With the third petition Ė"Your will be done"Ė Jesus builds on Godís Old Testament revelation that Godís law touches all of life, with no exceptions, from foods to clothes to words to sport. So the third petition is to be on my lips always too: "Your will be done"; Lord, what do You want me to do in this situation, in that situation? It followed that I am to pray from out of my particular, specific circumstances, and here seek Godís will. Prayer is not be general, vague, detached from concrete circumstances.
Some time after Jesus gave His instruction to the disciples about prayer, He Himself prayed the third petition. It happened on the night before His crucifixion Ė Matthew 26. Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with eleven of His disciples (Judas Iscariot had already gone to the chief priests). In the Garden Jesus "began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed" (vs 37). In His distress Jesus prayed the following: "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me." That is: Jesus was very well aware that the cross was around the corner, very aware that even now Judas was on his way with the chief priests and the temple police to arrest Him. In His prayer, Jesus spoke of a cup; "let this cup pass from Me." The word Ďcupí is used in the OT to describe the wrath of God (cf Ps 75:8). Itís that wrath that Jesus was about to face, and He looked up against it terribly. So He told God exactly what His circumstances were and how He felt about His circumstances: "let this cup pass from Me." With words from the OT, Jesus told the Father about His actual situation and feelings. This is specific, this is concrete.
Notice too, though, what Jesus does after Heís told the Father of His situation and His feelings. He prays the third petition: "Your will be done." Itís an amazing prayer, really. Think about it: what would you do if you were standing in Jesusí shoes that night? You well know that the temple police are on their way, and you know too that a cross is waiting for you tomorrow. What would you do?? Every fibre in my body would cry out: "Run!" Weíd run, weíd hide, weíd escape, anything to get away from the horrors of the cross. Yet that is not what Jesus does! Instead, He prays! He tells His God of His situation, tells Him of His anguish, and then seeks Godís will for Him in the situation. Jesus knows the Scripture, knows that Godís instruction for Him is death by means of the cross (see Mt 16:21; 20:17ff). The sacrifices of the law, Godís revelation in a passage as Isaiah 53, etc., made abundantly clear to Jesus what Godís will for Him was. So Jesus prays the third petition, and prays it not once but twice, yes, three times: "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done" (vs 42).
Here is the instruction of Jesus to His disciples in the third petition, worked out concretely for the benefit of the disciples. I know: the three who were with Jesus were sound asleep when Jesus in His anguish sought to subject His will to Godís holy will. But this material came to the disciplesí attention Ėit got in the Bible somehowĖ and so became for them (and for us) penetrating instruction of what the third petition is all about. Jesus in His anguish understood that He lived not for Himself, understood in His anguish that He was here for God, understood too that Satan would love to make Him follow His own desires. So Jesus made it His business to pray the third petition, made it His business to seek from God strength Ėin His particular and pressing circumstancesĖ to deny the self and do what God wanted Him to do. He prayed, and so laid before us how He would have us to work with His instruction about prayer. He prayed, specifically, with self-denial, prayed for strength to do Godís will in His circumstances. And so weíre taught concretely how it is that we should pray.
As we pray in this manner, as we seek Godís will for us in our specific circumstances, shall our prayers be answered? Know it, my dear reader, know it: Yes, your prayers shall be answered! I remind you again of the words of Jesus in Luke 11. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus taught them the Lordís Prayer, and then Jesus added these words: "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (vs 9). Thatís comprehensive: whatever you ask will be given. But: itís a promise given in the context of the instruction of the Lordís Prayer. In other words: ask according to the instruction of the Lordís Prayer, and it will be given. So: ask for what Godís will might be for you in your specific circumstances, and God will show you. Ask with the motif of the first petition in mind, that Godís name be hallowed. Ask with the motif of second petition in mind, that life is war and God must win. Ask with the motif of the third petition in mind, that you do His will in your situation. And God will answer! Thatís the promise! Is He not Father for Jesusí sake?! Does He not love you, care for you; is He not deeply interested in you?? Seek then His face in your specific circumstances, ask Him what it is that He wishes you to do, and you may be sure: He will show you His way. Thatís the promise.
That leaves a challenge for all who would pray the third petition. That challenge is this: you cannot pray the third petition and at the same time keep your Bibles closed. Godís will for us is revealed to us not by means of a voice in the ear or in the heart, itís not revealed by means of intuition or gut-feelings. Godís will for us today is revealed in His Word. As Paul put it:
And a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).