Your will be done on earth as in heaven - Ephesians 1:1-14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
It had been a tough few months for Bill. Heíd been made redundant from his job and there was nothing for him in Hull. Heíd applied for a number of different jobs but there was no light. What should he do? Should he slog it out in Hull, perhaps taking a less well paid job he was over qualified for? Or should he look to move? He really didnít want to. After all, he loved his church, heíd just bought a house, and he was heavily involved in the ministry amongst young people. He expressed his fears in a letter to his friend Sally. ĎDear Sally, thanks a lot for prodding me into action. It will help me a lot to write this all down and I need to know what you think. As you know I am trying to choose whether to apply for the jobs in Leeds or Newcastle, or to stay here in Hull and get something less good, but which allows me to stay put and keep doing what I love at the church. Of course Iíve prayed over it and Iíve been waiting upon God for some answer for a few months now. Iím still very uncertain, although I have had some hunches about Leeds being right, I canít really be sure that they were Godís leading. I really do want to do His will and not just go ahead on my own, but I feel as though he must be testing me or maybe Iím missing His guidance because of my sinfulness. If I try to sit down and work it all out by common-sense then there really isnít much to choose between the options. The only difference I can see is that my girlfriend lives in Selby, so perhaps God wants me to make the sacrifice and go to Newcastle. None of my friends have any words of wisdom for me and the closing date for applications for the Leeds post is next week, so it looks like God is closing the door. My minister also tells me that there are good churches in both Leeds and Newcastle. Iím really confused. It seems all so difficult. I just want to please God. Please write. Perhaps you have an idea how I can discover Godís purpose and will for my life. Yours in desperation, Billí.
Well I guess most if not all of us will be able to sympathise with Bill. Here is a young man keen to do what pleases God and yet agonising about what he should do with his life. Some of us may well have come to church this morning with precisely that questions on our minds, or at the least a slightly different variation. We might change the worry to who we should marry, where to send our kids to school, whether we should move location, when we should retire, how much to spend on the house, whether to take the promotion, whether to go ahead with the operation. But whatever our struggle, they all have one thing in common. We long to know what God wants us to do if we are Christians. We long to do his will. And often it is extremely hard to work it out. I doubt if there is not one committed Christian here this morning who has not struggled with this question of Godís will. Just what is his will? And what is his will for my life?
Well itís Godís will that is our topic for this morning as we come to the third request in the Lordís prayer- ďMay your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.Ē And like the first two, we notice that Jesus is first and foremost concerned with what God wants. May your will be done. So far he has prayed that Godís name might be honoured and that Godís kingdom would come. And we have seen that the first half of the prayer is primarily concerned with Godís glory. That should be our primary concern in our prayers. And as we come to this request, we find again that it is Godís glory that is at stake. For only when our focus is right on God and his glory can we begin to pray about our needs and fears. So as we unpack this request, we will see that first and foremost the question is not what am I to do with my life? But rather what is Godís will for all humanity and for me in particular. And the answer may well surprise us. So weíll unpack what Godís will means under three headings:
1) Godís Will for the Universe: To Bring All Things Under Jesus
2) Godís Will for the Christian: To Make Me More Like Jesus
3) Godís Will for Me: What on Earth Should I Do?
1) Godís Will for the Universe: To Bring All Things Under Jesus
Now in the Bible there are a number of different ways of understanding the will of God. On the one hand there is Godís will for the universe which is certain and will come about. Itís Godís decree and plan in Jesus which is guaranteed. And yet the Bible also talks about the will of God for us, that is what he requires of us to do. As weíll see later this means responding to God and living his way. So letís have a look first at Godís will for the universe- to bring all things under Jesus. And to see this, weíll go to Ephesians 1 vv 9-10: ďAnd he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilmentóto bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.Ē What Paul is saying is that Godís will has been made known. Itís something which God is pleased to do because it is according to his good pleasure. And what is it? ďTo bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head- even Christ.Ē That is Godís master plan for the whole universe. To bring everything under the lordship of Jesus! One day Jesus will be seen to be Lord over the whole universe. He will rule supreme. There will be no opposition and all evil and enemies of God will be fully and finally crushed and defeated. Justice will at last be seen to be done. Godís kingdom will come! And the church is a picture of that kingdom now. Through Jesus men and women are being rescued from their sin and brought into a relationship with the God who made them. They are coming under the wonderful rule and kingship of Jesus. We saw that a few weeks ago when we looked at the kingdom. And that task of bringing people under the Lordship of Jesus will be completed. Because that is Godís will. And it will happen. And how do we know? Well notice how Paul words these verses. God has purposed these events in Jesus. Itís in the past tense. When the times will have reached their fulfilment, all things will come under Jesus. Itís Godís decree, his purpose and his will. And that great master plan for the universe cannot be thwarted because itís Godís plan. He will not be stumped or out witted. What he has decreed for the universe, what he has said will happen, will happen. Jesus will be declared Lord. All evil defeated. Everyone bowing the knee before Jesus, not all willingly, but all having to confess that Jesus is Lord. Thatís Godís will.
Now of course for us, we find that hard to accept, because our plans frequently donít go according to plan. For example, last weekend, Debbie and I went to Germany and we flew with Ryan Air. Now it has to be said Ryan Air has a certain reputation which was largely fulfilled last weekend. They run a very tight schedule which means that there is only a 25 minute turn around between a flight getting into the airport and the flight leaving again. And needless to say that is hopelessly over optimistic, and so virtually every flight is delayed. And sometimes the flights get so badly delayed that they are just cancelled with no warning, leaving you stuck in a tiny airport in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully that didnít happen to us, though I did virtually have to retrieve the pram from the hold myself, such was Ryan Airís pastoral concern for their customers. You see human beings plan and will certain things to happen, but very often those plans fail. We have no control over whether our will will be achieved. But when God plans, his will is never thwarted. Jesus will rule supreme. Godís kingdom will come. Let no-one be in any doubt whatsoever. Evil will not triumph. Justice will be meted out on the enemies of God. And that actually should come as a great encouragement to us. For in a world where so many things are unsure, Godís will can be relied on. To bring everything under one head- Jesus Christ.
But at this point someone might well raise an objection. Because if Godís plans are certain, and if God is going to do what he wants anyway, then why pray for Godís will to be done anyway? Surely itís a waste of breath? Itís a redundant prayer to pray? Letís just get on a do something much more useful instead? Well the answer to that is both wonderfully profound and beautifully simple. For the simple truth is that God does use the prayers of his people to bring about his purposes. Amazingly, in a way known ultimately only to God himself, he uses the prayers of his people to achieve his will. Why is that time and again the apostles pray in the Acts of the Apostles for God to work in his people and in the officials so that the gospel will spread. Why is it that time again in the letters of Paul, he will pray for the people of God to be changed, for eyes to be opened. Why is it that he prays for boldness to proclaim the word? Because if God is going to do it anyway, then why bother praying? Well the simple reason is that God uses the prayers of his people.
You see Christians are not fatalists. We do not shrug our shoulders and sit back in resignation and say ďOh well, God will do it anyway, itís his will.Ē And then we put our feet up and do nothing. That is not a Biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God and how human beings work with him. Thatís actually a key difference between Christians and Moslems. An Islamic understanding of Godís sovereignty basically says, ďIt is the will of Allah. There is nothing we can do.Ē So for example, I once heard of two girls who were travelling through Turkey. When they parked their car in one particular town and locked it, they accidentally locked the keys in the car. Well a small crowd gathered to find out what was happening, and the girls asked for help. But all the men would say, as they shrugged their shoulders, was ďIt is the will of Allah. We cannot do anything!Ē Well it seems that is an excuse for laziness if nothing else. But it does highlight what is wrong with fatalism. Fatalism says itís going to happen anyway, so I cannot do anything. But a Biblical understanding of the will of God sees that Godís plans cannot be thwarted. We must take great encouragement from that. He will see that victory is fully and finally achieved. But wonderfully, we are invited to work with God through prayer to achieve his plans. He does use our prayers, as the NT shows us. So do you remember in Acts 12 that Peter is in prison and miraculously he is released by God. But what we do we discover is happening in the church at the very time? They are praying for Peterís release. You donít have to be a rocket scientist to work out the connection in Lukeís mind. God is working, but his people are praying. Or how often do we see Jesus during his time on earth get up early to pray? Surely if anyone didnít need to bother to pray it was Jesus. But he does. He as Godís Son, prays to his father to bring about his will for the universe. And if Jesus prays, how much more do we need to. Amazingly God commands us to pray, and in his sovereignty, he weaves our prayers into that plan to achieve his ends, to bring all things under Christ. So should we pray for the Summer in the City Mission? Of course, God has commanded us to pray. Let us pray that Godís name be honoured as men and women and children bow the knee to him! Letís pray that Godís will would be done as we head towards that final victory when Jesus will be seen to be Lord. Letís pray that the kingdom would begin to come in peopleís lives. Should we pray for the ongoing work amongst children and young people and students and home groups and women and men in our parish? Of course, week by week we should be praying that God would further his kingdom in our hearts, that we would be changed day by day, week by week. For Godís will is to bring all things under Christ. And he will achieve his purposes and his will. And wonderfully and amazingly you and I can be a part of it as we pray that Godís will be done. Thatís the first part of Godís will- to bring all things under Christ.
2) Godís Will for the Christian: To Make Me More Like Jesus
But there is another aspect to Godís will and that his will for the Christian. And what is Godís will for us? Well it is to make us more like Jesus. Now the prayer that Jesus commands us to pray is ďmay your will, God, be done, on earth as in heaven.Ē And that really is the clue to understanding what Jesus means by Godís will in this secondary sense. So in what sense is Godís will done in heaven? Well as Godís servants gather around his throne, they are fully and totally and joyfully committed to doing what pleases God, what his will is. They are unfailingly devoted to fulfilling Godís commands. It is their total delight and joy. So Jesusí prays that Godís will would be done on earth as in heaven. In other words may this heavenly devotion to Godís ways and doing what pleases him mark the people of God on earth. May they too be totally and passionately committed to fulfilling the will and commands of God. That is Godís will for his people. That is his will for you if you are a Christian. That you obey him, that you be holy, live in his ways. So listen to these words of Paul from 1 Thessalonians 4 v 3: ďIt is Godís will that you should be sanctified, or holy.Ē Thatís God will for us if we are Christians. His will for us is to be holy. To be like him. So yet again, as with all these requests weíve examined in the Lordís prayer these last few weeks, we find that they are boomerang prayers. We are praying for Godís glory and his concerns, but they come back and challenge us in the way we live. So when we are praying for Godís name to be honoured, in fact we find that we too need to honour that name in our lives. When we pray for Godís kingdom to come, in fact we find that we too need to be about the business of Godís kingdom priorities. And now when we are praying for Godís will to be done, we find out that he asks us ďare you doing my will?Ē You see if we seriously pray this prayer, then it will mean that we need to ask ourselves ďam I doing the will of God? Am I being holy? Am I doing what pleases him?Ē For the most important thing for any human being to do is the will of God. And what is his will? To be holy. To be like God. Holiness is the most important thing for us to be concerned with because that is what God wants us to be concerned with. And in doing his will we bring glory to him. That is the will of God for our lives.
Now actually this way of thinking is revolutionary. Because often when we consider the will of God, we think it involves primarily questions like ďWhat job should I do, which house should I buy, who should I marry, where should I school the kids?Ē and a million and one other questions we long to know the answers to. Now whilst those questions are important, actually they are not the most important. The most important question for the Christian is ďam I being holy? I am doing what pleases God?Ē Thatís the most important thing. Because Godís great plan for you is to make you more like Jesus. And he will use whatever happens to you, be it good or ill, to make you more like Jesus. So listen to these words of Paul in Romans chapter 8: ďAnd we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposeÖĒ So in everything God works for the Christianís good. And what is that good? An easy life? The right job, the nice house, the well behaved children? Well none of those- rather, he goes on, ďFor those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.Ē The good that God is working in us in all things is that we might be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. In other words in everything we go through, God is at work in us to make us more like Jesus. He can use any circumstance, good or ill, to help us to grow in holiness.
By way of illustration, Peter Cropper is one of Britain's most accomplished violin players, so accomplished that the Royal Academy of Music in London once loaned him a 258-year old Stradivarius. The Stradivarius violin of course, is an exquisite instrument, worth an unbelievable amount of money and beautiful to the ear, as well as being extremely rare. But while performing in Finland disaster struck. Cropper tripped and landed right on top of the violin. The priceless Stradivarius was broken and Cropper was devastated. It looked as if the instrument was destroyed. But all was not lost. Cropper took the violin to a master craftsman who he had heard might be able to repair it. And he did. In fact the repairs were so well done that they could not be seen and beautiful sounds once more flowed from the Stradivarius. Now in the same way, you and I are broken people, and yet the master craftsman, God himself, is remaking us into his image, repairing and restoring us, to enable us to play Godís music so to speak. And whatever happens, whether it be good or ill, he will use it to make us more like himself. And the question for us is this: Are we too committed to the most important thing- to do the will of God? To be holy? Because that is what God is most interested in, in you and me. And when we pray ďmay your will be done on earth as in heaven,Ē we are praying that we ourselves would conform to Godís will and grow more like Jesus. For that is Godís will for his people.
3) Godís Will for Me: What on Earth Should I Do?
But all this leaves us with a question. Just how do I make decisions within this framework. Is there a more defined will for my life, a more specific will? Has God got a particular plan in mind for me as to where I will work, how many children I will have, what city I will settle down in? Just how do I know? Well letís spend the last part of our time thinking very practically about that question. Godís will for me: What on earth should I do? Well for a start, we should not lose sight of the big picture. Weíve seen that broadly speaking, Godís will is seen on two levels in the Bible. There is Godís plan for universe to bring all things under Jesus. God will do that whatever happens. He will save his people and he will bring about judgement and proclaim his Son as King. That will happen. And in the meantime, his will for us is that obey him, that we grow more like Jesus. That is the most important thing that can happen to us. And in any decision making, we must have both those things in our minds. For those are the most important factors. We have to be asking ourselves, ďhow will this decision further the gospel and Godís plan for the world, and am I being holy in making this decision?Ē So how do we make decisions within that framework?
Well let me suggest to you that there are three levels of decision making that effect every decision we make every day, whether big or small. First there is the level of right and wrong. In other words some things we are asked to decide between are clearly right or wrong. So if Iím asked to choose between a job that is morally wrong, then I cannot do it. A Christian cannot be a thief or a prostitute for example. We you say thatís fairly obvious. But remember that it applies to things we might well be tempted to do. Adultery is wrong as is sex before marriage. So if weíre tempted in that area, then it cannot possibly be Godís will to do that, because heís shown it to be wrong. If weíre tempted to enlarge our work expenses or fiddle our tax forms, just to help things at home a little, then we canít because itís wrong. But thereís a second level of decision making, and that is wise and unwise. And I guess most of our decisions will come into this category. So we know itís not wrong to go down a particular path, but it is wise? For example, taking a job which will mean more hours away from the home, and working most Sundays. Is that wise. Well you could argue that whilst it might bring more security for the family, it might actually put more pressure on the family in terms of one parent being away more, and spiritually speaking, youíre not getting the nourishment you need each week from church and the encouragement of meeting with Godís people. Or how about moving location? Do we make decisions which are simply best for our health or our finances, or are we making wise decisions which take into account our spiritual health? Does our new location have a gospel teaching and believing church? Will the children be nurtured in a good Sunday School? A wise decision will take into account all those different factors. And of course God does promise to give us wisdom, but we need to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of his word the Bible to help us to grow in wisdom. And then one last category. The ďit doesnít matterĒ category. What shall we have for tea tonight? Well it really doesnít matter as long as itís vaguely healthy and youíre not stealing off the family next door. What clothes should I wear today? Well it really doesnít matter, as long as they are decent and respectable.
Now at this point, someone might well say, ďWell thatís fine Nathan but it all sounds too simplistic. I mean surely itís more complicated than that?Ē Well as weíll see in a moment, decision making isnít always easy, but it is less complicated than we often think it to be. Because often we feel we might be missing out on Godís will for our lives if we make the wrong decision. Surely I need to discern Godís will for every decision we make. Well have a look a at the diagram on the sermon outline. There we see a box and within the box it says ďmy lifeĒ. Now as weíve seen the Bible makes it clear that God does have a will for our lives. And that is to be holy. So our lives are to be lived within the box of Godís moral will. In other words all the decisions we make need to be within that framework. He has shown us what is right, and we must not go outside the box and do things which are wrong. To steal, or cheat or lie or commit adultery and the like. But within the box, there is freedom to choose to do what we want. As long as we are seeking to be holy, then ultimately it doesnít matter what we do or where we live, or even who we marry, as long as the person fulfils the criteria the Bible lays down of a Christian, a member of the opposite sex, nor already married, not a blood relative etc. Now immediately we might be up in arms at such a suggestion. Surely there is a much clearer will for my life, surely I need to find what Godís plan for my life is? But the wonderful thing about being a child of God is that God gives us freedom to choose. He gives us the responsibility to run our lives but under his lordship, doing what please him. Now of course from Godís perspective, he knows exactly where we will live, what job weíll do, how many kids we will have, whether we will marry. Of course he knows. But from our perspective, within the boundaries of holiness, there is a wonderful freedom for the child of God. What matters is not whether you are a doctor or a dustman, but whether you are a holy doctor and or a holy dustman. What matters is not ultimately whether you marry Freda or Frederick, but whether you will be a holy husband, committed to your wife. Now of course, there are wise choices to be made. It would be very unwise for me to be a doctor, because I find it hard to remember what I need to do each day, let alone perform open heart surgery. It might be very unwise to marry Freda because you find her repulsive and annoying. But at the end of the day, within the boundaries of holiness, we are free, as long as we donít stray outside the box of Godís moral framework.
Now actually to know that truth is wonderfully liberating. Because if God did have a very specific will for my life, then because I am sinful, I would be a billion miles from that will by now in my life. Every decision I make is tinged with sin, and no doubt Iíve made lots of bad decisions. So if there is one very rigid plan for my life, then Iím no doubt miles from it. But the glorious thing is God is much greater than us, and he gives us the dignity and responsibility of choice. He gives us freedom within his moral will to do what we want, while all along we long to do what is holy and which best furthers the cause of the gospel. And that truth frees us from the constant worry of whether we are fulfilling Godís will for our lives. If weíre seeking to be holy, then are pleasing God, we are doing his will. And that is a great weight off our shoulders.
Now of course, having said all that, it does not mean that decision making is always easy. So let me give you an example of a decision I have taken in the last few years, which was very big. How did we decide to come to Hull. Well was it morally wrong? Well despite what some might say, no it wasnít a right wrong decision. It was a wise-unwise decision. We didnít know the city, we were a long way from home, we were just married, and there was no guaranteed salary for the first year. Very unwise, some said. But it was a very good church, a good training ground, there was a job to do, and every other door had been firmly close in our faces for various reasons. In other words God was using circumstances to close off other options. So we decided for Hull. We prayed, we asked others for wisdom, we waited, but in the end we trusted God. Was it Godís will? Yes, because we sought to be holy. But I can also see looking back over eight years, how God has used the time to make us more like Jesus and to use us for the sake of the gospel. And at the end of the day, we had to make a decision and trust God for the outcome. It wasnít an easy decision to make, but in the end we made it and trusted God to be with in whatever happened.
Now the thing is most of our decisions will be like that, some big, some small. God does not promise a voice from the heavens, or writing on the fridge when you come down to the kitchen one morning. But he does promise to use all things to make us more like Jesus, and never ever to leave us or forsake us. The question is will we trust him, having made the best decision we can. And the challenge for us, in all decision making is to make gospel decisions. Will I make decisions which will lead to my holiness and further the work of the gospel and glorify God? Thatís the key. And ultimately that is the will of God for our lives.
So when we are praying ďmay your will be done on earth as it is in heavenĒ what are we praying? Well we are praying that Godís plans for the universe will be fulfilled, that he will brings all things under Jesus as the head. We are praying that we would grow in holiness as his people. And practically, when it comes to decision making in our lives, we will be praying that Godís gospel will be promoted through us and our decisions, and that Godís holiness will be seen more in our lives. Because that is the will of God for our lives.
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