July 28, 2019
Thy will be done – J. Barry Vaughn – July 28, 2019
The story in Luke 11 is one of those stories that makes me wish I’d been a fly on the wall. The disciples come to Jesus and say, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” I would give anything to know what John had taught his disciples.
We know so little about John the Baptizer. The gospels present him as an apocalyptic preacher, of which there were many in first century Palestine. In other words, John proclaimed that the end of the world was at hand, that God would soon act to vindicate the people of Israel and destroy the hated Romans. God would soon establish the rule of righteousness that Jesus called “the kingdom of God.”
It is likely that some of John’s disciples believed he was the Messiah.
Regardless, it was common for wandering teachers such as Jesus and John to teach their disciples how to pray. It is still common. There is hardly a great spiritual teacher who does not issue instructions on how to pray or meditate.
I did a quick check on Amazon. You can buy Billy Graham’s Learning to Pray, a book of Pope John Paul II’s private prayers, or former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey’s Be Still and Know: A Study in the Life of Prayer.
So what is distinctive about what Jesus told his disciples about prayer?
The first thing I want to point out is that the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are really saying the same thing:
Hallowed by thy Name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“God’s name” – ha Shem in Hebrew – is just another way of saying “God.” Because the name of God was too sacred to pronounce, Jewish people then and now used roundabout ways of referring to God. Instead of saying “the kingdom of God,” they would say “the kingdom of heaven.” Instead of saying “God,” they would say ha Kadosh, “the Holy One,” or ha Shem, “the Name,” that is, “the Name that is too holy to say.” You will often find observant Jews write the word “God” as G hyphen D, (G-d) because the word “God” is too holy even to write.
So when Jesus said, “Hallowed be thy Name,” he was saying “may God be honored,” and the next two phrases shows how God should be honored: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Lord’s Prayer, then, is an apocalyptic prayer. That means that it is a prayer for the kingdom of this world to become the kingdom of God, the place where God’s will is done as surely as it is in heaven. And to pray this prayer has to mean that we are willing to do our part in making this world the kind of place where God’s will is done just as it is done in heaven.
The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it like this: “We are praying, as Jesus was praying and acting, for the redemption of the world; for the radical defeat and uprooting of evil; and for heaven and earth to be married at last, for God to be all in all. And if we pray this way, we must of course be prepared to live this way.”
There is hardly any topic that is more difficult than the topic of prayer. People come to me all the time and ask me why their prayers are not answered, and I have a difficult time talking to them because I’ve so often wondered about that myself.
After my friend Scott died of a drug overdose I went through a long period in which I did not know what it meant to pray. Like so many of you I wondered if there was a God who was hearing my prayers, or if God was indeed hearing my prayers, then it really seemed that he was indifferent to them.
Someone has said that God answers our prayer in four ways: Yes, no, “not now,” and “you’ve got to be kidding!”
I firmly believe in praying for the sick, but we have to be clear what it is that we are praying for. If we are praying for a cure, then we have to be ready for God to say no, but if we are praying for healing, then that’s a different matter. To heal means to make whole, and I believe it is a prayer that God always answers affirmatively. But sometimes healing can only take place in death, and we have to be willing to accept that. So then our prayer becomes, “Let me accept your will, O God,” and that brings us right back to the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”
These days my prayer is most often just sitting in silence, but I often begin it by saying the Lord’s Prayer because I really do believe that it is the perfect prayer.
I assure you that if I promise to pray for you, I always do it. It’s not a promise I make lightly.
C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,‘and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’.” We should do our best to be among those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” not those to whom God says, “Very well, THY will be done.”