Have you ever asked yourself this question, “Why am I here?” The words, “Why am I here?” are simple and yet those words can result in a very complex set of answers. At the highest level, the question, “Why am I here?” can cause us to contemplate the purpose of our life. At the lowest level, the question can cause us to wonder why we are here in the sanctuary at this moment in time. Whether we choose to think of the question, “Why am I here?” at the highest level, the lowest level, or somewhere in between, the answer ultimately involves an expression of someone’s will or choice. Am I here because of my will or someone else’s will? In this regard, our entire life is a matter of choices or expressions of someone’s will.
There are some Christians who believe that everything in life, every action, every reaction, has been ordained and determined ahead of time by God’s will. By this they believe that all choices of life are God’s choice from the simplest decision as to the next words out of our mouth to the manner and moment of our death. All will is God’s and we have no will of our own.
Other Christians believe that God set everything in motion and gave humanity the power to make choices and then, God walked away. By this those Christians believe that all choices in life belong to us. That all choices are our will and God’s will is not involved in the affairs of our life or the world.
These two groups of Christians then would have us believe that we are here because we chose to be here or because God chose to exercise his will over us and place us where we are. Those views are at very different ends of the spectrum of Christian thought.
“What then is truth and why does it matter?” By whose will are you here; God’s will or human will? I believe the answer to that question is found in the words and in the prayers of just one person named Jesus. I want to begin with a few words from Jesus.
One day Jesus was speaking to a group of people. Some of the people were his apostles, some were followers, and still others were antagonists of Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus took the opportunity to explain who he was and why he was here. Jesus said, “38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:38-40). Jesus words tell us two very important things. First, God sent Jesus from heaven to earth. This tells us that God did not simply set the wheels of the world in motion and walk away. God is involved in the world and sent Jesus for a purpose. Second, Jesus answered the question, “Why am I here?” Jesus said that he was God’s son sent by God to bring a message of hope which is God’s will. Jesus came to do only what God willed even though Jesus possessed a separate will of his own. Jesus exercised his will and chose to make his will the same as that of God’s. Jesus’ words then tells us God is involved in the world and that God has a will of his own and we have a will of our own. Now, you might be thinking, I know I have a will of my own, this is not a revelation. This may be true enough, but do we understand how to exercise our will in the right ways?
The great figures of the New Testament struggled with exercising their wills in the right ways. The apostle Paul wrote, “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 8:15, 18b-20). Paul understood he had a will independent of God’s will. Paul knew that God’s will for his life was good, but Paul struggled to do what God wanted. But Paul had little trouble doing what Paul wanted. So knowing we have a will separate from God’s is not the same as exercising God’s will as our own. It is a struggle.
To help us a bit on this matter of exercising our will either along with God or independent of God’s will we go back to some additional words of Jesus. On another day, Jesus sent his disciples gather up some food. When Jesus’ disciples returned to him they said, “‘Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he [Jesus] said to them [his disciples], ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’
33 Then his disciples said to each other, ‘Could someone have brought him food?’ 34 ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work’” (John 6:31b-34). Jesus, it seems, was nourished and sustained by doing God’s will. Jesus valued doing God’s will as much as anyone of us values eating; it was life sustaining and enjoyable. I am sure many of you have had the experience of doing what you are sure God wanted you to do. In those moments when I have done so, I feel such a joy and lightness and freedom that I do not feel I need sleep or food. I believe this is the experience Jesus was sharing with his disciples.
Sadly, though we mere mortals are slow learners about exercising our will, about choosing to do God’s will. Jesus tried another way to explain the experience of following God’s will. One evening, Jesus was teaching in a house filled and overflowing with people. “31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside [the house], they sent someone in to call him [Jesus]. 32 A crowd was sitting around him [Jesus], and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ 33 ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:31-34). Jesus was redefining family relationships. God sent Jesus to do God’s will. Anyone else, anyone of us, who would do God’s will was therefore an intimate family member of Jesus; a mother, brother, or sister. Biological family no longer determined someone’s ancestry or inheritance. Instead, choosing to exercise your will consisting with God’s will makes a child of God with all the rights and privileges that brings. Think about that for a moment. You are as close to God as Jesus when you act as God would act.
From this we learn that we have a will and God has a will. We can choose to exercise our will or God’s will. When we exercise God’s will, then our being is sustained and satisfied. When we exercise God’s will we are as close to God on earth as we can get. How then do we learn to experience the joy, satisfaction, and closeness to God as we exercise our own will? The answer is simple in method but often it is difficult for us to put into practice. The answer to knowing how to exercise your will consistent with God’s is done prayer. When we pray, we are seeking a most intimate relationship between God and ourselves. Jesus prayed. He even prayed for the strength to conform his will to God’s.
One evening, Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane. There among the olive trees, Jesus prayed to God. It was a difficult moment for Jesus for he knew people were coming to arrest him and that once arrested they would crucify him. Jesus was deeply disturbed and sad as we might feel the moment we learn that someone very close to us had died. Jesus entered the garden, and he “fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ [The cup was the entire experience upon the cross.] 40 Then he [Jesus] returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. 41 ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42 He [Jesus] went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ 43 When he [Jesus] came back, he again found them [his disciples] sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing [‘Not my will but Thy will be done].”
To know God’s will is to pray for the courage to receive God’s will and then do it. We might not have recognized this truth but this is what we did earlier in our worship service when we prayed together the Lord’s Prayer. This is what we heard in the scripture readings today from the Gospel of Matthew and of Luke. Taking the two accounts together, we read, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John [John the Baptist] taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1) “9 ‘This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’” (Matthew 6:9-13).
This the most common form of the Lord’s Prayer. In this church, we say these words together each time we gather for worship. We could have a whole series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer but for today I want to note just three things. First, common prayers and ancient prayers like the Lord’s Prayer are helpful because those prayers remind us important Christian beliefs. Second, however, common prayers repeated over the centuries create a risk that we will hear what we are saying as just words to be repeated and not a prayer intended to bring us closer to God. If we listen carefully, all churches have developed a rhythm to the way we say the Lord’s Prayer. We all pause and use similar inflections on the words, almost regardless of the church we might attend. This leads us to the final point, are we really listening to what we are saying and asking God to grant in response to such prayers. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth.”
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth” is a prayer that God would change us to be like Jesus and that we would only ever do God’s will. “Not my will, but your will [God] be done.” What are we saying? Many people limit their understanding of this part of the prayer as only asking God that we could come to accept the difficulties of life as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane. “Lord, give me strength to accept the cross that is before me. Thy will be done.” That cross that we equate as God’s will could be an illness, a divorce, an imprisonment, or any other disagreeable thing in life. Lord, let me bear up under what has happened to me. If that is true, then should we also look at the blessings in life as an act of God’s will being fulfilled. “Lord, give me the humility to accept the beauty that you have placed before me this must also be an act of your will.” Is not the beauty in our life also God’s will? That beauty could be food to eat, a friend who shows us love, a breathtaking sunset, wisdom from a wise counselor, a smile we may coax from a grumpy person, etc. The list of blessings that pour over our lives that can be seen as God’s will are endless. Becky and I experienced God’s will in this sense when on a couple of occasions we sat on the beach in Maine looking at the ocean with its endless waves gently braking on the shore and the brilliant sunlight sparkling on the ocean surface. It was magnificent and that moment of nature reflected God’s will on earth. Praying for more of those blessings makes us more aware when they are presented to us.
This leads us to our final point. God is able to do anything, but God chooses to work through people to accomplish much of his will. So, when we pray, “your will be done on earth,” we are asking God to move within us to do His will here on earth. We are asking God to change our minds and hearts to be aligned with his desires and, here is the hard part, then do the work of His kingdom. We are asking God to give me Jesus fully that I could go and offer hope, healing, and comfort not just to those I like but to those who do not like me. We are asking God take the words out of my mouth when I say, “I am going to make it my business to make sure that what I think is right happens.” and soften them to say, “My food is to do the will of God; My desire to join my brother Jesus and do what he is doing.” What we are saying in our prayer is, “Your will be done – by me – now!”
Have you ever asked yourself this question, “Why am I here?” You are here, in this sanctuary, because you aligned your will for this moment to be the same as God’s will. The choice we have to make from this moment forward is who’s will shall I follow. Shall it be my own, the will of someone else, or shall we say together in prayer to God, “I am here that ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ – by me – now.”