Teach Us To Pray: “Thy Will Be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven”

By Daniel Darling

This is part of an occasional series of posts on the Lord’s Prayer. You can read the previous entries in this series here, here, here, here, here, and here.

In this post we will discuss the third request found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” This request is a natural response to the previous request that God’s name be worshipped and proclaimed through the earth and the coming of the kingdom.

We often look at prayer as the opportunity for us to get stuff from God, right? And as desperate people, God is the only one to whom we can pray and seek help. But in another sense, Jesus is saying that prayer is less about getting our will done by God, but seeing God’s will done on earth.

Today, as in every generation, the priorities of Heaven are at odds with the priorities of a fallen world.. Prayer, then is not a matter of making God conform to our expectations, but aligning our expectations to God’s kingdom purposes.

So what does it mean to pray, “They Will Be Done On Earth As It is In Heaven? Here are three implications.

1)   A Prayer for the World

To pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven acknowledges two things: it acknowledges that there is a better way for this world to run than the way that it does, and that God cares about this earth.

This is the prayer of someone who believes the world is not as it should be, that there is a better world coming. This prayer means we should be brokenhearted for what breaks the heart of God (to quote the late, great Bob Pierce): the evil that prevails, the racism, the poverty, the violence, the sin, the death, the corruption, the injustice. It means we can’t just shut our eyes to the world’s deep suffering and pretend it isn’t happening.

Ultimately this is a prayer for the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. We pray Christ will return as King and for Heaven to finally come down to earth as promised. We pray to see the Kingdom arrive in its fullest. But it also means that right now while we await that day, we pray for God’s will to reign in this sinful world.

This is not just a nice phrase to affix to calendars and coffee mugs. This is a revolutionary prayer. It is the act of praying against the prevailing, sinful, world system. It’s a longing for the curse to be reversed, for Heaven’s healing and hope to prevail upon the brokenness of our families, our communities, and our world.  

Here’s the thing about this kind of radical prayer. You cannot pray this prayer without being drafted into action to see God’s will done on earth. It is a dependence on the Spirit of God, who alone, working through His people, can see his will done on earth as it is in Heaven.

To pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” is to not be satisfied with the way things are, to be part of the renewal God is bringing to bear on the world. It an earnest, broken, heart-rending plea to God to align Heaven and earth. This is a prayer that says, “Lord, keep me from being an indifferent bystander to evil. I want to join your mission of healing and hope and renewal.”

2) A Prayer for Myself

As much as this is a prayer for the world, it’s also a prayer for myself. For to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” is to say, “Lord, do your will in me.” Essentially this is a risky prayer for us personally. It’s saying to the Lord: I have my will. You have your will. Sometimes those two line up, but when they don’t, overrule my will.

There are three things this prayer implies: Submission, Study, and Satisfaction.

First, to pray this prayer, and really mean it, means we are willing to submit our wills to His will. It’s acknowledging that the One who best knows how to run my life is God. And this is a prayer that we must pray, not one time, while walking an aisle, but daily because we have hearts prone to wander. This prayer becomes a pledge of obedience to God’s will.

Which brings us to the second aspect of this as a personal prayer. In order to submit to God’s will, we must study to know God’s will. How can we do God’s will if we are ignorant of what he asks of us? If we are to pray this prayer, that means we’re committing not only to obeying it, but knowing God’s will so we can obey it.

As we walk with God, He works on our hearts, our affections, our desires. We begin to think like He thinks and love what He loves and hate what he hates.

Lastly, there is a trust aspect of surrendering to God’s will. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that God’s will is best. Despite our doubts concerning God’s will, in the end, we can trust Him. We were made to do His will. To trust God’s will, to rest in him, is to accept his sanctifying hand, to let him mold you and make you, to respond to the needs of the world and be part of bringing Heaven to earth.

And here’s what we have to understand. This is where we find our deepest joy. To follow God often means deep pain and sacrifice. But, it also means intimacy, dependence on your Father for provision and protection. It means that in your life and in the life of the Church, you are showing a glimpse of the world to come, of another king and another kingdom.

3)   The Prayer of Jesus

Lastly, we cannot read “Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” without thinking of Jesus’ own example of this submission. In the Garden, Jesus prayed, pleaded with God, “Take this cup from me, not my will but yours be done.” He accepted the cup of God’s wrath for sin, accepted the darkness and death of the cross, the curse of sin. And he said, “Not my will, but yours.”

In this we can read Jesus’ words to the disciples to pray this way—not as words from the mountain, but words Jesus himself lived out. These words called the disciples to yield their own wills for the sake of the gospel.

And yet, Jesus’ accepting of God’s will over his will enables us to do God’s will. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. He is the answer to the prayer, “On earth as it is in Heaven.” So in some ways, this prayer has partially been fulfilled. In our own lives, Jesus bridged the gap between heaven and earth. By his death, we now have access to God. By his resurrection, we now have life, here and in eternity.

But in an even deeper sense, we can only pray this prayer—“your will be done in me” because Jesus prayed that prayer. He was the only one to fully fulfill God’s will. Because Jesus fulfilled it for us, now we do God’s will, not to earn God’s favor, but as part of God’s mission to spread the fame of his name to the ends of the earth. We obey God’s will, not to make God happy, but because it is our joy. It is what we were created to do.

photo credit: Kevin Gill