Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:10d “Thy will be done. . .”
Only four words, yet this small treasure chest holds two precious diamonds of truth. First, “Thy will be done” reminds us God’s will can be known. It would be a mockery of us if God told us to do His will, but never told us what His will is. God’s will, His desires, plans, and purposes for us, can be known. In the Bible, He articulates His will in words easily understood–very clear, very straightforward.
From the beginning, God has ruled His people by revealing and preserving His will on the printed page. When God first brought Israel out of Egypt, He led them by Moses, who took pen in hand to write the first five books of the Bible.
Joshua wrote God’s will, as did Samuel, David, Solomon, and the prophets. Jesus in His own life flawlessly fleshed out the will of God. Of this perfect expression of God’s will, Matthew wrote, Mark wrote, Luke wrote, John wrote, Paul wrote. The Son inerrantly embodied the Father’s will; the Holy Spirit inerrantly wrote the Father’s will. We possess written in print the Father’s intentions for us.
God’s will can be known, and we begin to learn it by knowing God’s Book, the Bible. Daily read in it, annually read it entirely, learn it, memorize it, meditate on it, cherish it. Jerry Rankin, President of our Southern Baptist International Mission Board, in his new book on our beloved missionary hero Lottie Moon, tells of a Chinese pastor he heard preach. As the pastor told in his sermon of how his government for years forbade him to have a Bible, he paused in his message, held up his copy of Scripture, and kissed it. God’s will can be known. Thus, know it.
Second, “Thy will be done” teaches us God’s will must be obeyed. It is not enough to know it, we must also do it. God’s will must become the standard for human actions, beginning in us. Pray, “Thy will be done, and be done first in me.”
Doing God’s will is the most important activity in the world. We usually speak of Jesus’ life in terms of what He came to do for us, but Jesus often said He came to do His Father’s will. He was obsessed first of all with pleasing His Father.
The will of the Father is what matters most. We must know it and do it, and then give ourselves to helping others know and do it. To pray “Thy will be done” is to pray for a yielded spirit in ourselves and others. This is thus another prayer for Gospel success, for conversion of prechristians, for the missionary enterprise.
”Thy will be done” brings us to the nitty gritty work of the outreach task of the Church. Prayer is indispensable and its importance to our expansion efforts cannot be overemphasized, but, as John Piper well says, it is not THE work of missions. Prayer is the power source, but not the task. Prayer is the wind in our sails, but not the ship. The actual spreading of God’s will requires that the object of our prayers be definite strategies, not nebulous wishes or vague conceptions.
To illustrate, I again use the “life is war” motif. A cardinal rule of warfare is, “To win a war, one has to occupy.” In other words, a nation can be truly subdued only if ground troops are sent in to occupy it after the battles end. This was our failure in the recent Gulf War. We bombed Iraq into submission, but did not occupy it. Thus, the world’s difficulties with Iraq continue to be unresolved.
“To win a war, one has to occupy” is also a spiritual truism. God’s will can be done long-term only in a person or region that has been occupied. This simply means the Bible, the ultimate expression of God’s will, must become integral to a person or indigenous to a place. Without the Bible, new converts shrivel. Without the Bible, churches fade into oblivion, as in liberal protestantism. Without the Bible, the Arab world was snatched from Christianity by Islam. In that era, people had Scripture in Latin, but it had not been translated into languages of the Middle East and North Africa. Thus, when false doctrine came, people had no concrete truths to hold on to. The land had not been occupied and our loss was grievous.
We need to pray specifically for the Bible to be translated and distributed in all the earth. “Thy will be done” totally depends on the Word of God becoming an integral part of a person or region’s life. Otherwise, our evangelistic prayers are vain, and the mission is aborted before it begins. The Word is what matters. Acts equates the success of church growth with the success of the Word. “The word of God increased and the number of disciples multiplied greatly” (6:7). “The word of God grew and multiplied” (12:24). “The word of the Lord spread through all that region” (13:49). “The word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily” (19:20).
The Church has finally caught on. The Bible, available in Jesus’ day in only two languages, Hebrew and Greek, is now the world’s most translated book, available in whole or part in over 1500 languages. We learned, to win we must occupy.
A second cardinal rule of warfare is, to occupy, one must penetrate. Someone has to break through enemy lines, and open up the way. For prechristians to be “occupied” by the will of God, Christians have to make it happen. A believer must take the Word to unbelievers next door. A missionary or a mission team must take the Word overseas. Someone has to do the work of penetrating, of going in with the Word, which has the power to “occupy,” to make the results last.
When praying for God’s will to be done, pray specifically for the Word to occupy, and for messengers to penetrate. Paul, the greatest extender of our faith ever, realized both were essential, and combined them in his prayer requests. He pleaded, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly” (2 TH 3:1 NAS). He asked prayer for God to “open up to us a door for the word” (CL 4:3).
China and the USA, the two countries with the most evangelical Christians, illustrate the importance of occupation and penetration.. Christianity entered China in the Middle Ages, but soon totally disappeared. The missionaries did not stay long, and the Bible was not translated into Chinese. No occupation and no penetration led to failure. In the 1800s missionaries returned to stay a century, and the Bible was translated into Chinese. In 1949 the communists expelled missionaries and tried to eradicate Bibles, but it was too late, their country had been occupied and penetrated, resulting in one million conversions a year for the next fifty years.
In the mid-1600s, the Puritan pastor John Trapp challenged his congregation, “Let us also pity and pray for such poor souls in Asia and America as worship the devil.” Fortunately the Puritans did more than solely pray. Between 1627 and 1640, 15,000 of them emigrated from England to America to bring the will of God to our shores. The seal of the Massachusetts Bay colonists had on it a North American Indian, saying, “Come over into Macedonia and help us” (AC 16:9). They penetrated, they brought the Word to occupy, and their legacy has lasted.
As we pray “Thy will be done” be not content with only general terms, such as “Lord, save my neighbors and folks overseas.” Pray instead for a specific strategy, “Lord, thy will be done next door and around the world. Make Your will known to them by raising up emissaries, beginning with me.” “Thy will be done” will remain a powerless request until we ourselves are willing to take the Bible message and put it in people’s hands so they can know and do the Father’s will.