We’re working our way through the Lord’s Prayer in our series of sermons on our Church’s Shorter Catechism. The little word ‘our’ teaches us that we’re to pray with others and for others. The word ‘Father’ teaches to pray with confidence, because we’re praying to our Father who loves us and is willing to help us. The words ‘in heaven’ also teach us to pray with confidence because the One we pray to rules over all things from his throne in heaven and therefore he is able to help us. But it also reminds us to pray with reverence, because of the heavenly majesty of our God. All this we learn from the preface to the Lord’s Prayer.
In the first request, which is ‘Hallowed be your name’, we learn that we ought to ask God to enable us and all others to give him the glory and the honour and the praise that he deserves. Our chief end in life is to glorify him and to enjoy him for ever. But, because of our sinful, fallen nature, we’re incapable of doing that without God’s help. And so, we ask that he will help us to do what we were made to do and to know him and to worship him with glad and cheerful hearts.
And then, in the second request, which is ‘Your kingdom come’ we learned that we ought to pray that Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed and that the Lord’s kingdom of grace will advance through the world by the preaching of the gospel so that more and more men and women and boys and girls will be delivered from Satan’s tyranny and brought into his kingdom of grace. And, of course, we not only want people to be brought into the kingdom of grace, we also want them to stay in it. And so, we need to pray that preachers will faithfully preach God’s word so that our faith is sustained. And we need to pray that our elders will faithfully oversee God’s people to warn them from danger. And we need to pray that the whole church will be continually reforming itself according to God’s word in order to ensure that we’re still following the Lord and his ways in all we teach and do.
And, then, not only should we pray for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom of grace, but we should also pray for the Lord Jesus our King to come again, because when he comes, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and he will receive all the glory and honour that he deserves.
So, that’s where we got to last time. Today we come to the third request which is:
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In heaven, the angels obey the Lord perfectly. That’s what David tells us in Psalm 103:
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
They’re ready to obey the Lord and to do his will. And so, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that God sends them out as his ministers or servants. They stand in the presence of the Lord, and are always ready to go wherever he sends them and to do whatever he wants. In heaven, the angels obey the Lord perfectly. And by giving us the Lord’s Prayer to guide us when we pray, the Lord is teaching us to pray for God to help us here on earth to do as the angels do and to obey our Father in heaven. And so, we pray:
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
When discussing the will of God, theologians are careful to draw a distinction between the revealed will of God and the secret will of God. There are some things which he has revealed to us. And there are others things which he has kept secret from us.
So what has he revealed to us? Well, he’s revealed all of his laws and commandments. So, to Adam, he revealed his command not to eat the forbidden fruit. To Israel at Mount Sinai, he revealed his Ten Commandments and the rest of his laws which he wanted his people to keep. He sent his prophets to the people of Israel to remind them of his laws and commandments which they were to keep. And in the New Testament, he continued to teach us what is our duty and how he wants us to live as his people in the world. God has revealed his law to us. He says to us: ‘This is my will. I want you to do all of these things. I want you to live like this.’ And, as we’ve already learned from our Catechism, the Lord’s law is summarised by the twin commandments to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. So, what is God’s will for me and for all of us? That we should obey his commandments.
God’s revealed will refers to his law, because in his law he has revealed how he wants us to live as his people. These are the things he has made known to us in the pages of the Bible. However, there are other things which God has not made known to us. These things he has kept secret. For instance, he has not revealed to any of us what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.
Now, we believe that he knows what will happen tomorrow. He knows it, because he has planned it. And everything that happens, happens according to his will. Isn’t that what we learn from Ephesians 1 where Paul wrote that God is the one ‘who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’? God controls all things and all things happen according to his will. And yet, even though all things happen according to his will, and he has planned exactly what will happen to each one of us tomorrow, he has not revealed to any of us what he intends to do tomorrow.
So, we have God’s revealed will. And we have God’s secret will. He has made known to us his law for us to keep. But he has not made known his plans to us.
The classic text to demonstrate this is Deuteronomy 29:29 where Moses said by the Holy Spirit:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
There are some things which God has kept secret from us and we cannot know them and we ought not to pry into them. But there are others things he has revealed. So, what he has revealed to us? Moses tells us:
the words of this law.
He’s revealed his law to us. His commandments for us to do. But there are other things he’s kept from us.
And then, in the New Testament, we have James 4 verses 13 to 17. In these verses, James commands us not to boast about what we intend to do today or tomorrow. He writes:
Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. Don’t boast about what you’re going to do in the future, because you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow let alone in a year’s time.
And then James adds:
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
In other words, don’t boast about what you intend to do in the future, because we can’t be certain what’s going to happen in the future and whether or not we will go on living on the earth. So, what should we say? James tells us. He says:
Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’
If it’s the Lord’s will. In other words, we might have our plans and all that we intend to do, nevertheless what really counts is God’s will, because he’s the one who has planned what will happen to us today and tomorrow and the next day. He’s the one who is in control of the future and all things happen according to his will and not according to our will.
But notice very carefully what James said. He said:
you ought to say, ‘If it’s the Lord’s will….’
If it’s the Lord’s will. And he has to say if because we don’t know what God has planned for us. He’s kept his plans from us. He’s kept them a secret. And so, we have to say:
If it’s God’s will, then I’ll do this.
But, you know what: we won’t know what God’s will is, until it actually happens.
God’s will, his plans for us, are kept from us. However, listen to how James finishes this section of his letter. He says:
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
We don’t know what God has planned for us tomorrow. However, no matter what happens to us tomorrow, God has made known to us the good we ought to do. He’s kept from us his plans for tomorrow. But he’s revealed his law for us to keep, no matter what happens tomorrow. We don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow. But no matter what happens, we must still love God with all our heart and we must still love our neighbour as ourselves.
Do you see? There’s God’s secret will which we cannot know, because he hasn’t revealed it to us. And there’s his revealed will which he has made known to us.
Think of Joseph in the Old Testament and all that happened to him: sold into slavery by his brothers; falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife; imprisoned alongside the cupbearer and the baker. Now, at the end of the story, he understood why God let all these things happen to him. At the end of the story, he understood that God had arranged all things in order to save his chosen people. But for years and years, Joseph must have wondered why all these things were happening to him.
Or think of Job in the Old Testament and all the terrible things that happened to him. He lost his children. He lost all his property. He lost his health. Why was this happening to him? Well, he never, never found out. God kept it from him.
But here’s the thing. Though neither Joseph nor Job understood what was happening to them, they were both careful to remain obedient to the Lord. So, when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph refused to be tempted. And when Job was tempted to curse God, he replied:
The Lord gave; and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.
They didn’t understand what was happening to them because God kept it from them. But they were careful to obey God’s revealed will.
Doing God’s will
Bearing all that in mind, listen to what the Catechism says about the third request in the Lord’s Prayer. It says:
In the third request we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.
It mentions two things: We’re asking God to make us able and willing to know and obey his will. And we’re asking God to make us able and willing to submit to his will. In other words: Able and willing to know and obey God’s revealed will. And able and willing to submit to his secret will. Able and willing to obey his law. And able and willing to accept all that he has planned for us.
And the fact that the Lord Jesus taught us to pray for this means that we need God’s help to do both of these things. Without God’s help, we’d be unable and unwilling to obey God’s law. And without God’s help, we’d be unable and unwilling to accept his will for our lives. We’ve all seen children who always disregard their parents’ instructions. And we’ve all seen children who are always complaining to their parents and fighting against them. And that’s what we’d all be like towards our Heavenly Father if he did not help us. And so, we must seek God’s help in prayer.
Both of these things pick up on other things which we have already learned in the Catechism. You see, when we were learning about all the benefits we receive from Christ, we learned about sanctification which is the work of God’s free grace by which God works in us by his Spirit to renew us and to make more and more willing and able to obey him and his laws. So, think of that old car which is broken down and rusting in the back of someone’s garden. It’s a mess. It’s an eyesore. It’s not fit for anything but the dump. But then someone buys it and begins the long process of restoring it. The bodywork is repaired and repainted and polished. The engine is overhauled. The wheels are replaced. The electrics are replaced. The seats are renewed and the dash board and all the trimmings are cleaned and polished. And the man keeps going over it, again and again and again, until it’s fully restored and is back to what it was always meant to be.
That’s a picture of how God saw us when we were broken and dirty and fit only for hell. But he bought us with the blood of Christ. And through the work of sanctification, he works in us by his Spirit to make into the kind of people we were always meant to be. He makes us into the kind of people who are willing and able to keep his commandments. God is the one who works in us to sanctify us. And when we pray, we ought to ask him to complete the work he’s begun and to sanctify us more and more so that we become more and more willing and able to obey his will.
We ought to pray for this for ourselves. And we ought to pray for this for one another. We ought to come before God in prayer, pleading with him to sanctify us more and more and to make us more and more obedient to our heavenly Father, and able, more and more, to die to sin, saying ‘no’ to it, and able, more and more, to live for righteousness, doing what is right and pleasing to the Lord.
Parents: When you pray for your children, you no doubt pray that they’ll do well in school and make friends. And you’ll pray for them to do well in their exams. And you’ll pray for them to be healthy and happy. And that’s all good. But the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for their sanctification. And so, we ought to pray that they will know and obey God’s law.
This request picks up what we have already learned about sanctification. But it also picks up what we already learned about God’s providence. Back at question 11 we learned that God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. God preserves the world he has made by sustaining all things and by providing for us day after day. But then he also governs all things to ensure that his plans and purposes for the world, and for us, are perfectly fulfilled.
Often he sends good things for us to enjoy and we can rejoice in all the ways he has blessed us. Think of how David rejoiced because God took him from the fields and make him the king of all his people. Think of how Mary rejoiced because the Lord chose her to be the mother of the Lord Jesus. And the disciples came back to the Lord, rejoicing at all the things they were enabled to do. Think of Paul and how he rejoiced at God’s mercy to him, the chief of sinners. And think of the revelations he had, being taken up to paradise. The Lord sends his people good things. And whenever good things happen, it’s easy for us to accept these things from the hand of the Lord and to thank him for it.
But then, the Lord also sometimes sends us hard things to endure. David was king, but his son died and another son, Absalom turned against him. Mary was the mother of the Lord, and yet Simeon warned that her heart would be pierced by the sorrow of seeing her son crucified. The disciples were able to do great things in the name of the Lord, but for the sake of the Lord they also faced persecution. And to keep Paul from becoming too elated by the visions he had received, he also received the thorn in his flesh which caused him so much suffering and grief.
When the Lord sends good things, we accept them easily. But when he sends us trouble and sorrow, we need his gracious help to accept these things. What did James write?
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds….
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
God sends these trials to test and strengthen our faith.
Or what does Peter say?
In [the gospel] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials….
Why these trials?
so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
By these trials are faith is tested and is proved genuine.
Or what does the writer to the Hebrews say?
[T]he Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
Because God loves us and wants us to grow up in the faith, he sends us troubles and trials to discipline us, or to train us up as believers.
Think of the carpenter, going back and forth with his plane, over and over again, over a piece of wood to remove the rough parts and to make it smooth. And so God works in our lives, over and over and over again through the various trials and difficulties we face, but he does so to remove all that is wrong, and to make us into complete Christians.
But it’s hard to accept these things, isn’t it? It’s hard not to resent the troubles he sends us. It’s hard not to doubt his goodness and faithfulness whenever bad things happen to us. It’s hard to not give in to the temptation to despair. And it’s hard not to envy the wicked who seem to have such an easy life. Think of the Israelites in the wilderness, complaining all the time about their circumstances and wishing they could return to Egypt where they had been slaves. Or think of Job’s wife who urged him to curse God and die. It would be so easy for us to copy their example and to murmur and to complain against the Lord. And so, we need to pray to God and to ask him to make us able and willing to accept his will for our lives and to believe that our Heavenly Father’s will is always good and pleasing and perfect, that he always knows what is best for us, that he always knows what we need. And so, we need to pray to the Lord to help us to say as Job did:
Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?
Think of the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what was about to happen to him. He knew the suffering he was about to endure. Not just the physical pain of the cross, but the fact that he was about to drink to the bottom the cup of God’s wrath against our sins. And so, he bowed before his Heavenly Father and prayed. And what did he pray? First, if possible, for the cup to pass from him. In other words, it’s not wrong for us to pray for God to take away the trials we’re suffering. When Paul was suffering the thorn in his flesh, he prayed three times for it to be removed. And so, it’s not wrong to ask the Lord to take these things away from us. But secondly, the Lord prayed for God’s will to be done:
If possible, take this cup away from me. But, if not, may your will be done.
And so, we ought to follow the Lord’s example and pray to our Father in heaven, asking that he will help us to accept his will for our lives, whether he sends us good or whether he sends us trouble. And we ought to ask him to help us to remain obedient to him in all our circumstances.
And as we come before him, we should remember that we’re not coming to a God who does not care for us, but we’re coming to a God who loved us so much that he gave up his one and only Son for us. And when we come to him, we’re coming in the name of the Lord Jesus who, more than anyone else, knows what it’s like to suffer unjustly, but who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. What did Paul say in Romans 8?
the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
So, we pray for God to help us to accept his will, and we press on, remaining obedient to our great God and Saviour, trusting in him always to help us.