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Streets of gold. Angels floating overhead. Eden-like gardens. Some huge temple or palace or mansion. Sunshine all the time. Joyful singing. What kinds of images come to mind when you think of heaven?

Because of how heaven is often portrayed, we can end up carrying around in our heads a certain view of heaven . . . one that may or may not be truly biblical. Twice, in teaching his followers how to pray, Jesus mentioned heaven. So, it makes sense for us to think well about heaven in order to understand how we are to pray.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

In a previous post we looked at what it means to address God as “our Father who is in heaven” (see “There, in Heaven”). Here we turn out focus to the second mention of heaven: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We need to think well and carefully about what this request implies . . . and doesn’t imply. It might be simple to think that what is suggested is that what makes heaven so heavenly is that God’s will is being done there, and that his will is  not being done here on the earth. But is that really true?

Texts like Isaiah 46:10 and Ephesians 1:11 make it clear that God works all things–including the things on earth–according to his will. James writes that our going to some place and seeking to make some profit is not within our control, but that God’s will has sway (James 4:13-16). God’s oversight of life on planet earth extends even to the death of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29)–something that to us would seem trivial and yet is played out according to the will of God. In the amazing prayer offered by the church recorded for us in Acts 4, the community of faith affirmed that all the details of the betrayal and suffering and crucifixion of Jesus–although undertaken by the decisions and actions of wicked men–was nevertheless the playing out of the God’s predetermined purpose (Acts 4:27-28). All this tells us the will of God is being done on earth.

So what of this prayer? What sense does it make to pray that the will of God “be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Could it be that what is in view is less about whether the will of God is being done and more about in what manner the will of God is being done?

Here’s the way I get to that thought.

In writing to the Philippians, Paul says that one day “every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Notice, everyone will bow; everyone will affirm Jesus’ lordship and, in so doing, give glory to God the Father. But not everyone will be bowing and affirming with the same attitude of heart.

Some will bow and affirm Jesus’ lordship as those who have been conquered by him when he comes. Some will bow and affirm Jesus’ lordship as those who have been rescued by him through his death and resurrection. All will bow, all will affirm, and in so doing all will glorify God. But the manner in which it is being done is markedly different. But how the acknowledgement is offered is different.

The earth is not running rampantly out of control. God has not abdicated his sovereign rule of the planet. He is still exercising his will according to his good pleasure to procure his intended ends. But some of those living lives under the will of God do so without joyously embracing God’s will, without recognizing and affirming his glorious goodness and mercy, without lovingly embracing God’s will. But heaven? It’s different there.

Heaven is that realm of life where God’s will is done with delight and joy, with inclined hearts and passions engaged, with joyful affirmation and glorious worship.

It isn’t that God’s will is done in heaven and is not done (yet) on earth. It is that God’s will is done in heaven with such unvarnished enthusiastic gladness and is (at times) done on earth with little worship, no real gladness, and no sincere acknowledgement of the one who works all things according to the good pleasure of his will.

So what does it mean to pray “God, may your will be done on earth as it is heaven”? It may mean more about how we live out and live under the good will of God. Perhaps it more a prayer for our heart adjustment, and less a prayer about some need for the world to come under God’s control.

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve been reading Randy Alcorn’s “If God is Good”. This post is an affirmation to the thoughts that God really is in control. His story is progressing as planned. He loves us and is working all things together for good. And we can rest confident in His love and perfect plan for us! Dear Father, work in my heart to cause me to rest confident in your perfect love and plan for my days here and then for all eternity!

  2. Amen, Doug. Resting in the confidence we have in his love and plan for us is wonderful. That is abiding in his love–something we are invited into.

  3. Great point that no matter what is happening on Earth that His will is going to be progressing where we see it or not. I’ve never thought of that or which in the manner Gods will is done. Dear Lord create in me a new heart to do your will with joy and love, and to put all my trust in you!

  4. Lord create in me a new heart..one willing to be governed by Your promptings. Help me to be satisfied with the best ! Lord may the praise of this man…with his brothers and sisters, ” not the rath of man”, bring a shout of praise to Your ears today. You alone deserve the fucus of our every attention, because of Your loving kindness. Lord help me to gladly hide behind the Cross so that You recieve all the glory due Your holy name.


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