By J.R. Miller
The will of God is perfect in its beauty and its goodness. It is flawless. It shines with the radiance of heaven. It is warm with divine love and tenderness. Being the will of our heavenly Father--its direction is always infallible. It makes no mistakes. It never points the wrong way. It never leads into peril. It marks the one straight way home.
Yet many people seem always to dread the will of God. They think of it as something which involves sacrifice and suffering. They always say "May Your will be done," with quivering lips--as if it meant a sore loss, a bitter disappointment, keen anguish, the giving up of something dear and precious. They have learned to think of God's will, only in connection with their sorrows and trials.
But this is not a true conception of the will of God. No doubt sometimes it does involve suffering--but a thousand times oftener it leads us in paths of joy and gladness. Primarily the prayer, "May Your will be done," has reference to doing--not to enduring. It is a prayer that we may learn to obey the commandments, and do the things that God would have us do. It covers all the life of every day--in the shop and store and school, in the home and the social life, in drudgery and in trial, in temptation and in sorrow. It is a prayer for doing God's will--not suffering God's will.
We ask, if we offer it sincerely, that our heart may be so changed, that we shall learn to love the will of God, that we shall incline more and more to do it, and that it shall gain fuller and fuller sway over us, until it has become the great dominant force in all our life.
The words "on earth' tell us that it is right here, in our common experiences, that we are to learn to do God's will, and not merely when we get to heaven. We are "saved by hope," but we are to enter upon the blessings of salvation in some measure in this world. We are not to wait until we have reached the celestial country, before we begin to do God's will; we should begin to do it the moment we are saved. Too many people are content to make the doing of this blessed will--a dream of what will be when they get into heaven, a happy life which is to be loved beyond the stars. We fall too easily into the feeling that in this world, even the best attainments possible are only the merest beginnings of beauty of character and splendor of service, whose full realizations cannot be found until we are inside the gates of pearl. But this is not the gospel. It was not this that Jesus Christ taught his disciples. He came to bring heaven down to earth, to found the kingdom of God in this world. The theme of this prayer, is that God's will may be done on earth--as it is in heaven.
This does not mean that every true Christian does the will of God perfectly on earth. We start as babies, with everything to learn. We are disciples, scholars, in the school of Christ--and have to learn to do our Father's will. The lessons also are slowly learned. The student in art spoils many a piece of canvas--before he can paint his dream in all its beauty. The student in music goes through long, wearisome practice, full of discords and harsh, unmusical efforts, before he is ready to play the works of the great masters and win applause.
So it is that we must learn to do God's will. It is a long lesson--and not easy! Nature rebels against the new constraint. We like to do our own will, to have our own way. But when Christ comes into our heart--the will of God becomes henceforth the law of our life. Moreover the life of Christ becomes a new life in us. It was a wonderful truth which Jesus taught the woman at the well, that the water which he gives--becomes in him a well of water, springing up unto eternal life. It may be only a feeble beginning--but ultimately it will bring all the life under its power.
One tells of entering a great, crowded church one Sunday morning, while the congregation was singing. A thousand voices joined in the hymn--but it seemed as if no two of them were in accord. But as the visitor listened, he heard one voice which was singing quietly, clearly, distinctly, and sweetly, amid all the confused discords. Soon he noticed that the other voices, one by one, were coming into unison with this one. Before the last verse was reached, the whole congregation was singing in perfect harmony. The mass of discordant voices had been dominated by the one true voice and all had been lifted up by it into its own sweet, clear tone.
In some such way, does the will of God begin its work in a human heart. Its voice is true and clear and unfaltering. It sings alone, however, in a chorus of harsh, discordant voices. Its work is to bring all these dissonances into harmony, to train all these voices of willfulness and waywardness, all these unmusical feelings and impulses and desires--into quiet unison with itself. When we say that certain people are growing in grace--we mean that the sweet will of God is slowly and gradually bringing their undisciplined powers and tendencies into harmony. The music is growing sweeter. The lessons of patience, meekness, joy, peace, gentleness, thoughtfulness, kindness, charity--are being a little better learned each day.
It is not easy for any life to be thus brought into full accord with the will of God. Much that is in us--must be changed. All earthward tendencies, must be turned heavenward. SELF must die. When Jesus said that he who would follow him must deny himself, he did not mean that he must give up a few things, or many; he meant that self must be effaced as the dominant ruler of the life, and dethroned, and that Christ must be seated in the empty place. No more must the question be, "What is pleasant to me? What would I like to do?"
For example, one wrongs us, does us some great unkindness or injustice. Nature counsels resentment, bitterness, the repaying of the evil with evil. But the will of God counsels love, forbearance, patience, forgiveness. As we pray "May Your will be done," our natural impulse must yield to the divine Spirit--and love must prevail.
This finely illustrates the work of the will of God in every Christian heart. It is there as a well of the water of life, a fresh-water spring in the brackish sea, and it beats up through every tide of bitter feeling, sweetening it and subduing it.
The prayer is that the will of God may be done on earth, that is, all over the earth, by all the millions of the race. Yet while this wide aspect should be kept always in view, while we should pray for the submission of all men to the divine sway--it is for the doing of this blessed will in our own life, that we are to pray primarily and particularly.
That is the portion of the earth for which we are specially and personally responsible. It is possible that a man may give much thought and care to other lives--and neglect his own. We need to guard against this mistake. Each man's life is his own in a peculiar sense. In the matter of the will--no one can act for any other. The mother cannot surrender her child's will to God. She may bring influences to bear upon it--reasons, motives, persuasions; but meanwhile the child holds in its own hand the scepter of its life, and alone can yield up the will in which are folded the destinies of the life.
It is right we should pray that all men may be inclined to yield their will to God's; also, that we should do all we can to lead those about us to make this surrender. But our first responsibility is for the bringing of our own will into subjection to God. This no other one can do for us.
Until we have made a surrender of our own will to God--we cannot acceptably serve him. It is not enough to devote one-seventh of our time and one-tenth of our income, to the Lord. It is not enough to engage in the service of Christ and to give our life to ministries of love in behalf of the poor and the troubled. It is possible to do all this--and yet have in us an unsurrendered will. It is not our work, our money, our ministrations, that God wants--but our heart! When the will is truly surrendered, all else will follow; but until this consecration has been made, nothing else will count. While, therefore, we pray earnestly that God's will may be done in others--it should be our first concern to make our own will, God's. Until we have done this, we are not truly in the kingdom of God, which is first of all a kingdom of surrendered wills.
One reason why it is hard to learn this lesson is that to our human nature, the divine will seems to set for us a severe and rigorous rule of life. It demands holiness and righteousness. It checks self-indulgence, putting a rein upon the appetites and passions, and bringing all wayward impulses and tendencies into subjection to Christ. "Take my yoke upon you" is our Lord's first demand of those who would follow him. Our own way must be given up--for our Master's way. Whatever duty is presented, must be accepted promptly, and done cheerfully, unquestioningly. Whatever is not in accord with the divine will--must be put away without reluctance, without reserve. This will demands unselfishness. It bids us to love our enemy and pray for those who despitefully use us. It requires us to be patient with all men, to be thoughtful and kind to everyone, to love the unlovely, to be ready to serve all.
The divine will would set up its throne in our heart and rule there in unquestioned sway. The natural heart resents such intrusion upon its sovereignty, claiming a right to wield the scepter over its own realm. It regards as unreasonable in its demands and restraints--the life of holiness and obedience to which it is called. Men imagine, too, that a life of self-will, self-indulgence, earthly pleasure--will bring more happiness that a life surrendered to God. They think that the will of God would make life hard. But really it calls us to the happiest and most beautiful life possible in this world. It is not unreasonable in its demands, for we were made to be God's children, and the true life of a child--is love and obedience to the Father. The indulgences which the divine will calls us to give up, though for the present they may give a kind of pleasure--in the end bring sorrow and bitterness. It is poisoned pleasure which they give at the best. The duties to which it invite us, though they demand self-denial, in the end yield the sweetest joy and the truest good.
The doing of the will of God--leads to blessedness. Every path of providence on which God ever takes us, we may be sure, is a path to something good and beautiful. The life of Jesus, from beginning to end, was in accord with this will. He always did the things that pleased his Father. His obedience was costly, how costly we never can fully fathom, for no human heart can comprehend the mystery of the Redeemer's sorrows. Yet never in any other heart was there such joy as he experienced, and the end of his experience was infinite and eternal blessedness! Just in the measure in which we follow Christ in doing the will of God--shall we share his joy and his blessedness. Disobedience always works hurt and marring--but he who does the will of God--is gathering into his life all that is worthy and good and enduring!