“Thy Will Be Done”
Whether you are new to church or have been around for a while, you have likely prayed “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done.” How can we tell the difference between God’s will and our subconscious telling us what we want to hear?
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 4Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
I have a vivid childhood memory of standing in the kitchen at another family’s home. I was eating a piece of pineapple doing what kids are pretty good at—eavesdropping as adults assume they aren’t paying attention. I listened as a woman told my mom how she was praying that the Lord would bless her family with a brown Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme station wagon with a luggage rack. I remember finding it odd that God would care about such a thing. Plus, if you were praying for a car, why not request something more exciting than a brown station wagon? Did God have some problem with a Corvette or convertible Mercedes?
Since the family did end up getting the brown family truckster, did God have anything to do with it? What about the multitude of concerns in life that are much more significant than material possessions?
Many of you here today are going through times of anxiety and transition. Numerous young people have just found out what school you will attend next year and are thrilled about the decision. On the flip side, some families fear that your life plan has already been derailed because your child wasn’t admitted to your first choice nursery school or high school or college.
We have a large group of adults in housing transitions. Some are downsizing or upsizing and competing for the very limited number of spaces out there, while others would do anything to simply find a room in a building with a stable landlord.
Others are seeking new employment, or trying to find something good about your existing job and feeling guilty that you aren’t more appreciative.
Too many of you are dealing with matters of life and death—the nightmarish medical prognosis, recent loss of loved ones, chronic pain or depression that you don’t talk about anymore because you’re sick of burdening your friends.
Where is God during these times?
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People and numerous other books, told NPR that fresh out of seminary, he operated under a model that God was in control and had a reason for everything. When counseling a family who had experienced the death of their 17-year-old son, he reports saying something along the lines of, “We can’t understand why this happened, but we have to believe that somewhere down the road, we’ll see that it made sense,” Kushner says. “And, God, I wish I could take those words back today, 60 years later.”
He essentially provided his version of “everything happens for a reason.”
After experiencing the loss of his own first-born son, Rabbi Kushner’s faith thinking changed dramatically: “The . . . theological conclusion I came to is that God . . . chose to designate two areas of life off-limits to his power,” Kushner says. “He would not arbitrarily interfere with laws of nature. And secondly, God would not take away our freedom to choose between good and evil.”
My intent today isn’t to limit the power of God. When I look at the stars or the ocean or the miracles that each and every one of you are, I trust that God can do anything.
At the same time, I have personally spent time with too many people who have lost babies and teenagers and mothers and fathers and friends to awful circumstances to assume that God willed those things to happen.
God gives us free will because true love requires free will.
Just as God gives us the freedom to choose whether to believe in and love our Creator, God gives us the space to make decisions (including very poor ones). In that same freedom for the natural world, hurricanes and earthquakes and cancer and evil can exist.
So with free will, how do we tell the difference between my will and thy will, our desires versus God’s desires for us?
Today we’ll examine one of the key moments in the life of Jesus and seek to understand how the model of prayer he provided can help us live faithfully with free will.
In Luke 22:39-46, we have one of the most poignant human moments for Jesus of Nazareth. Church people often say he was fully human and fully divine. This passage showcases Jesus at one of his most human moments. In the Gospel of Luke, the scene appears just before Jesus is arrested and the formal path to the cross begins. Let’s look closely at two vital quotes attributed to Jesus in this passage.
“Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
Biblical scholars Eugene Boring and the late preacher extraordinaire Fred Craddock explain that the “time of trial” is not referring to moral temptations, but to life and death trials that we face. The lives of the first disciples of Jesus were at risk because of their association with him. He was a threat to the religious and Roman authorities that worked hard to maintain the order of the status quo. In fact, Peter would deny even knowing the man shortly after this time on the Mt. of Olives. Jesus knew that truly following him involved risk. He prayed that his people would be spared the level of suffering he knew he would endure.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
Boring and Craddock point out that “this cup” was interpreted in the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s wrath (see Psalm 75:8) and that Judaism later came to view the cup as the death of a martyr. While both views line up with interpretations of the actions of the Christ, the scholars argue that, “Jesus is no masochist, has no martyr complex, and shares fully in the human desire for life.”
Jesus did not want his followers to suffer. He does not want us to suffer.
Jesus did not want to suffer.
“Remove this cup from me” was his way of crying for help, but notice what he said on either side of it. “Father, if you are willing” and “Not my will but yours be done.”
This divine prayer modeled by Jesus is one of the best in all of Scripture.
“Jesus illustrates that devotion to God’s will is the highest priority, higher even than life itself,” writes Boring and Craddock. “And that prayer strengthens one to do God’s will.”
Imagine if we begin our prayers with “If you are willing,” followed by our request, and finish with “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Let’s call it the divine prayer sandwich –
If you take one thing with you today, take the encouragement to pray for God’s will at the beginning and end of any other petitions you may have.
“Not my will but yours be done,” is one of the most faithful and dangerous phrases we can ever pray; yet most of us do it by rote.
Living the prayer can lead to adventures we would sometimes rather not take. On a mission service trip to Guatemala, I had an opportunity to spend time with people who had been on such a journey. They taught me that we shouldn’t confuse God’s will with our convenience.
A woman named Gladys told us about living a comfortable life in Guatemala. The average person isn’t educated beyond the sixth grade, but Gladys had attended university and was working as a counselor. Gladys and her friend Lisbeth received a visit from two friends from the United States who wanted to visit the dump in Guatemala City. Gladys wouldn’t take her friends to the dump because it was considered unsafe for anyone to visit. Her friends went to the dump anyway to hand out food. The friends then later asked Gladys for another favor, requesting that she and Lisbeth hand out 350 blankets to people living in and around the dump on Christmas. Gladys wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but agreed to deliver the blankets. She describes being overwhelmed by the stench at the dump, which takes in 1500 tons of trash a day. She saw children playing in the filth and people searching through the trash for anything of value to eat or sell to buy something to eat. She was overwhelmed, but told herself she would never be back anyway. Gladys told us that she went home to try to have a nice Christmas and wear her pretty new dress, but just couldn’t shake what she had seen.
She had the freedom to say no, but felt too called to turn her back.
So she and Lisbeth went back the next year and hosted a Christmas celebration for 1000 people that became 2000 the next year and 3000 the next year. Even after this experience, Gladys said she had no desire to work in the dump full time –she wanted to work in a nice clean office where she could wear dresses and high heels.
Remember, “Thy will” isn’t always convenient!
A man who was willing to donate a plot of land 150 feet from the dump approached Gladys. Though the idea of living so close to such conditions was frightening, she and Lisbeth accepted the donation as God’s calling to them. They left their jobs as counselors, despite their friends’ concerns. One even told Gladys—who was single—that she would probably never get married by working and living by the dump.
They took the leap anyway. Over more than two decades, Gladys helped build what became Potter’s House, a school for children through sixth grade that provides education and nutritious meals, serving as a beacon of hope in one of the most dire situations you would ever see. They have success stories like Leah and Farleigh who have gone on to college. And by the way, Gladys did end up meeting a wonderful man named Edgar who shared her passion for bringing the light of Christ to a very dark situation and served with her for many years.
I am not suggesting that each of us is called to live in a situation like Gladys, but you must know that truly praying for God’s will likely lead to more than ensuring that we are locked into a fixed mortgage at a low rate and have good brunch reservations.
Whether facing personal or health crisis, or seeking to discern God’s will for how we use our gifts, may we go forth together praying, “Thy will be done,” and getting ready when God responds to this dangerous prayer.
 Rabbi Harold Kushner on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, July 15, 2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124582959
 M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
 Boring and Craddock, 272.