What is the ultimate prayer? A lady in hospital told me, some years ago, that it is, “Your will be done.” She was dying of congestive heart failure, and she knew it – so this was a bold statement of faith and vulnerability. In some ways, she was one step ahead of Job, facing the loss of hopes and dreams and life itself, yet able to accept that there was a greater purpose in God’s will.
How many of us pray, “Your will be done,” with truly open hearts and minds? What if God’s will does not suit our agenda or our goals? I suspect that when many of us pray those words, we really have an imaginary army of tiny liturgical lawyers producing copious quantities of caveats and conditions and restrictions – or crossed fingers behind our backs!
As with the prayer campaign for “Your kingdom come,” there is a risk that we fall into the temptation to pray “your kingdom come,” or, “your will be done,” for/to someone else – but as with most prayer, the first point of application & transformation is ourselves!
To be able to pray in such a way is to be truly vulnerable and courageous. But it may yield “more than we can ask or imagine,” as the letter to the Ephesians puts it, in that God often sees in us more than we see in ourselves.
Of course, to submit to God’s will is to be willing to accept the cost of discipleship. The followers of Jesus were reminded of this when confronted with two who wanted to have a special place in their relationship with Jesus. Their expectation, as rooted in their culture as in ours, was that faithful service would be rewarded by gratification. What Jesus came to offer was a way to achieve God’s gratification: loving kindness, doing justice and walking humbly with God (to quote the prophet Micah).
If we submit to God’s will, then we are rewarded with the invitation to be co-creators in God’s kingdom by being partners in Christ’s ministry. This is one of the constant themes throughout the scripture that records God’s relationship and conversations with God’s people. It is present throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and is refocused in the New Testament: Jesus invites his followers to be partners with him in ministry, and in so doing, restates God’s invitation in tangible terms.
Human beings don’t just have Achilles’ heels: we have whole bodies of vulnerability when it comes to flaws and weakness. Not only that, but we are inclined to have broad blind spots when it comes to our own flaws and our responsibilities for what happens around us. If we were to receive what we deserve, we would receive far less than we do.
Job’s fate is the fate of many faithful: bad things happening to good people. Do we look at Job – or his modern successors, like the lady I met in hospital – do we resort to judgement, as Job’s ‘comforters’ did and find ways to apply the rules of our own judgement to them? Do we look at Jesus on the cross, and think that he deserved it? Or do we look around, and ask where is the Job, or those who are in the place of Job in our world, our community, whom we can truly support, and the Jesus whom we can follow?
Do we judge Job, or join Jesus? If we join Jesus, then we accept the greatest honour and compliment that God pays to us, which is to invite us to be co-creators in God’s creation; to be partners in Christ’s ministry. But in joining Jesus, can we honestly pray, “Your will be done?”