.  Listen, not everything that happens in the world is His will in this sense.  Now, you need to understand that; otherwise, the petition is pointless, and the Lord is asking us to mumble things that are meaningless.

You say, “What do you mean by that?”  Very often, you know, you hear of going into a house, someone goes into a house, and there’s a terrible sorrow in the house because a child has died.  Maybe the child died of a fatal disease, or perhaps the child was killed by an automobile or an awful accident, and someone says, “Well, it’s the Lord’s will; it’s the Lord’s will.”  Or you go into a house where a mother, who is so needed by the husband and the children, is racked with cancer, and she’s fast fading in this life, and somebody says, “Well, it’s the Lord’s will.”  Or you hear about a disaster, and a flood, and an earthquake, and a fire, and a train wreck, and an airplane crash, and a famine, and a bunch of starving boat people, and you say, “Well, it’s the Lord’s will.”  And you know what?  If you start looking at things like that, it will literally suck the energy right out of your prayer life.  It’ll make you impotent so fast, if that’s how you perceive the world.  Now, this may sound heretical, but in this context, people, that is not God’s will.  That is the kind of stuff that Jesus came into the world to stop.  Because “God is not willing that any should perish,” and believe me there are people perishing all over the place.  God, who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and not all men do.  God’s will is done in heaven, but it isn’t always done on earth.

You say, “Well, now wait a minute – God has to allow it.”  That’s right.  But do not make it the expression of His will; that is an expression, thelēma, that means a strong desire.  It is not God’s strong desire that people die – else why would He come to destroy death?  It is not God’s strong desire that people go to hell = else why would He die, and provide the salvation that keeps them from going there?  Granted, I’m confident God allowed man the choice to do good or evil.  I believe man has a choice; I also believe God is sovereign.  That’s another one of those paradoxes I have to deal with.  God has allowed sin; God has allowed the cup of iniquity to be full.  It is not the expression of His will, He tolerates it.  God is not responsible for sin, and He’s not responsible for its consequences, it’s not His will.  Let me show you what I mean by that.  There’s a tension here – I know there’s a tension, and some of you are fighting it in your mind.  In Matthew 10:28, it says, “Fear not those who destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  That’s God.  God will destroy soul and body in hell.  That’s not Satan, that’s God.  Satan is one of the being destroyed ones he’s not the one doing it.  God destroys soul and body in hell.  You say, “Well, it must be the will of God that they be destroyed.”  No, 2 Peter 3:9, “God is not willing that any should perish.”  God’s holiness, and God’s justice, and God’s righteousness must provide for dealing with sin, but that is not God’s will.  That’s not His strong desire; that’s within the framework of His tolerance.  In John 5:40, our dear Lord said, “You will not come unto me, that you might have life.”  He wept over the city of Jerusalem, and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest those that are sent unto you, how oft I would have gathered you, as a chicken gathereth her brood, but you would not!”

You see the same thing, I think, in Jeremiah 13.  God speaks through Jeremiah and says, “You have not heard my Word, you have not obeyed My commandments.”  He says, “I will destroy you, I will make you drunk, I will dash you against one another, I will bring upon you the darkness of death,” and all of this terrible, fearful judgment in Jeremiah 13, and then in the next verse, it says, “And if you don’t obey, and you don’t turn around, and I have to do this, then my eye will weep with bitter tears.”  Why?  Because that’s never the expression of God’s great desire for man.  “God so loved the world that he gave his Son.”  Why?  That men might be saved from those judgments.  Let me talk a little more about this.  You say, “Well, then why did God allow sin?”  You know, I’m a father, and if I said to my oldest son, “You know, Matt, you’re fifteen.  In a few years, you’re going to leave this house.  That day will come sooner than I like to think.  You’re on your own, son.”  And if my son, God forbid, should go out and enter a life of sin, is that my will?  No, that would break my heart.  And yet he lives within the framework of choice.  Because I gave him the freedom doesn’t mean what he did with it is my will, and I as a father might have to deal with the consequences, and bring them to bear in his life, if I still could.

God is a loving Father.  Mankind in a very general sense, and even a believer, you have the right to express your will, don’t you?  You can choose to sin or to be righteous every day.  Do you think God wants you to choose sin?  I had a person say to me a couple of years ago, “God’s will is expressed in your sin.”  I said, “I don’t see that in the Bible.”  He says, “But that’s the logical conclusion necessary if God is sovereign.”  Then I said, “Your logic is really in trouble.  You’d better realize that your mind and God’s don’t work the same way.”  God is of purer eyes than to behold evil.  God tempts no man to sin.  God never brings you into sin as an expression of His will, and yet God has given to man the freedom.

You say, “Well, why did God allow sin?”  I don’t know.  People always say, “I just have one question, Pastor; why did God allow sin?”  I don’t know, but I am going to give a good guess.  And this is one that theologians have discussed for a long time.  When Lucifer fell – now you’re going to ask me, “How did that happen?”  I don’t know that either.  People say, “Did pride come from the inside of him?”  No, cause he was perfect.  “Did it come from outside of him?”  No, cause the environment was perfect.  “Where did it come from?”  I don’t know.  God knows.  But Lucifer sinned.  All right, now God had two options.  Option number one: destroy Lucifer, immediately on the spot, destruction.  And if He had done that, maybe some other angels would have said, “You know, there must be something about that sin stuff that really upsets God.  I wonder if He’s afraid of it.  I wonder if He’s afraid of its potential.  I wonder what it is about that?”  And maybe God would have spent all of history, and all of eternity, doing nothing but wiping out rebellious angels. 

On the other hand, when Lucifer sinned God could say, “All right, I will allow evil to run its full course so that it will literally spend itself, and if it has a point to prove, let it be proven.”  I believe God chose to do that; rather than have the constant possibility of another rebellion, He let the rebellion go full blast, and it’ll ultimately run itself out, like a comet that fades, forever dead, never to rise again, so that all eternity is preserved from ever again a sinful expression.  God let it run, He let it gather all of the host of angels who wanted it, He let it gather the hearts of men, all the while in human history providing, for every man who would come, a way of escape.  But He has allowed evil to run its course, because God sees the bigger picture of all eternity, when once and for all, it has flamed out, and never again to appear.  And listen: during this time when evil is running the gamut, beloved, that is not by any stretch of the imagination the will of God.  That’s not His desire.  It fits within His tolerance, and only in order that it may be destroyed.  So you can’t say, “Thy will be done,” in bitter resentment and get the meaning of it.  You can’t say, “Thy will be done,” in passive resignation – “well, everything’s God’s will.”  It’s not

Thirdly, and we’ve already hinted at this, there are some people who say, “Thy will be done,” with theological reservation, and I’ve already kind of started in on this point anyway.  To them it’s theology; it’s just God’s going to do what He’s going to do, and He runs everything, and it’s all cut and dried, and so don’t worry about it.  No pleading, no intensity, no passion.  I can’t honestly say that I ever met anybody who really took this hard line who had much of a prayer life at all.  Theological reservation says, “Well, I don’t really need to pray, because after all, it’s all cut and dried, it’s all settled, it’s all God’s will, everything’s God’s will.”  You know, this is, “Well, God’s up there, and He is big, and He runs everything.

Kind of like June Bingham wrote a book called Courage To Change, which is a study of Reinhold Niebuhr, who was a liberal theologian.  But it was telling about the fact that one day Neiber said to a little girl, his little girl I guess, “Let’s take a walk, honey,” and she said, “I don’t want to take a walk.”  And he said “Oh,” he said, “the birds will sing, and the flowers will sway in the breeze, and the trees will be there, and the sunlight.  Oh, it’ll be so lovely; let’s take a walk.”  And finally she took a walk with him, and when they had their walk, and they came back, and he said to this little girl, he said, “Now, didn’t you enjoy that, didn’t you really love that?”  She said, “No, I really didn’t decide; it was just that you were bigger.”  I guess a lot of little kids do things ’cause we’re bigger, don’t they? 

And maybe that’s somebody’s view of God; God is just the all-encompassing, overarching individual, who is so much bigger than we are that there really is little choice, and so we just do it.  But I wonder in my heart if that attitude can ever, ever bring about the heart of David, who said, “Oh, how I love thy law.”  That kind of theological reservation, where it’s just a matter of a theological definition of God, and everything fits under it, is so impersonal to me.  These are all fatalistic, just fatalistic.  But that’s not what we’re talking about when we say, “Thy will be done;” not at all.  We’re not just fatalistically giving up to God’s overarching will, for which we have absolutely no choice or alternative.

Listen: there is a choice.  Let me show you an illustration, and I’m going to close with this, in Luke 18, and I want to just wrap this up.  Now, stay with me; I don’t want you to turn your mind off at this point, ’cause here’s the whole climax to what I’ve been saying.  “He spoke a parable unto them to this end” – “to this end” = what was the purpose of the parable?  What was He trying to teach?  He was trying to teach “that men ought always to pray, and not to” – what – faint.”  In other words, you don’t want to just stop praying, you don’t want to quit, you don’t want to become weary, you don’t want to file it somewhere, you ought always to pray, and never to stop.  You ought to pray, and never get weary, never faint.  That’s the point here.  And then He tells a story, “In a certain city there was a judge, who feared not God, or regarded man.  And there was a widow in the city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Avenge me of mine adversary.’”  She said, “I’ve been wronged.  There is an injustice here, judge, and you make it right.” 

Well, he wouldn’t do it for a while, “but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I fear not God, nor regard man’” – in other words I don’t have any outside pressure coming from anyplace.  “Because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”  In other words, “I’m so sick of hearing this woman I’m going to do what she asked, because I’ve got to get rid of her.”  You know that, you’ve done it with your kids.  They ask you, the first time you say “no,” about the fifteenth time, you say, “Yes, yes, yes, please, and do it now.”  Well, this was the kind of a thing, and so what is the thing trying to teach us?  The Lord says, “Hear what the unjust judge says; and shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?  I tell you, he will avenge them speedily.”  In other words, listen, if an unjust judge will give justice to a badgering woman, what will a just, loving, righteous, caring God our Father give to His children – you see, it’s fabulous - if they are persistent?  The parallel Jesus drew was obviously not between God and the judge – there’s no parallel at all – but between the widow and the petitioner.

Now, let me tell you two things, and this is fabulous in this thing, two things that woman brought up.  One, she refused to accept an unjust situation; she wouldn’t accept it.  And number two, she persisted with her case.  “I will not accept this unjust situation, I will not tolerate this thing,” and she just kept it up and kept it up.  Now listen, this is a good word for us.  We have a right, beloved – now, listen to me - to refuse to accept certain situations in the world.  We have that right.  We have a right to refuse to accept the way things are, and to pray persistently that God would do them the way they ought to be done.  Now, what do you mean here?  Well, what I’m trying to say is “Thy will be done” is not gray acceptance.  I believe praying “Thy will be done” – now, listen to me – in many cases is nothing less than rebellion.  You say, ”Now, wait a minute.  You mean our prayers are to be rebellion?”  Yeah, I believe they’re a form of rebellion.  You say, “What are we rebelling against?”  Listen to this: I believe prayer in this way is rebellion against the world in its fallenness.  It is rebellion against accepting as normal what is pervasively abnormal.  It is rebelling against the usurper.  It is rebelling against every agenda, and every scheme, and every interpretation, and every deed, and every word, and every movement that is at odds with the will of God.  It is being under the altar in Revelation 6, and crying, “How long, 0 Lord, will You tolerate this the way it is?”  It is with David as he prays, “0 God, do not let your enemies prosper, do not let unrighteous men fare well.”

Listen, I believe when we pray, “Thy will be done,” it is rebellion against the evil of the world, it is rebellion against the inevitability of sin, it is rebellion against the consequence of sin.  I believe we literally have to assault the gates of heaven, as it were, with our rebellion.  We will not stand by and let our theology, and our passive resignation, or our bitter resentment just say, “Oh, well, it’s all God’s will,” because it is not.  I could say as a pastor, “Well, you know, certain families broke up; well, it’s God’s will.”  It’s not God’s will, and I rebel against that, and I will persist to pray about that.  Or a certain church collapses, “Well it’s the Lord’s” – it’s not God’s will.  A certain person enters into sin, that’s not God’s will.  We must pray “Thy will be done on earth,” because it is not being done on earth, do you see?  This is not some passive thing.  That’s why Jesus said, “At all times pray, and do not lose heart.”  What do you mean lose heart?  Don’t acquiesce to what is.

Now, you know something?  After you’ve done all that, maybe it doesn’t turn out the way you want.  You know, Christians have been praying for Jesus to come a long time, haven’t they?  “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Come, Lord Jesus.  You don’t deserve this kind of treatment.  Oh, Lord, come and set up Your kingdom, come and be glorified, come and be honored.”  We’ve been praying for two thousand years, and we’ll keep praying because – why?  Because we rebel against the fallenness of the world, we rebel against the things that harm and injure the Lord Jesus Christ, we rebel against that which goes against His precious Word, and we ought to have that spirit.  We ought to have that.  Jesus, I see Him so magnificently in the garden, and He’s praying, and beloved, you’ve got to see it; His prayer is a prayer of rebellion.  It says He said in Matthew 26:3, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”  And He didn’t stop there, verse 42: “He went again the second time, and said, ‘Father if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, Thy will be done.’”  

And then it says, down later, “He came to His disciples and He found them sleeping.”  Now, listen: three times the Lord prayed that prayer, and after each time He came down and found them sleeping.  You know something?  That’s sad.  Jesus never accepted the status quo.  He didn’t say, “Oh well, the cross, the cross, it’s Your will, it’s Your will.”  He said, “Oh, God, does it have to be this way?  I rebel against this sinfulness, I rebel against the power of sin to take my life, I rebel against the necessity for bearing sin, I rebel against these things that violate the sanctity of Your holy universe.”  And He was in the midst of His rebellion against the fallenness of the world, and the disciples were sacked out.  Why?  They slept simply because they were indifferent.

How about your prayer life?  Are you praying “Thy will be done in earth,” because it isn’t always being done?  And are you persisting, not for some private or a personal thing to gain, but because you cry out for God to be glorified?  “Thy will be done.”  It’s not those things.  Next week we’ll find out the positive side; let’s pray.

Father, thank You for touching our hearts again with Your truth; Paul sang a while ago that he touched the heart of God in prayer, and certainly the reverse is true, You touch us through Your Word.  Thank You for the dear people that You send to us every week to study, to worship, to praise Your name.  Father, this has not been a classroom, this is not academics, this is a call to worship, a call to praise and adoration, a call to glorify your name.  May we hear it faithfully.  Amen.


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