What does “Your Will Be Done” even mean?

A friend and colleague of mine has got cancer, and I’m aching with her.

And I get cranky and sad and don’t know what to pray.

“Your will be done…” feels like I’m not asking for anything: Do what you are already going to do, God. Whatever you already wanted to do.

That part’s about submission, it’s trust, it’s saying “I accept your way”… but it’s not really asking for anything…

Unless I think about it like the Lord’s Prayer: “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  In the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done” is a GIANT request: a request for Heaven on Earth. The prayer recognizes that Earth does not follow God’s will like Heaven does; instead of being filled with perfection and bliss, it’s full of pain and death and cancer. And so the prayer asks for the Earth to be more like heaven – more like what God really wills.

I think this goes back to something I’ve thought about and wrestled with, but never articulated or divided: two types of God’s will:

1. Whole, Sovereign Will: A Master Plan That’s Gonna Get Ugly:

Romans 8:20-21

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

In essence, God looked at the span of all time and compared two possible universes: one where sin is allowed and planned for, and one where it is totally blocked, and saw that the messy, painful one was (somehow) better and more glorious in the end. Like how God can intend good through awful events like Joseph’s betrayal (Gen 50:20) — the awful events are a part of the plan that’s better in the end than the avoidance of the awfulness entirely.

God’s “sovereign will” will always get its way, and is never trumped. So praying “your will be done” in this sense is accepting what will happen, and not really requesting anything in particular.

2. Perfect, Prescriptive Will: The Way God Knows Things Ought To Be:

James 1:20

…our anger does not produce the righteous life that God desires.

II Peter 3:9

The Lord is … not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

This is the part of God’s will that desires all good all the time for all people. It doesn’t want Joseph’s brothers to betray him, because that’s not living “the righteous life God desires”.

This part of God’s will doesn’t fully get its way here on Earth. We’re not all righteous like God desires. Some of us may perish, though God doesn’t desire it. The Christian hope is that this part of God’s will gets its way for eternity. But also we can pray and ask for it to get its way now — “your will be done on earth as in heaven.” — for heaven on earth.


So yeah, I don’t really know how these two “layers” of God’s will interact.  But thinking about the two “layers” helps me understand how praying “Your Will Be Done” for someone who’s hurting isn’t just a cop-out phrase I can say when I’m afraid to ask for anything real from God. This phrase is not only submissive, but it’s also pleading. So here’s what I prayed. (This post is adapted from what I wrote on my friend’s CaringBridge guestbook)

God, your will be done in Kali’s life.

Both your sovereign will for glory even through the brokenness of the world,

and your loving will for Heaven on Earth in Kali’s body, health, and life.

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