Question: "What does it mean to pray, "Thy will be done"?"
Answer: “Thy will be done” is one of the requests in the Lord’s Prayer. In part, Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). Jesus Himself pleaded for God’s will to be done in the Garden of Gethsemane. Prior to His crucifixion, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus was committed to seeing God’s will accomplished, and the prayer “Thy will be done” was a theme of His life.
Most simply, to pray, “Thy will be done,” is to ask God to do what He desires. Of course, we’re praying to the God who said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3), so we know that His sovereign decree will be accomplished, whether or not we pray for it. But there is another aspect of God’s will, which we call His “revealed” will or “preceptive” will. This is God’s “will” that He has revealed to us but that He does not force upon us. For example, it is God’s will that we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and that we not commit adultery (1 Corinthians 6:18) or get drunk (Ephesians 5:18). When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we are asking God to increase righteousness in the world, to bring more people to repentance, and to further the cause of the kingdom of His Son.
When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we acknowledge God’s right to rule. We do not pray, “My will be done”; we pray, “Thy will be done.” Asking that God’s will be done is a demonstration of our trust that He knows what is best. It is a statement of submission to God’s ways and His plans. We ask for our will to be conformed to His.
The Lord’s Prayer begins by acknowledging God as Father in heaven. Jesus then models petition, presenting three requests to the Father: 1) That God would cause His name to be hallowed; in other words, as Albert Mohler explains, “that God would act in such a way that he visibly demonstrates his holiness and his glory” (The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution, p. 61). 2) That God would bring His kingdom to earth; that is, that the preaching of the gospel would convert sinners into saints who walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and that God would rid the world of evil and create the new heavens and new earth where God will dwell with His people and there will be no more curse and no more death (see Revelation 21—22). 3) That God’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In heaven, the angels perform God’s desire completely, joyfully, and immediately—what a world this would be if humans acted like that!
As a point of clarification, “Thy will be done” is not an impassive prayer of resignation. Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not passive or fatalistic in the least; He bared His heart before the Father and revealed His ultimate desire: for God’s will to be accomplished. Praying, “Thy will be done,” acknowledges that God has more knowledge than we do and that we trust His way is best. And it is a commitment to actively work to further the execution of God’s will.
Romans 12:1–2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Understanding who God is, we submit ourselves to Him and allow Him to transform us. The more we know God, the more readily our prayers will align with His will and we can truly pray, “Thy will be done.” We can approach God in confidence that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14–15).
By faith, we know that praying, “Thy will be done,” is the best thing we can ask for. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20–21).