Summary: When we pray, "Thy will be done," we are committing ourselves to desire, discover, and do the will of God with grateful hearts.
Warren Wiersbe says that, from time to time, he has counseled with people who were actually afraid of the will of God. They were terrified at the thought of surrendering themselves completely to him. The idea disturbed them because they had concluded that the will of God was something painful and perilous, that it was something that must be avoided. Why? Because they were sure that if they yielded themselves to Christ, they would be sent to some distant and dangerous place where they would waste away in oblivion. There would be no joy, no adventure in living, no love or marriage—just loneliness and a monochrome miserable existence. (Warren W. Wiersbe, On Earth As It Is in Heaven, p. 79).
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Can he possibly be telling us to ask for something in prayer that would actually be opposed to our best interests? Would Jesus do that? Isn’t it more likely that Jesus tells us to pray this way because, actually, the will of God is the way to fulfillment and purpose in life? Doing what God wants—even if it goes against what we want and even if it is painful at them time—isn’t it not only not a barrier to happiness, but isn’t it really the path to true and lasting joy?
Why else would Paul pray as he does here in Colossians? Look at what he asks for on our behalf. He prays that we would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will—not just mildly aware of it or partially acquainted with it but filled with it. You’ll see that in verse 9, where Paul writes, “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will.”
But that’s just the beginning. Paul also makes three other requests—not only for his first readers but also for us. After asking that we may know God’s will, he prays that we would do God’s will. Verse 9 flows into verse 10. Paul says, “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will…, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work.” You see, not only does Paul pray that we may know God’s will but that we may desire to do God’s will.
And, third, that we may persist in God’s will. Look at verse 11. There Paul writes, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Notice the words “endurance” and “patience.” Paul’s prayer is that we may not only know and do the will of God but that God will give us the strength to keep on doing his will, even when it is difficult, even when it is costly.
And, fourth, Paul prays that we would not just do God’s will out of duty but that we will do it with grateful hearts, “giving thanks,” he says in verse 12—“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
“Thanks” is mentioned last but it covers all that goes before us. We do God’s will—we want to do God’s will and we want to persist in doing it—because we are grateful for all that he has done for us. We don’t do God’s will to win God’s favor; we do God’s will in response to his favor. In verse 13, Paul says of the Father that “he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” You see, it is because God has done this for us that we want to know and do God’s will and to persist in doing it with grateful hearts. God’s grace toward us and his good work in us leads to our good works for him—not the other way around.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and we come to that third petition—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—this is what we’re praying for. That we would know and do God’s will and persist in doing it because we are grateful for all that he has done for us in Christ.
So, how does that look in practice? To answer that question, let me direct you first to what Paul says in Ephesians 5:17, and what he says is: “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” In other words, we are to make an effort to know God’s will. And that will require a growing degree of familiarity with the Bible. It will be important for us to be able to recall such verses as 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Or 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And there are others, such as 1 Peter 2:15, where we read: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” As I say, knowing such verses is important, but it is not enough.