Have you ever wondered about the phrase “If it be Thy will” that often creeps into our prayers? You might assume it’s a direct quote from the Bible, right? Well, it’s not. It’s as biblical as the saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness” or that God is the “man upstairs.” (Those aren’t in the Bible either.)
Let’s clear the air – “If it be Thy will” isn’t a phrase Jesus used or instructed us to use. Yet, you’d think otherwise, listening to many Sunday morning sermons or unbelieving prayers prayed by unbelieving saints.
The Only Time Jesus Said Something Like It
There is a single instance where Jesus uttered words somewhat resembling this phrase. It happened in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His arrest and crucifixion. In His moment of profound agony, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV).
Imagine the weight on Jesus’ shoulders – His purpose was to redeem the entire world (as John 3:16 tells us). He didn’t just die for our sins; He became sin so we could become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). In this intense moment, Jesus pleaded with God for another way, but He knew there wasn’t one. So, He willingly yielded His will to the Father. He was saying, “This is a really difficult task, and I would rather not do this, but I will do it Your way.’
Here’s the kicker: This is the ONLY time in the Bible that this phrase is used. It’s not a pattern that Jesus taught us to follow in our prayers; it’s a snapshot of Jesus’ gut-wrenching moment before the crucifixion.
Jesus did teach us to pray about the will of God being done. He taught that we declare that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Can you imagine the Lord’s prayer like this: “Thy will be done, if it be Thy will, on earth as it is in heaven.” Absurd.
If we take this idea a bit further, we must ask the question, “How much sickness is in heaven?” If you said “None,” you’d be correct. Therefore, if there is no sickness in heaven, it isn’t the Father’s will for there to be sickness on the earth. Therefore, if it isn’t His will for heaven or earth, why would we be so stupid (pardon my French) and pray in a way that invokes unbelief and confusion?
The Pervasive Misuse
We must understand that Jesus wasn’t asking about the Father’s will. He knew it already. Today, when you hear people use that phrase, they either don’t know the father’s will, or they assume it is some terrible thing and just use the phrase to sound super-spiritual and remove all responsibility from themselves for the outcome.
Dear God, we pray for Uncle Joe to be healed from this disease. We know there is no sickness in heaven, and we know that it is your will for that to be the case on earth, but if it be your will, please heal him?”
Can you say “Absurd?” (Or maybe batty, nonsensical, foolish, idiotic, nutty, inane, loony?)
Let’s clarify a few points before I go further down this rabbit hole.
Yes, seeking God’s guidance when His will is uncertain is wise. Scripture teaches us to seek His direction and be led by the Spirit. When Scripture doesn’t speak clearly to a specific topic, seeking God’s will is essential. But when Scripture is crystal clear about God’s will, there’s no need for the religious fluff.
For example, have you ever heard anyone lead a crowd in the sinner’s prayer like this: “Jesus, I am a sinner. If it be your will, forgive me of my sins”? No way! Why? Because we know that it’s God’s will to save every person (2 Peter 3:9). We don’t pray “if it be thy will” in that context. It’s a given!
The same word for “save” is also translated as heal, made whole, made well, cured, and more. Why do we trust Jesus to WILL to save a person’s spiritual life but have very little faith that He WILLS to heal that person’s physical life?
Following Jesus’ Lead
Some folks try to explain away Jesus’ actions in the Bible, saying those were just stories of what He did – not something we can expect today. Yet, they’re quick to apply the story of Job or Lazarus to our lives, suggesting that God gets more glory from our suffering than He would if we received our healing.
But here’s the scoop: God didn’t get any glory from Lazarus’ death. Nobody said, “Wow, have you ever seen anyone die like that? What an awesome event! Praise be to the God of he who dies.” No, God received glory when Lazarus was raised from the dead – the miracle, not the death, brought Him glory.
So, let’s be clear: God doesn’t find glory in sickness and disease. He doesn’t inflict us with them – that would make Him a thief because there’s no sickness in Him. Sickness stems from our fallen world, not from God.
Why We Should Pay Attention to Jesus’ Earthly Ministry
Let’s dive deeper into this idea of not using Jesus’ earthly ministry as a model for our lives today.
First, Jesus never led anyone to salvation, yet we have no problem leading others to Christ. Second, Jesus never preached to Gentiles, and we don’t seem to have an issue with that either.
So, why the hesitation when it comes to healing? Jesus performed countless miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. He even empowered His disciples to do the same.
He didn’t tell them, “if it be My will.” He said, “Heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead.” No uncertainty there!
Setting a Precious Precedent
Let’s talk precedent – in our courts today, legal decisions set a precedent for future cases. Similarly, Jesus’ actions in Scripture set a precedent for us.
Yes, there were times when Jesus healed everyone, and there were times when He didn’t. Sometimes, He walked right past sick people without healing them. Take the man at the gate called Beautiful, for instance. Jesus must have passed him many times, but He never healed him until one day when the man cried out to Peter and John for alms. Contrast that with the blind beggar who persistently called out to Jesus until he was healed.
What if the man at the gate called Beautiful had called out earlier when Jesus passed by? What if he acknowledged the Son of David’s presence? Could things have been different?
Blaming God? Not a Good Idea
By adding “If it be Thy will” to our prayers, we might unintentionally shift the blame onto God, implying that He must be behind our circumstances. It’s almost like saying, “God, if it’s Your will to bankrupt poor John and leave him penniless and homeless, so be it.”
But that’s not how it works. If we truly believe God is good and His will only encompasses good for us, then anything that isn’t good can’t be His will. If it’s not God’s will for someone to suffer or die prematurely, then there must be something we don’t know, don’t understand, or aren’t doing.
So, here’s the bottom line: “If it be Thy will” is an attempt to pass the buck for our lack of understanding onto God, suggesting that He’s responsible for the hardships in our lives. But that’s not how our loving and good God operates.
Our Role in God’s Plan
Let’s remember why Jesus left us here on Earth. It wasn’t just so we could have cozy church services and entertaining presentations on Sunday mornings. He left us to transform this world, to rule over it, and to restore it to the way He originally designed it.
So, let’s reevaluate our use of “If it be Thy will” in our prayers. It’s time to embrace our responsibility as followers of Christ, to actively participate in changing and redeeming the world, just as Jesus intended. It’s time to stop hiding behind “If it be thy will,” and stand in alignment with “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”