Every so often, my Photos app reminds me of what I was doing on this day in other years. Recently, it showed a picture of me hanging out on the beach with my family four years ago. I remember that trip: I was getting ready to go to college. I spent the week talking to my aunts and uncles about my plans for the next year, worrying about whether I’d make friends, and going for long walks with my mom. I had a four-year plan, a ten-year plan, and probably even a twenty-year plan, and I was sure God would go along with all of them. After all, they were pretty reasonable.
Cue the laugh track there, right? We all know how that story ends. I suspect you, like me, are not exactly where you thought you’d be four years ago and definitely not where you thought you’d be twenty years ago. I can guess that with a reasonable degree of certainty because you’re a human being living on this planet, and one of the things we all share in common is that try as we might, we are not in control.
In chapter 4 of his practical, searing, loving letter to those in the Dispersion, James writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16, ESV). It’s tough love, for sure: you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James isn’t wrong, though. In the grand scheme of things, we’re here for a tiny blip and then we’re gone. We can’t even plan tomorrow with any certainty, let alone the rest of history.
So we’re not in control, but that’s not the end of the story. In the Bible study that I lead, we’ve been talking about God’s sovereignty in the context of predestination. One of the themes we keep coming back to is that while we’re not in control, we’re also not at the arbitrary mercy of chance. Someone is directing the entire course of human existence, and that someone is God.
God’s sovereignty is only good news for us if He is also faithful, merciful, and loving. If we didn’t know Him, or we knew Him to be evil or capricious, nothing could be worse. But we know Him, and He knows us (John 10:14). He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6-7). So we know that His will is good.
It becomes both harder and more necessary to believe that His will is good when it doesn’t match up with our own. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis compares God’s work in our lives to a repairman coming in to fix a house. At first he repairs only what we asked him to repair. Then he starts rattling around in ways we didn’t expect. Before we know it, he’s putting in an addition and gutting the kitchen. All we wanted was to pass inspection, but God wants to make us perfect: “You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Mere Christianity, p. 205).
God’s will is good, but it’s not our own. So when we pray that fourth line in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are not uttering a platitude. We are asking the King who rides on the clouds of heaven to do His will, even if it does not align with our own. It is almost comical—of course He will do His will! He does not need our permission. Still, He commanded us to pray it almost in the same breath as “Give us this day our daily bread.”
When we pray “thy will be done,” we are inviting what could be the opposite of our own dreams and wishes. We are unclenching our fists that hold so tightly to our perfect plans, turning our palms upward, and saying, “I surrender.” We are praying, “If You want to let Satan wreck me like he did Job, do Your will. If You want to call me into an unknown land like You called Abram, do Your will. If You want me in a fiery furnace like Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego, if You want me leading a tiny band against the Midianites like Gideon, if You want me prophesying to a people that bows down to every tree but never to You like Isaiah, if You want me to go to Jerusalem and to death while the disciples at Caesarea beg me to stay like they begged Paul—do Your will.”
“Thy will be done” is not a comfortable prayer, but it is a comforting one. To return to Lewis’s metaphor, I wouldn’t trust anyone off the street to come in and fix my house, but I would trust someone with impeccable credentials whom I know well. We’re praying “thy will be done” to our Father who calls us children and our Savior who calls us friends. When we pray “Thy will be done,” we are coming before the Almighty Creator, yes, but we are also coming before the Prince of Peace who washes His disciples’ feet. He is Creator and Sustainer, Judge and Redeemer, High Priest and sacrificial Lamb. He is the Son of God with eyes like fire and feet like burnished bronze, and He is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep.
We are not in control, but He is. Praise God that our lives rest in His hands, and that His hands are stronger, wiser, more prone to justice, and more loving than ours could ever be.