The prayer ‘Your will be done’ (uttered by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as recorded in Luke 22:42 and Matt 26:42) represents for us Jesus’s total surrender to God’s will. He knew the agony that awaited Him on the cross and was fully aware of the spiritual and physical anguish which faced Him there. Not surprisingly, we see that He did not relish this prospect. He actually asked for the cup to be removed: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42) Nowhere do we see the humanity of Jesus more clearly than in this scene; the writer to the Hebrews comments, ‘Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.’ (Heb 5:8) Yet we see from this scene that surrender to God’s will is possible, even when suffering is great. Jesus is able to offer us the greatest example of obedience we can ever hope to see and because of His sacrifice is able to lead us to that same place.
Surrender to God’s will is costly. It means laying aside our will and choosing to obey God rather than our own human instincts and desires. It means giving God first place in our lives and being prepared to lose everything (as Abraham was prepared to do when God called him to offer his precious son, Isaac, on an altar or as Ezekiel had to do when faced with the loss of his beloved wife.) Often, it can be just as hard to face the suffering of a loved one as it is to face suffering oneself. The believers experienced this when faced with Paul’s journey to Jerusalem; they knew the trials facing him and would dearly have loved for him not to go there so that he could be spared from suffering. Paul knew, however, that he needed to complete the task Jesus had set him (Acts 20:24) and that he was willing to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 21:13) At this point, the believers had to stop their arguments and simply pray, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’ (Acts 21:14)
All of our prayers ultimately need to include this surrender to God’s will. It’s not a phrase we say lightly, not a mantra to be tacked on to the end of our words glibly or without thought. Instead, it’s the painful yet joyful expression of trust in the goodness and grace of God which can transform our lives. Jesus said ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’ (Mark 8:34-38) We don’t ask for God’s will to be done because we don’t know how to pray (though that is very often our experience!) but because we know this is the highest good for ourselves, our families, friends, communities and world. We surrender to God because that is the pathway to real life.