Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Thy Will Be Done

Puppet on strings

by Dennis Pollock

The truths we learn in the Scriptures nearly all have a balancing truth that must also be considered, lest we lean too far in one direction. God's love must be balanced by His holiness, and His mercy must be balanced by His justice. Paul exhorts us to "consider the goodness and severity of God." In this brief teaching we will consider that truth that provides the necessary balance to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.

God's sovereignty is well established in the Bible. We are told that not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father's will (Matthew 10:29) and that our great Creator holds our breath in His hands and owns all of our ways (Daniel 5:23). He does whatever He pleases in heaven and earth (Psalm 135:6), and no one can restrain His hand or say to Him, "What have You done?" (Daniel 4:35). The God of the Bible is revealed as an awe-inspiring God who cannot be challenged, cannot be stopped, and whose purposes cannot be thwarted. As the song says, "Our God is an awesome God."

It is possible, however, to take the sovereignty of God to such extremes that it leads to a form of fatalism. In this view, man has little responsibility for anything he does or that occurs on earth, since the sovereign God is making all things work according to plans He has worked out from the foundation of the world. Thus, the drunk man lying in the gutter is as much following the will and plan of God as the missionary preaching Christ in an African village. The reckless driver who has just killed a young mother with her children as a result driving sixty miles an hour in a school zone does not have to feel too apologetic; it was God's plan that this young woman and her children should be killed in this exact moment and in this precise fashion. And if your teenage son is far from God and is dissipating his life with drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity, you don't have to feel too badly about it – he is probably not one of God's elect, and therefore is just doing what God has decreed for him to do. Most of us instinctively know that this cannot be right; yet some seem to push the sovereignty of God almost this far.

God’s Will not Always Done

As Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He gave them a model prayer which contains the line, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." This simple thought has been revolutionary to me, both in my thinking about God and in my prayer life. It reveals something that is pretty amazing: God's will is not always done on the earth. If we are to pray that God's will should be done on earth, it must follow that His will is not always done on earth. We never pray for water to be wet or for snow to be white. It is pointless to pray for something that already is. We pray for things that are not the way we wish them to be. So when Jesus tells us to pray that God's will might be done on earth it is clear proof that the Father's will is not always done on the earth.

This is astounding! This great God who holds the whole world in His hand allows all sorts of things on earth to go on that are not His will. God does not choose for men to beat their wives or women to abort their babies, or people to destroy their bodies and minds with drugs, or families to become places of anger and unhappiness. His choice is always for righteousness, peace, and joy. Yet all sorts of things go on in the earth that do not at all reflect righteousness, peace and joy. Thus we pray, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Length of Life

Let us consider several areas of life in which God's will is often not accomplished. First, we will look at something that almost everybody believes is surely in the domain of God's sovereign choice – the length of our lives. Nearly every person assumes that our days are numbered by God and that we will die on that day and in that hour that He has predetermined. There's nothing you can do "when your number is up," people say. Soldiers sometimes speak of a bullet that will have their name on it. The idea is, when you're supposed to die, you'll die!

Strangely, the Bible seems to teach the opposite – that you do not have a specific day, and that you can, in fact, add to your lifespan by making wise choices. In Proverbs we read, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you" (Proverbs 9:10,11). It would be foolish for the person who continually abuses their body through smoking two packs of cigarettes every day, never exercising, guzzling sodas and stuffing himself with doughnuts constantly, and who lives in a continual state of rage, to blame a sovereign God when he finds he has heart problems in middle-age, and may not be long for this world. Walking in the fear of God, living peacefully with our family, and maintaining self-control in our eating habits may well add years or even decades to our lives.

Germ Theory

One reason for our experiencing something other than the perfect will of God in our lives is simple ignorance. Who knows how many miseries we have suffered due to ignorance? Back in the 1800's a Hungarian doctor named Semmelweis was puzzled. His role in the Vienna General Hospital was similar to what we might call "chief resident." He oversaw one of the hospital's obstetrical clinics, and the women who came there to give birth were dying at an alarming rate. His clinic was staffed with medical students, and another clinic run by the hospital and staffed with midwives was having far more success in keeping the women alive. One out of ten women giving birth at his clinic were ending up dead. Women, scheduled to come to his clinic to give birth were starting to wait and give birth at home or in the streets rather than risk their lives by giving birth at the clinic.

Semmelweis just didn't get it. Why should the midwives have such a better record of keeping the mamas alive than the medical students? As he studied and pondered the situation, he finally arrived at a conclusion. He decided that the medical students, who were frequently working with cadavers as they studied anatomy, were bringing some invisible "cadaverous particles" on their hands into the birthing rooms, which was somehow making the women sick and leading to their deaths. He didn't realize it at the time, but he was on the cutting edge of what would soon be referred to as the "germ theory." The brilliant doctor began requiring all the students to wash their hands in a chloride solution before attending to the mothers. Lo and behold, the mortality rate for the mothers dropped precipitously and began to match that of the women who gave birth by midwives.

Suppose you could have gone to the husband of one of those women who died at that hospital when the medical students were going straight from the autopsy rooms to the birthing rooms without washing, and asked, "Why did your wife have to die?" If he were a religious man he might well have told you, "It was simply the will of God. It was a mystery none of us will ever understand. All we can say is that God decided it was her time to go." From that man's point of view, this sounds right, but from what we know now, we would not be nearly so dogmatic in insisting that this woman died according to the perfect plan of God. The lady died because the medical field of that day was woefully ignorant of germs. And if that were true back then, who is to say there aren't all sorts of diseases and deaths that mystify us today, which will be perfectly understandable in generations to come?

Not God’s Fault

Another fatalistic view that pushes sovereignty too far is the idea that what we have is what God wants us to have. Since He is the giver of good gifts, if we don't have certain things we wish we had, it must be because God doesn't want us to have them. But this is putting too much upon God. We have certain responsibilities that that lie with us. If a man's yard is full of weeds and tall brush, he cannot simply say, "I just put my yard in the hands of God, and this is how it came out." God is not going to do your lawn mowing for you, or your weed-whacking, or plant your flower garden or trim your hedges. Nor will He send an angel to do it. If you want a nice-looking lawn, you are going to have to get off your couch, go outside, and start working with your two hands.

There are many Scriptural admonitions that encourage us to do our part in receiving the blessings of heaven. Proverbs speaks of the importance of diligence, telling us: "He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich" (Proverbs 10:4). The lazy man who goofs off at work, does the bare minimum to get by, and is always first out the door at five o'clock has no reason to blame God for being passed over for promotion again and again. This is not some curse falling on his head from God; this is simply the natural outcome of his own laziness.

Another reason for lack of certain blessings is the fact that we never ask God for them. James tells us, "You have not because you ask not." That is a profound thought. According to the Bible, there are blessings we should have, blessings that God has no problem with giving us, and yet we don't have them because we have never taken the time and trouble to ask our Heavenly Father.

Don’t Forget Faith!

And then there is the requirement of faith. Nobody spoke more about the importance of faith than our Lord Jesus. Over and over He encourages us to ask of God and believe that we will receive. But if God has already sovereignly decided exactly what we shall have and what we must do without, faith would be irrelevant. If it has already been settled, why believe God for anything? He will do what He wants to do and He will give what He wants to give. But that is not what the Bible tells us. James instructs us to seek God for wisdom, and reminds us, "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering… For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (James 1:6,7). People who casually ask God for blessings without a trace of faith or expectancy to receive will come up empty-handed – not because God has sovereignly decided that He doesn't want to grant the blessing, but because they have not followed the divine protocols for asking and receiving.

The greatest blessing of all works in precisely this fashion. When a sinner is convicted by the Holy Spirit of his need for salvation, he is urged to come to the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, in faith. Paul's word to the Philippian jailer is the exact word God has for all who are outside of Christ: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." Believe that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, believe that He rose from the dead on the third day, and believe that through Jesus God grants us the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life.

In the passion of Christ we see both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of men. In God's sovereign purposes, He planned this salvation from the foundation of the world. He asked counsel from none and took no vote. Out of His own amazing love for men and women He gave us His Son. But we must respond to this great gift of love. As the King James Version so beautifully puts it, "And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."

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