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04.29.12 Thy Will Be Done, Matthew 28:16-20 Sermon Summary

by on April 30, 2012

Prayer is the way we adjust our desires to the will of God. It’s like adjusting a pendulum on a clock. Over time and by using an accurate standard, we can determine whether the clock is too slow or too fast. Then we adjust the pendulum respectively. This is why Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done—so we could come to know and live according to God’s will.

Summary Points

  • The relationship among the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer
  • God’s will—what we can and can’t know
  • Discovering God’s will by SKOPing Jesus

“Thy will be done” is the third of six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. (Search this blog for messages on all six.) It is the final petition in the first group of three: Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, and thy will be done. These first three petitions build upon one another, each subsequent one explaining the previous one. So God’s name is hallowed when it’s obvious God is king. God is king when things are done according to God’s will.

There are some things about God’s will that are “inscrutable,” to use the big theological word. Some things we can’t understand or explain and yet we trust God is working in and through them according to God’s will.

But some things we can know. Biblical interpreters argue about some of these things, for example, whether some things revealed in scripture are conditioned by their context and thus no longer apply today. One thing we Christians all agree on is that God’s will is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

Should we want to know God’s will for our lives, we have to look at Jesus. There we will discover that God wills to come to us, to remain steadfastly with us, even or especially through suffering and death. The biblical way of referring to this is that it is God’s will for us in Christ is to “save.” God wills this to the point of resurrecting Christ from the dead and sending the Holy Spirit to remain with us in Christ’s absence.

Thus, when we pray, “God’s will be done,” we are reminded to look to Jesus who also prayed this way, and who lived this way. There, in Christ, we find God’s will. To help us live according to God’s will, we need to SKOP Jesus.

SKOPing Jesus begins with Study. It is important to read and more deeply understand the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew, from which we receive the Lord’s Prayer, ends with the so-called Great Commission. This is, at least from Matthew’s perspective, THE point of narrative of Jesus’ life. God’s kingdom has come in Christ, for “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given to him. So, he says, we are to “go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey his commands, for he is with us in to the end of this age.”

In studying the Gospel of Matthew, we realize how important it is that we pray to “Our Father.” Already Matthew has in mind the great commission to “go to all nations.” The kingdom of this our God is a corporate kingdom, it is an inclusive kingdom. It is not just a kingdom for Jews like Jesus, but for “all nations.” There are no border closings in God’s kingdom.

But Studying the Gospels isn’t enough to discern God’s will for us in Christ. In SKOPing Jesus we have also to Know Jesus. We come to know Jesus through prayerful listening. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Hallowed be thy name,” he probably paused a long time in reverence for the name of God. That pause is important in prayer, for it is then that we listen. The Study Catechism of the Presbyterian Church USA puts it this way, “Prayer involves both addressing God in praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication, and listening for God’s word within our hearts.”

Studying must be complemented by knowing because it isn’t enough to study the historical Jesus; we must know the risen Christ. It isn’t enough to study the biblical Jesus; we must know the traditional and contemporary Christ. This Christ is the resurrected Head of the church who continues to speak, to reveal God’s will, and to lead the church. For us Presbyterians, we know Christ through our Book of Confessions. We who are ecumenically sensitive look also to the traditions of other denominations for guidance in knowing Christ.

Beyond Studying and Knowing Christ, to grow in God’s will we have to Obey Christ. We “make disciples” by teaching them to obey. Lately the language of “practices” has gained currency in the church. Before it was “disciplines.” Some churches speak of “practical applications.” They are all pointing to the same thing: obeying Christ. Gandhi spoke of “spiritual experiments,” which is a helpful way to think about it, for not everyone will be equally benefited by the same practices, disciplines, or practical applications. We have to try them to see. But obedience follows study and knowledge, as Psalm 119:34 says, “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.”

Finally, with Studying, Knowing, and Obeying Jesus, we SKOP God’s will in Christ through Prayer, and the place to begin is, of course, the Lord’s Prayer. Thomas Aquinas identified five conditions required for prayer. The fourth is what he called “rectitude,” or asking according to God’s will. (More on this later.) This is what the Lord’s Prayer ensures for us, rectitude in our prayers, for it is Christ’s own prayer, God’s will for us revealed. This is what it means to pray in Christ’s name and to pray according the Spirit. It is to pray in Christ’s words in the Lord’s Prayer.

We pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is to remind us that there is a difference between heaven and earth. This is why we must pray for God’s will to be done. It isn’t automatically done on earth as it is in heaven. John Calvin offers the insight that this prayer is as much a confession of our sins as it is a dedication of our intents. For the disparity between heaven and earth regarding God’s will begins with us—we do not do God’s will. Thus we pray for it, and in doing so, we also confess our shortcomings.

By SKOPing Jesus, we will make processive progress in praying for and living according to God’s will. Like that pendulum that must be adjusted over time, so prayer will lead us to God’s will. It is a lifelong vocation.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Think about some aspects of God’s will that remain mysterious to you. How do you relate to them? Do you deny their existence? Do you resent God for them? Do you trust God with them?
  • What are some things you can say confidently are God’s will for your life? How did you come to these convictions? How have such convictions changed for you in the past?
  • How well do you know the Gospels? You might know the basic plotline of Jesus’ narrative, but have you studied carefully any of the Gospels for the greater insights that come with close familiarity?
  • How often do you sit silently listening for God’s word to you in prayer? Could you benefit from such different approaches to prayer as contemplative or centering prayer, lectio divina, or meditation?
  • In what ways are you “obeying all that Christ has commanded”? How well do you know Jesus’ commands? In what ways can you add practices, disciplines, and practical applications to your life of faith?
  • Keep reading these messages on the Lord’s Prayer, and when you pray it, take time to really engage the movement of the Spirit in it. Don’t just recite the prayer, pray the prayer. Punctuate every petition with silent listening, for example. Paraphrase each petition, expand each one according to your own relationship with God and the world.

 

 

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