“Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven”
We now come to the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which is also the last of the seven petitions directed to God Himself for His own sake – “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is God’s deepest desire for every single one of us to live with Him eternally in heaven. That is precisely why He sent His Son, Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” so that we might follow Him and His commands in order to merit our place in our heavenly home (Jn 14:6). When we ask that God’s will be done, our first questions might have something to do with knowing and understanding what God’s actual will is in our day to day lives. The Catechism teaches us that we begin with Jesus’ own words regarding the new commandments. “His commandment is ‘that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.’ This commandment summarizes all the others and expresses his entire will” (CCC #2822). Jesus did not come to abolish the old law, but rather to fulfill it. We still ought to obey the Ten Commandments, but Jesus provides the motivation and love for following them rather than expecting us to just adhere to them robotically. For example, we choose to be honest, not only because God has told us lying is against His will, but also because we love the person with whom we are speaking as a child of God and do not want our words to cause harm. Knowing and doing the will of God always begins with the consideration of love for the other. That being said, we must be prudent in our discernment of love, because what might appear to be a loving action in the earthly sense is not actual love in the context of eternal salvation. We must strive to do what is best for the other’s soul.
In addition to the consideration of love, we also have access to Jesus’ actions and words in the gospels to help us to determine what God’s will is in how we live our lives. He provides instruction to all the sinners He encounters as to how they should amend their lives. Recall the story of the rich young man from the gospel of Matthew (19:16-30). He asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus responds that he must follow the commandments. After replying that he has already done those things he asks what more he can do. Jesus tells him to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and come follow Him. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, the young man found himself unwilling to follow through on Jesus’ instructions. As we read through the gospels and contemplate the things Jesus tells people to do, we can put His words into the context of our own lives and strive to not be like the young man, unwilling to do His will.
We also can look to Jesus Himself for what it means to do the will of the Father. Prior to His Passion and Crucifixion, Jesus prayed in His agony, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done,” (Luke 22:42). As we know, it was not God’s will for Jesus to avoid what came next. Jesus was obedient to His Father’s will to the point of His own unjust execution (CCC #2824). How willing are you to do the will of God in your life? When eternal life is on the line, are you inclined to go the way of the rich young man, or the way of Jesus, willing to lay your whole life on the line for what He wills for you?
The Catechism tells us that another key factor in discerning the will of the Father is prayer (CCC #2826). Prayer is nothing more than conversation between you and God. It is a mutual back and forth of listening and speaking. Think of significant relationships in your life. The more conversations you have with those people, the more you get to know them – their likes and dislikes, their history, their dreams, their character, etc. Eventually, you find yourself in the position of knowing what they might do in a particular situation or how they might respond to a challenge. The same is true for God. The more we converse with Him in prayer, the better we get to know Him and what it is He wants for our lives.
Finally, “Jesus teaches us that one enters the kingdom of heaven, not by speaking words, but by doing ‘the will of my Father in heaven’” (CCC #2826). This truth evokes the ongoing conversation about faith versus works. When we say we are doing the will of the Father, it implies we are actively doing something, whether it be in our behavior or our physical bodies. In other words, we are performing works. Going back to the story of the rich young man, when he asks Jesus how he achieves eternal life, He does not say “have more faith in me,” rather, He gives him specific actions (or works) to perform. In fact, in almost all of Jesus’ instructions to others, He prescribes specific things to do. He is very clear that we cannot enter heaven unless we do certain things. Of course, that in no way negates our need for faith in Him, but it means that we perform our works because of our faith in Him and all He has commanded us to do. So, while we cannot merit heaven solely by our own power over actions, we must certainly participate in our own salvation with our works, motivated by our faith. To pray the Lord’s Prayer and to say, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is to acknowledge our own role in the works we perform in His name.
Certainly, there are areas in each of our lives where we do God’s will a little less adequately than other areas. Spend some time conversing with God in prayer and ask Him to show you where you can do better. Ask Him how you might do better in doing His will on earth so that you might one day enter the kingdom of heaven.
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