“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What does this mean? “The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also” (SC, The Third Petition).
Have you ever tried battling the will of a toddler? If there’s anything small children teach us about ourselves, it’s how inherently stubborn and selfish we are, especially when it comes to having our will be done. Thus, to pray this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is to pray against the 3-year-old in each of us that demands our will be done over God’s. Luther puts it well:
In this petition you will notice that God bids us to pray against ourselves. In that way He teaches us that we have no greater enemy than ourselves. You see, our will is the most formidable element in us, and against it we must pray, “O Father, do not let me get to the point where my will is done. Break my will; resist it. No matter what happens let my life be governed not by my will, but by Yours. As no one’s own will prevails in heaven so may it also be here on earth.” Such a petition or its fulfillment is indeed very painful to our human nature, for our own will is the greatest and most deep-rooted evil in us, and nothing is dearer to us than our own will.
Therefore, we are asking for nothing else in this petition than the cross, torment, adversity, and sufferings of every kind, since these serve the destruction of our will. If these self-willed people really thought about this and noted that they are praying against their own will, they would turn against this petition or even be frightened by it.LW 42:48-49
When you pray this prayer, therefore, you have two choices: either rattle off these words lazily without any thought into what you’re saying, or ignore the selfish desires of your will and desire God’s good and gracious will instead, even if you don’t understand it or like it. For you pray this prayer as God’s child. For Him, though, opposing your will is no battle, for His will shall be done whether you acquiesce to it or not. Therefore, we pray here also that the Lord might humble us to accept His will, lest we go off in temper tantrums about how much better we know than God like an ignorant little child.