Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Lord's Prayer - God's will on Earth

When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth, what exactly are we praying for? Are we praying for God’s will to be done in our own lives? Are we praying for God’s will to be done in our lives and the lives of people we know and love? Are we praying for God’s will to be done in the lives of Christians all over the world? Are we praying for God’s will to be done in the lives of people all over the world? Are we praying for social and global structures to be changed so that they reflect more of God’s will? Or are we actually praying for the Earth, the entire planet?

I was in a conversation with someone the other week who believed that ‘God’s will on Earth’ meant ‘God’s will for all Christians.’ He thought it quite obvious that we wouldn’t be praying for the Earth, as in the actual Earth. His reasoning was that because we say ‘Our Father’ at the beginning of the prayer, it must be Christians that are talking and therefore the prayer only applies for Christians.

As I pointed out to him, I use the term ‘Our Father’ because that is how Jesus taught us to address God, but that doesn’t mean I am praying only for myself. I am asking ‘Our Father’ to do his will in all the Earth. I care about the Earth and so I want God’s will to be done in it. My friend responded that just because I care about the Earth doesn’t mean that God does.

However, doesn’t the fact that Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth show that, yes, he does care? After all, Jesus could have taught us to pray ‘Your will be done in our lives.’ He didn’t. He taught us to pray, ‘Your will be done on earth.’

The Lord’s Prayer is so well-known that it’s easy to say the words, without really thinking about what they mean. I usually say the Lord’s Prayer with my children just before they go to bed. And I must admit that there have been times when I may have been saying the Lord’s Prayer, but I was thinking, ‘God, please let them go to sleep quickly tonight so I can get some study done.’ It’s so easy to slide into praying for our will, rather than God’s.

But the line from the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we are praying for God’s will - not ours. Just because we are the ones addressing God doesn’t mean that he has to confine Himself to what interests us.

Earth is a very big place. And God’s will for Earth - that’s too big for any human to get their head around. So even if we’re not actually praying for our will, it’s hard not to limit God’s will to what our idea of earth should be. And honestly, I think that’s okay. I think it’s better to pray for something specific and actually mean something by those words than it is to pray more generally and have no concept of what you’re praying for.

But I do think we need to remind ourselves that we are praying for God’s will for earth - not just our lives, not just individuals, not just people - but the whole Earth. And because we were taught to pray for it, that must mean God has a will for Earth. We don’t need to understand it. We don’t need to figure out what His will might be. God is perfectly capable of figuring out His will without our help. We just need to pray, as Jesus taught us, that God’s will be done on earth.  


  1. I find it helpful to understand this petition in light of the previous one "your kingdom come" and with reference to the comparison made "as it is in heaven", and therefore to see it as an eschatological yearning for the marriage of heaven and earth (as pictured in Rev 22). It is a cry from the heart for the brokenness of this present age to be brought to a close and the inbreaking new age to be brought to consummation. This doesn't mean it only has a future effect, however, since the future has already arrived (or a taste of it has arrived) in the resurrection of Christ and the pouring out of the Spirit.

    So in brief, I think we are praying that the kingdom of God, the reality of God's reign would be present, acknowledged and honoured (which reminds us of "hallowed be your name") rather than hidden and contested (as it presently is). The full referent of this hope is future, but the implications of it reach back to today, in which our daily bread, practices of forgiveness, resistance of temptation and praise of God all provide glimpses of the coming glorious reality.

  2. Hi Bryon,

    What a beautiful description of the Lord's Prayer. And it shows how important it is not to take lines in isolation, but to read them in context.

    It's interesting because a lot of the descriptions I've seen or heard of the Lord's Prayer do take it on a line by line basis. So 'Our Father is where we pray for this, Who Art in Heaven is where we pray for this'. It almost feels like a whole set of different prayers that just happen to be lumped together.

    It really takes on a new focus when you recognise it is the one prayer. It also seems far less self-centred. The line-by-line descriptions often try to make each line personal. This is what this line means for me (or you as an individual sitting in the congregation or reading this book). But as a whole, as the 'eschatological yearning' that you describe, the focus is not on me but on God.

    As I was writing this post, I did keep thinking of 'as it is in Heaven'. But because it was mainly a response to the conversation I had with my friend, I decided just to focus on 'God's will on Earth'. But I think now I should have started with the Lord's Prayer in its entirety, because it's hard to really see what 'on Earth' means when you are looking at it as an isolated line, rather than one piece of a whole.