“Thy Will Be Done”
Jan Karon invented a town in North Carolina. She named it Mitford and wrote fourteen novels about it. The central character is Father Tim, Mitford’s Episcopal priest. He’s a very human priest, the kind of guy you’d like to have coffee with in the local restaurant. We watch him as he deals with the townspeople (some of whom attend his church some of whom do not), discovers new things about himself (he can fall in love, he becomes a diabetic), gets married to the woman who lives next door. We see him inherit a young boy who is lost and almost deserted, and through him becomes involved with the boy’s whole family. Sometimes the relationship is positive, and sometimes not, but Father Tim perseveres, watching this boy grow to manhood and become a force for good in the community.
Father Tim and his wife Cynthia speak of “the prayer that never fails.” Those of us who have prayed for things that do not happen, or that do not turn out the way we want, may have trouble believing there is such a prayer, but there is: “Thy will be done.”
Not what you expected? Me either. When I first read the phrase, “the prayer that never fails,” I couldn’t imagine what might come next. When I read, “Thy will be done,” it made perfect sense—but it raised more questions than it answered, and more concerns than I could handle all at once.
“Thy will be done.” Simple, isn’t it? Four short words. Straightforward. No subtlety. Easy to say, but oh so difficult to mean. We who go to God with a shopping list of wants and wishes and desires longer than a ten-year-old’s Christmas list are used to asking God to do our will. We don’t often think of God’s will, or asking what God wants from us. And yet we know how central this prayer is to our relationship with God.
Jesus understood its importance. He included these words in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
If we stop to consider what we ask when we repeat these words we may get a little—or a lot—frightened. Do we really want God’s will to be done on earth the same way it is in heaven? John Milton, in Sonnet 12: On His Blindness reminds us that in heaven thousands of beings dash to and fro doing the will of God. Since there are no heavenly beings on earth (at least not that we can see on a regular basis) if anyone is going to be rushing around doing God’s bidding it will be us. If God’s will is to be done on earth, and it is to be the priority it is in heaven, we’ll have to rearrange our priorities and our schedules. Are we ready for that?
We remember Jesus saying these words in Gethsemane. He finished celebrating Passover with his disciples; then he asked them to accompany him to the garden. Once there, he left them and went off to pray.
Poor disciples! The Passover meal includes several glasses of wine. They kept their eyes open only long enough to hear Jesus say to his Father, “Thy will be done.” Even though Jesus had tried to prepare them for what lay ahead, they couldn’t imagine what God had in store for their Lord and Master—or for them. God’s will was done, in Jesus’ execution, and in his resurrection, and eventually in the lives of those who shared the meal with him.
Are we ready to pray that prayer—the prayer that never fails—and mean it? Can we say with the surety that we know Jesus felt that night, “Thy will be done,” and commit ourselves totally to whatever that entails?
Be careful what you pray for: you might just get it.