Not My Will
Written April 2017
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46 ESV)
Last week I think I might have made a mistake. Last week in the sermon I said that the hardest commandment in the Bible to obey was that of not worrying. Now to be true that command is insanely difficult to consistently obey because it is almost our default settings as sinners saved by grace to worry. When situations and problems come our way we worry and it is almost a reflex to do so. While that command is difficult I think Jesus illustrates one that is at the very least just as difficult if not more so for us to obey. When Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane He prays “not my will, but yours, be done” (vs. 42).
Think about that for a minute, not my will, but yours be done. That one statement touches every aspect of every intimate detail of our lives. It is in that statement where every battle in life is fought, every joy is experienced, and our peace and prosperity hinges. This life which is filled with temptations, trials, troubles, tests, terrors, and triumphs beg us to utter and follow the words of Christ, “not my will, but yours, be done.” in whatever we face.
When I look back in my life and see the moral, ethical, and social choices that I have had to make, what each of those times boiled down to was this issue, my will or God’s will. When you are at work or home or at church and you are faced with a choice, this is the issue, your will or God’s will. As a pastor, whether I acknowledge it or not, every choice and direction I move in is a choice between my will and God’s will and God is calling me as well as everyone of His children to follow the example of Christ and have the heart to say, “not my will, but yours, be done.”
This is sometimes the great struggle of our lives. We know what God wants us to do and we clearly know what we want to do and they are not the same. God doesn’t want us to worry but that is all we can think about doing. God does not want us to date a certain person and that person is who fills our thoughts day in and day out. God wants us to offer forgiveness but all we want to do is stew and cultivate bitterness. God wants us to wait and all we want to do is act. On and on these things go, the list in endless.
Whenever this happens it is the easiest thing in the world to give the right answer. The right answer is we push our will away and follow God’s will. We say God’s will is best, His ways are perfect, and He is all wise therefore the best course of action in any situation is to follow God’s will no matter what our own hearts and minds might say. These are theologically sound and absolutely true statements, and we butt our heads up against them like an NFL outside linebacker going to sack a quarterback in the Super Bowl. Why? Because it is my will. It is the will that we so easily and mistakenly value more than any other will. It is the will of the greatest enemy we will ever face, ourselves. The devil as horrible and terrible as he is, is not with us 24 hours a day seven days a week. We are with ourselves all the time and it is our will that puts us at odds with God so often and causes so much of the conflict that exists in our lives and makes us butt our heads up against God.
Let me give you some of the ways we butt our head against God’s will.
First, we argue. Moses did this in Exodus chapter 4. God has told him to go to Egypt and Moses throws out all the excuses he can think of to get out of it. When we look at this passage we should never give Moses a hard time because we do the exact same thing, but with things a million times smaller than being asked to go before the most powerful man in the world at that time and tell him to let his slaves go free.
We also give excuses. Moses did this too by listing his shortcomings, which is something we readily do by saying we are too busy or that our way is better. We say that we simply can’t do the job, or we argue that we can do a better job than God. I really do wonder what God thinks when we make excuses like this because if it wasn’t for God we couldn’t do anything.
Another thing we do when we struggle with God’s will is we look for loopholes. We look for ways to get around what God wants to do, so we can do what we want. The Pharisees did this and Jesus blasted them for it throughout the New Testament. We do this to justify why we don’t love someone else or aren’t serving like we would like, or don’t worship with others like we should. At its core this is us trying to disregard God’s express will and trying to use the very Word of God to justify our sins.
That is when our will opposes God, but you know we also have a struggle when our will and God’s will are aligned. On the surface this is great, it is the easiest thing in the world when our will and God’s will are the same. We want to give to the needy and we have great joy in giving and that’s exactly what God wants us to do so we do it. Here’s the thing. Whose will are you really doing? I know that I have been called to preach and there is great joy that I have in delivering sermons and teaching but if all I am doing is something that I myself am passionate about am I really doing God’s will? You can do the right thing with the wrong heart. The children of God did this in the Old Testament and Jesus condemned these things in the New Testament.
You see at the very heart of this struggle is the idea of surrender. The reason why this is the hardest commandment is because in order to truly say, “not my will, but yours, be done” we must have complete surrender to God and surrender is not a pleasant pill to take. It is bitter and goes against every sinful longing we might have. Surrender is a relinquishing of control, it is giving up what we hold dear. It is letting go of ambition, desire, and plans that we might have and placing ourselves under the control of another. Ask any teenager, that is not where they want to be. Our sinful hearts cry out we know best, we need to be free, don’t listen to anyone around you your way is best. Jesus, in the meekness of the Garden of Gethsemane reminded us of the path of wisdom. Jesus being fully God, having wisdom that we cannot measure said “not my will, but yours, be done.”
I must brag on my wife a little here. Allison is absolutely brilliant when it comes to music. She knows things about music that I cannot pronounce let alone understand. She knows how to properly train her vocal chords and warm up her voice to perform and can look at a piece of music and automatically know whether it is difficult or easy. For all that knowledge and ability before the choir ever performs a piece during a worship service at church. Before a Christmas Cantata is ever purchased or an Easter Cantata is practiced there is a huge a amount of prayer that lifted up with one thing in mind, God’s will. She has told me over and over again that she wants the music that God wants performed because it all has to be about Him.
Now as a husband and a pastor that makes me grin from ear to ear, because that is the essence of what the Christian life is all about. Not our will, but God’s will. Not my ambition, but God’s plan. Not my focus, but God’s focus. Not my glory, but God’s glory. So how are you doing today?
A lot of us start out with great passion for God that slowly morphs itself into selfish ambition. Many ministers enter into the ministry just wanting to give glory to God and end up on a pathway to bringing glory to themselves. We can do that too in any aspect of our lives. We can be filled with passion for the glory of God and over time get a taste of that praise which develops into an obsession. We can do it without hardly noticing a difference in our hearts, but the end result is still the same. What we are doing is not for our heavenly Father but rather for our own glory.
So what do we do if this has happened. How do we get back on course. If you are truly serious about this let me suggest a few prayers to guide you on the pathway to being able to truly say, “not my will, but yours, be done.”
Lord, I’m sorry: This is the hardest but most important step. Repentance is the key to change, and we cannot change without repentance. For us to truly be on the path of saying “not my will, but yours, be done” we must be willing to come to our heavenly Father and confess exactly what we have done be it putting our own will before His or whatever it might be. We must come and confess that we have argued with God and tried to find loophole around His will. We must come and confess that we have sought our own glory rather than His. Without confession we will never truly say, “not my will, but yours, be done.”
Lord, I surrender: Herein is the essence of Christian living, surrender. Laying down all our hopes, dreams, and prideful wants, and surrendering to the will and ways of God. When a king or an army receives a surrender from another nation that nation is essence saying we are putting all of our lives in your hands. That is what we do when we surrender to God. We are saying Lord my very life is in Your hands, do with me what you will. We are saying whatever it is you want to do to me or whatever you want me to do I’ll do it, I relinquish my right to argue, to reject, and to disobey. We in essence make our life’s song “I Surrender All.”
All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender, Humbly at His feet I bow, Worldly pleasures all forsaken; Take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender, Make me, Savior, wholly Thine; Let me feel Thy Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee; Fill me with Thy love and power, Let Thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender, Now I feel the sacred flame. Oh, the joy of full salvation! Glory, glory to His name!
I surrender all, I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.
Lord, what do I need to stop doing? One of the harsh realities of laying down one’s will is that we must stop the things that God tells us to do, regardless of what they might be. For some it might be the constant worry of your hearts, or a sinful habit that you love, or it could be an attitude that God says stop. The key in praying and seeking the Lord will in this matter is twofold. First we must put everything on the second is we must be silent before God and listen. In this we cannot speak for God or dictate His will but rather quietly and patiently listen.
Lord, what do I need to start doing? Like it or not to pray “not my will, but yours, be done” is a prayer that shows a willingness to change. When we lay aside our selfish will and lay aside our ambitions for that of the will of God we will a whole new purpose and goal in living and in that we will find a new and different work. Instead of greed, giving, instead of bitterness forgiveness, instead of our glory, God’s glory, instead of being big, becoming small. The amazing and wonderful truth of the matter is that when we truly do the things God wants us to do, for His glory, and for His honor, all our other plans and dreams and hopes pale in comparison.
Lord, who have I hurt and what must I do? The final prayer and final to realize the ultimate outcome of following our own will. Way, way back when I was serving at my first church I followed my own will, under the guise of doing God’s work. My crime, I painted a classroom. Let me give you a little more background. I was in my early twenties and I was pastoring a very rural church. The church had a wonderful Sunday School wing which was actually designed by one of the former pastors. Something that struck me as odd was the largest room that was in the Sunday School wing was only being used for storage. I had a plan for a new Sunday school class and thought what a great idea to go and clean this class out, put a new coat of paint on it, and have this huge room for something great. Well, my idea was good but my implementation was bad. Rather than ask, and respect those that had a history with the room I trudged on ahead with no thought or concern that I might be hurting the feelings of others, which I did. This was not God’s will this was my will. Had I simply prayed and sought God’s will and wisdom my actions would have been different. When we follow our own will the outcome will most likely end in the suffering of both ourselves and others. Scripture compels us to go and make amends and gain forgiveness and make things right and if we truly desire to pray “not my will, but yours, be done” and have it true in our lives we must ask, “Lord who have I hurt in my journey following my own will, and what must I do to make it right?”
O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.
Father in heaven I resonate with those word “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it prone to leave the God I love.” That is me God, my tendency is to leave your will to take up my own, but right now I see the error of my way and I ask You humbly to forgive me and set me upon the pathway where I might be able to truthfully and joyfully say “not my will, but yours, be done.” Show me my errors, those that I have hurt, show me what I must stop and what I must begin that Your will for my life might be fulfilled. Amen”