“What do you want?” How many times a day do we say or ask that question? A dozen? A hundred? More? Since we can’t read each other’s minds, we are compelled to communicate with others what we want. In 1 month, I can’t tell you how often I’ve asked that question to Levi, and he just looks at me blankly and continues crying. Perhaps one of the reasons God designed marriage to be for life is because that’s how long it takes for a husband to understand what his wife wants. An entire industry exists for the sole purpose of taking surveys and polls to find out what people want when it comes to everything from fast food to president. To top it off, Mel Gibson starred in a movie called What Women Want. As important as it is to find out what other people want, in the 3rd Petition Jesus teaches us to pray for what God Wants, for all and for us.
You may have guessed this, but I’ll confirm for you that this sort of question is very high on the list of things people ask their pastors. What does God want for my future, what college does he want me to attend, who does he want me to marry, what does he want me to learn from this disease or accident? There are countless books, websites, and talk shows that discuss these questions and how to find the answers. Unfortunately, it’s an exercise in futility because God hasn’t revealed the specific answers to those questions. They are a part of what we call God’s hidden will. (Deuteronomy 29:29) There are some things that God has not revealed to us – and in keeping them hidden, he’s telling us that it’s not our business to know. So when it comes to asking what God wants in specifics – be it the future, politics or romance – we’re better off not even asking the question, because not only is it futile to search for what God has hidden, it is sinfully arrogant to presume that we should know all that God knows.
Does that mean that we cannot and will never know what God wants? No. In the first ever, worldwide social media post, God handed his will to Moses on two stone tablets, and this is what he wrote: 1) God does not want people to worship anyone or anything other than himself. He forbids the worship of Allah, Buddha, bank accounts, vacation homes and Aaron Rodgers. 2) God wants his name, that is, his reputation and his Word to be kept holy. He forbids the use of his name to curse or swear needlessly. He condemns those who use his name to cover up lies and false teaching. 3) God wants all people to joyfully gather to hear his word and receive his forgiveness. He forbids us to find rest for our souls and peace for our minds in any place other than his Word. He condemns those who despise listening to his Word. 4) God wants children to obey their parents, citizens to obey their government officials, church members to honor and respect their pastors and teachers. He takes disrespect, disobedience and rebellion as personal offenses. 5) God wants every human life to be regarded as sacred. He forbids hatred and murder. He condemns those who conspire to take the lives of the unborn and the aged. 6) God wants his institution of marriage to be kept sacred. He forbids secret affairs, lustful thoughts, and filthy images. He wants his gift of sex to be enjoyed by husband and wife to offer companionship, children and chastity. 7) God wants us to keep what he has given us. God forbids stealing. He condemns lying on tax forms and slacking at work. He hates laziness and wants us to help others keep and protect their personal property. 8) God wants the names and reputations of people to be protected. He forbids gossip, little white lies and deceit. God wants secrets to be kept and rumors to be buried. 9 & 10) God wants us to be thankful and content with what we have. He forbids us to desire things, people, opportunities that we should not want to have. There you have it. What God wants in a simple, 10 point list. Amen?
Maybe not. If that’s what God wants and if he does whatever pleases him (Psalm 115:3) then why are our world, our homes and our hearts filled with the opposite, with idolatry and adultery, with anarchy and gossip, with abortion and terrorism? The world has two answers to the question of evil. The first is that the reality we see IS what God wants. Skeptics conclude that God wanted terrorists to blow up a Turkish airport, God wanted 49 people to be murdered in Orlando, God wanted a mother to be killed on Hwy 30 while helping ducks cross the road. After the Orlando shooting, Wisconsin State representative Mandela Barnes tweeted: “How many people have been driven to hate and act violently towards the lgbt community by “conservative Christian” ideology?” (an attack against God’s people is an attack on God himself.) The other conclusion is equally false: there is no God, or if there is, he isn’t interested or isn’t powerful enough to do anything to prevent evil. In one way or another, this fallen world finds a way to blame a holy God for evil in this world.
But we do not look to tweets or speculation to reveal the mystery of evil, we look to God’s Word. And there God has revealed the three sources of evil: 1) He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (1 John 3:8) 2) We know that…the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19) 3) And most devastating: the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) God’s will isn’t carried out perfectly in this world because the devil, the world, and our own sinful hearts are in a constant state of rebellion against Him. And so part of praying this petition means asking God to destroy those things that war against his will. And make no mistake, God will destroy everything and everyone who battles against His holy will. He cast Satan out of heaven into the fire of hell. He will purge this world of evil by destroying it on the Last Day.
But in his grace, God has also revealed that he does not want even one sinner to face eternal destruction. We heard it in Ezekiel and Ephesians. I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord…repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32) And he made known to us the mystery of his will…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10) God has made what he wants for this world undeniably clear: live according to my will or die. But because he is merciful and gracious, he formulated a plan of salvation where the one who suffered hell wasn’t the world, but his perfect Son. And because ultimately, God’s greatest desire for this world is not to damn the world, but to save it, He wants everyone to repent, turn to Jesus in faith and live. What does God want? It’s not a mystery, God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)
Are you satisfied? Of course not. We are all narcissists to one degree or another. We don’t just want to know what God wants for all people, I want to know what God wants for me. Before we go there, be warned, you may not expect or like what God has in mind for you.
When Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven he exposes the source of the problem: God’s will is done perfectly in heaven by the angels and saints, but we are here, on earth, where imperfection is the reality. But that’s only part of the problem. Look inside, what do you see? Do you see a heart that at all times and in all circumstances lives in perfect conformity to God’s will…or do you see a heart that more often than not defiantly shouts: my will be done! Same here.
And so before you pray this petition in a few minutes, realize exactly what it is that you are asking God to do. You are asking God to remove the part of your will that only wants to serve yourself with a will that wants to serve others. You are asking God to convert the part of you that strives to fit in with the world to a person who wants to match God’s holy image. You are asking God to destroy that which is most precious to you: your sinful SELF. Praying this petition is not natural for us. We are not wired to want what God wants. We want freedom, the freedom to choose, the freedom to live how we want – in the end, we want freedom from what God wants. We often see God’s will regarding worship, marriage, gossip, and hard work as out of date and optional. We sometimes see the conscience God gave us to alert us when we are sinning as something to be ignored, silenced or drowned out by distraction. And we know that God wants us to be like himself: kind, just, and loving to the unlovable; but we would rather be ourselves: grumpy, unforgiving and self-serving. And so, when God goes about working this change in us, it hurts.
It doesn’t seem painful at first. For most of us, God began this conversion with the water of baptism. There he washed away our sin and planted the seed of faith in our hearts. Relatively painless. But he follows that washing with teaching and his most important lessons aren’t learned in a classroom. God uses the discipline and punishment handed out by parents, police officers and pastors to show that he is serious about respecting his representatives. Losing a friend in high school on account of gossip is God’s way of reminding us that [we] shall not give false testimony against our neighbor. (Exodus 20:16) As we age, the lessons don’t get any easier. God cuts out covetous desires by allowing us to go through financial crisis. He allows extramarital affairs and divorce result in misery for everyone involved to show us that he is serious about marriage. He allows us to lose jobs, to suffer pain and disease, to struggle in many ways to teach us that He really wants us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things. And finally, the grave is a dread reminder that in the end, God’s will will be done – sin will be punished with death. If you’re feeling a little sick to your stomach by now – good. That’s the pain we were talking about. That pain is the first step of repentance. That pain is the excruciating admission that what I want (contrary to God’s will) is killing me. That pain leads us to cry out to our Heavenly Father, Lord, have mercy on me.
God has had mercy on this world and on us: he gave us his Son, the one teaching us this petition. This is Jesus, the one who revealed why he had come: I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38) Jesus carried out his Father’s will even though it meant poverty, persecution, and betrayal. Jesus agonized in the Garden and cried out: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42) Thankfully, God did not change his will. Out of love for rebels like us, he wanted his Son to die for our sins. He poured out his wrath on Jesus for every single one of the times that we said “my will, not yours be done.” And Jesus wanted this too. He wanted to suffer for your sins and mine so that we would be able to experience just what carrying out God’s will is like for all eternity. Whenever you pray this petition, repent that you haven’t kept God’s will – but then give thanks and rejoice, because Jesus has.
Whenever you wonder what God wants, don’t speculate about God’s hidden will, and if you do come to your pastor, be prepared for the answer: look to the Bible and look to Jesus. Because there you see that God wants all people to repent and turn to Him for forgiveness and salvation. What does God want? It’s no mystery, God wants to save you. Let us pray with sincerity and confidence, Lord, not my will, but your will be done. Amen.