Prayer for Obedience - 1
The disciples had observed Jesus praying. What they saw and heard prompted them to seek instruction from Jesus as to how they could speak with God in heaven. Jesus answered their request and taught them how to pray. His first instruction revolved around the matter of Who one spoke too; one speaks to Father. He next moved on to the mind-set that is to characterise prayer. In speaking with God one is not to be self-centred; one is instead to be God-centred Ė "hallowed be Your name." Further, the context of this life may not be forgotten as one speaks to God. Since life is war, the reality of that warfare is to feature in prayer Ė "Your kingdom come."
The third petition Jesus instructed His disciples to pray is this: "Your will be done." The only word that could give us some problem in this petition is the word Ďwillí. The question then is this: does the word Ďwillí in the third petition refer to Godís secret plan for our lives, contrived before the world began? Or does the word Ďwillí describe Godís law, His commands for us?
With this petition we are not asking the Lord God that God please do what He thinks He should do; weíre asking God rather that we do what He thinks we should do. The point of this petition is not that we ask God please to act according to His secret and sovereign plan; the point of this petition is rather that we ask God that we might be made to act according to His revealed commandments in the Bible. In the words of Lordís Day 49:
"Grant that we and all men may deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey Thy will."
We can "deny our own will" and do Godís will only when the Lord God has told us what to do and what not to do. Godís secret plan for our lives is not our business; itís Godís business. It is for us to involve ourselves with what God has revealed, and thatís His law, His commands. With the third petition, Jesus told the twelve disciples around Him to focus on Godís law for them; specifically, to ask God that their every action may be determined by Godís will revealed in Holy Scripture. Thatís the third petition.
How did this petition touch the disciples in their circumstances? Were the disciples to understand Jesusí instruction to them in the third petition in this way that they were to ask God for strength that they might not steal, might not commit adultery, might not lie, etc? That is: were the disciples to understand Jesusí instruction here as a general prayer for general strength in the broad outlines of daily living?
To appreciate what Jesus taught in the third petition, we do well to understand that Godís laws touched the disciplesí lives in every detail of their existence. To draw out this point, we need to go for a short walk through the book of Leviticus.
Leviticus 11 contains Godís instruction to His people about animals they could eat and animals they could not eat. By Godís ordinance, the cow was clean and therefore edible, but a horse was unclean and therefore could not be eaten. Mutton was acceptable, but pork was not (cf vss 1-8). The same was true when it came to fish: any fish that had fins or scales could be eaten; if it missed either fins or scales it could not be eaten (vss 9-12). Similar rules are given regarding birds (vss 13-19), insects (vss 20-23) and reptiles (vss 41-45). Through all these stipulations, the Lord sought to impress on His people that they were different, holy, set apart from the nations (Lev 20:22ff).
The practical effect of this list of clean and unclean animals was that this chapter from the Word of God had to accompany the Israelites in all of life. Thereís food needed for tea, and so Mother sends the boys out fishing. The boys, however, could not bring home for tea whatever they caught; they first had to consider the will of the Lord, whether the Lord God wanted them to eat the fish they hooked. That is: the boys had to take Leviticus 11 with them to the sea, and ask themselves this question: what does the Lord want me to do with the fish on the line? So too when a guest arrived: Dad could not instruct his servant to kill yonder pig; it had to be that calf or that sheep. In other words: one first had to consider the will of the Lord; did God want us to roast this pig or that sheep? That was the faith God gave to His people by covenant; Godís people had to ask what Godís will was in terms of what to put on the table.
Godís law reached into other areas of life. Leviticus 11:33 stipulates that any clay vessel in which was found a dead mouse or lizard or gecko had to be broken; it was unclean. We need to remember: in those days they did not have the closed-in houses that weíve got, and didnít have rat poison to put in the attic either. In other words: rodents and lizards were not uncommon in the houses of Israel, and so a dead one in the pantry was quite possible too; this kind of thing happened so many times per year in each house. The Israelite had to consider the will of the Lord: what does God want us to do in this situation?
Leviticus 13 mentions leprosy, spots on the skin. We know from experience that spots on the skin do occur from time to time, be it in the form of a scab or ringworm or eczema, etc. The people of Israel immediately had to consider what the will of the Lord might be here: did the Lord want them to show this scab, or this swelling, or this bright spot on the skin to the priest (Lev 13:1ff)? So too when it came to pulling the winter clothes from the cupboard. Before the people could wear their winter coat, they had to check for spots, be it mould or something else (Lev 13:47ff). That is: Godís law had a bearing on whether or not you could put on that favourite coat: what does God wish me to do?
Leviticus 14 speaks about "the leprous plague in a house" (vs 34). That is: if a mother in Israel, while doing her regular house cleaning, found a reddish or greenish spot on the wall (and letís face it, mould is a reality in showers and laundries even today Ė let alone then), this woman in Israel couldnít just apply the equivalent of Shelleys Mould Killer, but she first had to consider the will of the Lord and possibly fetch the priest (14:33ff).
Chapter 15 speaks about bodily discharges, and how anything is unclean if one who has a discharge sits on it or lays on it. We all know that thereís scarcely a household where thereís no discharge some time during the month (cf vs 19). So: a particular bed, a particular chair in the house was unclean for a set period every month. That meant in turn that when the youth came home from school or from work, they could not just sit down on whatever chair they wished; Momís chair could be unclean today. The point again is this: even when it came to something so basic as choosing which chair to sit on, the people of Israel had first to consider the will of the Lord. In all of life, down to the details of what goes on the table and what shall the children wear and where shall I sit, Godís covenant children had to be busy in their minds with the question: what does God want me to do? Every area of life was claimed by the God who created heaven and earth; no inch of life in Israel was free from His oversight and authority.
Now the Lord Jesus tells His disciples what to pray. Theyíre not sure about prayer, not sure what to say and how to Ďget throughí to God. Says Jesus in the third petition: ask God to enable you to do His will, to obey His law. Here Jesus builds on what God had instructed Israel in the OT. Godís law did not pertain only to the big decisions of life, things like whether to kill somebody or whether to obey parents or what to do on the Sabbath. Godís will stipulated for Israel what the people had to do in every area of life; always the people had to consider what God wanted them to do in their specific circumstances. This is Jesusí point: He instructs the twelve disciples, in their specific circumstances, to ask God for strength to do Godís will each moment of the day. Specifically:
The conclusion is this: around the clock, in all their circumstances Ėbe it big or smallĖ the people of Israel (and so Jesusí disciples too) had to be busy with the will of God: what does God want me to do now?
This is the thought that Jesus incorporates into His teaching about prayer. His disciples want to know how to pray. Says Jesus to them: "when you pray, sayÖ: Your will be done." That is: "Grant, Father, that weÖmay deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey Your will, in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves." Seeking Godís will, says Jesus, should be part of prayer; it gives so much to pray about, makes prayer part and parcel of all of life: Lord, what do you want me to do?
No Change Today
And we are to know: in the NT dispensation Godís claim to every area of life is no less comprehensive than His claim was in the OT. Not only does His God-head dictate the point, not only does Christís lordship over all the world dictate the point, not only does the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts dictate that God claims us all the time; itís also the specific revelation of Scripture. Says Paul to the Corinthians (and his words are built on the material of Leviticus!) Ė says Paul: "therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor 10:31). Itís very New Testamentic: things so mundane, so down-to-earth as eating and drinking, are to be done to Godís glory. And we understand: God is glorified through our activities only if we do Godís will. What we eat, when we sit down to drink, when we choose our clothes for the day, the question is to be on our minds as much as it was in Israel: Lord, what do you want me to do? Should I eat this? Are You happy if I drink this? Do You wish me to wear this? In fact, Jesus specifically says that on the day of judgment we shall need to give account of every idle word we have spoken (Mt 12:36). You see: even the words I speak are subject to the notion of: Lord, what do You wish me to say?
It is the nuts and bolts of this life that I need to speak about with my Father in heaven.