Jesus had priorities, and it shows up in the prayer he has given to us. Our first concerns, like his, need to be our Father’s holiness, his kingdom, and now, his will.
We’ve prayed for his kingdom to come—in other words we want a world where God is in charge. Now, we’re asking that we, and everyone, will follow his lead. ‘May your will be done here in the same way it is done in heaven—joyfully and straight away!’
What would we look like, and what would the world look like if everything was done as it is done in heaven? Jesus gives us some idea in his teaching just before this prayer. There would be no hatred. There would be no lustfulness. There would be no boasting—just simple speech. There would be love, even for enemies. There would be plenty of generosity. Astonishingly, Jesus says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’. (See Matthew 5:21-48.)
There’s plenty of information in the Bible about what God want’s done and not done, but that is not the subject of this prayer. We are not asking what God’s will is but that it may be done!
We could say that this is a bit cheeky! He tells us what to do, and we ask him to make it happen! But then, anyone who is being honest will know how much they need this help. And Jesus is saying to ask.
This is one of the unique things about faith in Jesus Christ. Plenty of creeds and ethical systems can tell us what we should do, but have no power—other than manipulation, or force—to ensure that it happens. How does this work?
First, God has to dismantle a lot of our false confidence so that we will really listen to him. Sometimes, hard things have to happen. One writer explains: ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. … It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees’ (Psalm 119:67-68, 71).
Rules are OK but most of us learn the hard way. We want to try our ideas first, and then find that it doesn’t lead to prospering, either for us or for those around us. So, when we pray for God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, we may be asking for trouble! But it will be a good kind of trouble—leading to righteousness.
But then, in making this request, we are on very firm ground. God has already promised that he will do this. At a time when his people are being afflicted (as above), God says he will cleanse them from all impurity. He will take away a ‘heart of stone’ and give them ‘a heart of flesh’. He says ‘I will cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey all my rules’ (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Jeremiah says much the same. God will write his law on hearts—not like the law carved in stone and given to Moses. This will happen when God forgives his people’s sins (Jeremiah 31:34).
It is this that Jesus has come to fulfill, so we may pray this prayer with much comfort and expectation! Jesus says, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled’ (Matthew 5:6)—filled with practical righteousness. This is a powerful prayer!
We need to understand how this works.
There are reasons why we find it easy to do wrong and hard to do good. One of them is we know we are already guilty, already condemned, already polluted. Deep down, we know we’re on the wrong side. We sense that God isn’t friendly, he’s against us.
Or, perhaps we are thinking that we get what we deserve, that we have to keep our good works ahead of our bad works to warrant a place in his favour. But doing good works like this isn’t doing them as they are done in heaven!
On the other hand, what if we understand what Christ has come to do? What if God says, ‘You are forgiven!’ Remember, God told Jeremiah that this is when he would write his law on our heart.
Think of the tax gatherer, Zacchaeus—the little man who climbs a tree to see Jesus. The Lord stops under the tree, looks up and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ for lunch (Luke 19:1-9). When he realises that Jesus wants his company, he changes his behaviour—totally. His fraud is replaced with generosity and reparation. He isn’t just changed. He is saved. This is what we all need.
Then, just before his death, Jesus says that if we love him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15). He is announcing how obedience works—not by coercion but by love.
Similarly, after Peter’s appalling betrayals, Jesus doesn’t ask him if he’s learned his lesson. He asks, ‘Do you love me?’ And this is a question Peter can answer (John 21:15-19). Doing God’s will as it is done in heaven is not a performance. It’s a relationship.
This is why Paul talks about not being under the law of God (Romans 6:14). It’s not because God’s commandments are being thrown out. It’s because we use them to justify ourselves—falsely. We call it ‘virtue signaling’ today. Nobody ever gets into God’s favour by their performance. Righteousness is God’s gift, and then we have a reason to act appropriately.
Jesus knows who and what we are. Instead of vainly hoping we will improve, he bears our sin. And then, if we receive this good news, we are given his righteousness. This is a relationship! And what a relationship! There’s no love like this anywhere else.
So, like Peter, we have no trouble saying, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you’. We have found a new law—the law of Christ, and it teaches us to live like Jesus himself (Galatians 6:2). And of course, this keeps all of God’s commands.
Later, Paul says, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death, in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us…’ (Romans 8:4). We are no longer condemned but indwelt by God’s Spirit. Justifying ourselves by God’s law is now totally unnecessary, and precisely for that reason, we are ready to do what God wants.
Here is what God will do when we pray, ‘May your will be done as in heaven’. Forgiven people love (Luke 7:47). Love keeps Christ’s commands.
Trusting in such good news enables us to do good things, to learn God’s ways, to restrain bad habits, to persevere, to be godly and kind. In other words, to love (2 Peter 1:3-9). This is living like we are in heaven!
And if you are not doing these things, you have forgotten you were cleansed from your sins. You can’t be looking at what God has done for you and then be slack about God or mean to your neighbor.
So let’s pray ‘May your will be done as it is in heaven’. Let’s hunger and thirst for righteousness and expect God to fulfill our desire. Some of the tasks that love gives us may be hard, but loving God isn’t—not if we keep our eye on what he has done. For Jesus to die for our sins wasn’t easy, but he did say, ‘Not my will but yours be done’. He loved his Father, and that settled the matter. Let’s follow him, and pray this prayer