“Teach us to pray,” they said. And Jesus taught them. He gave His first disciples, and us, the words of the model prayer in response to their request. They asked Him to teach them how to pray, and that’s exactly what the model prayer is. And as a part of that model, Jesus told us that we should ask God for His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
It’s a lesson in prayer. But the Bible shows us more than this lesson; it shows us that Jesus practiced what He preached.
Jesus not only taught us how to pray; He showed us in various ways recorded in various places throughout Scripture. Though the Bible tells us of many occasions in which Jesus went off by Himself to pray, perhaps the most vivid picture we have comes from the night before His crucifixion. Knowing that His death was imminent, and knowing the suffering He would endure as part of that death, Jesus again approached His Father, and the substance of that prayer involved the will of God.
The Bible tells us that during the night, Jesus was in spiritual anguish because of what was coming. He prayed to His Father, asking if there might be another way for His plan of redemption to come to pass. But ultimately, Jesus yielded to the wisdom and authority of His Father:
Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).
Jesus submitted to the will of God. He did so knowing the pain, hardship, and suffering it would cause Him. Submission to the will of God would cost Jesus His life, and it is the same with us. This is the uncomfortable, but necessary, implication of praying as Jesus taught us to pray when it concerns the will of God: When we pray for God’s will to be done, we are implicitly stating that our will should not be done. We are giving over our plans, our dreams, and our aspirations to the will of God. We are, in a sense, dying. Submission to God’s will requires this of us. Furthermore, Jesus told us it would be so:
“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
If we want to follow Jesus, it will cost us everything. Just as the cross meant a sure and certain death for those who carried it during that time, so also does taking up our cross mean that we are giving ourselves over to death. We are willing, every day, to die to ourselves in order to live according to the will of God. This reality should strike us hard as we pray for the will of God to come to pass.
When we do, we are through prayer committing ourselves to God’s plans rather than our own. And we are expressing our trust in Him, believing that even though we are dying to what might be the most comfortable, profitable, or easiest pathway for us is nevertheless short of what God wills for our lives.
So we pray for God’s will to be done. And we recognize that in so doing, we are giving ourselves over to Him. But we do so in faith, believing that those who lose their lives will once again find them in Christ.