Prayer: Christ's Model for Believers

5 - Do You Pray in Submission to the Father's Will?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
James and Job both tell us a great deal about the true meaning of submission to the will of God.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part five of an nine-part series. Read part four.

James and Job both tell us a great deal about the true meaning of submission to the will of God.

In our study of Jesus' model prayer of Matthew chapter six, we next come to the phrase, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Let me suggest that an appropriate theme or key-word for this phrase of the prayer is submission.

Not An Appropriate Term for Christians?

Some commentators, especially in recent times, have suggested that "submission" to the will of God is not an appropriate term for believers because the name Islam means "submission". But just because a pagan religion has misappropriated a perfectly sound Biblical term, this does not mean that believers must abandon it. We alone have the rightful use of the term on the authority of Scripture. But we must be certain to use it rightly.

In his epistle, James deals with the matter of submission when he takes believers to task for an un-submissive spirit:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:1-7)

Military Terms

The word "submit" in this passage is the Greek verb hupotagete. Originally this was a military term signifying the arrangement of troops under the command of a superior officer. The more general meaning is "to subordinate yourself to the will of another." It is the opposite of another military term that James uses in the preceding verse: "God resists the proud." The Greek verb antitassetai means "God sets Himself in battle array against the proud."

The word translated "submit" in James 4:7 appears in various forms forty-nine times in the New Testament, and in many different applications, including these: believers submitting to one another under the headship of Christ (1 Corinthians 16:16); wives submitting to their husbands under Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:1-5); servants submitting to their masters (1 Peter 2:18); believers submitting to human government (Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13); and, the fact that all things shall ultimately be placed in submission to the Lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27-28, Ephesians 1:22, Philippians 3:21, Hebrews 2:8).

Cosmic Implications

What, then, is the sense of the phrase, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? Believers are to pray with an attitude of subordination to the will of the Father in matters pertaining to this present life, with a clear view of the unfolding ultimate submission of the entire universe to the Lordship of Christ. He is now exalted in Heaven at the right hand of the Father, until He makes all His enemies His footstool (Acts 2:32-26). This is the attitude of which James speaks when he says, "Therefore submit to God."

Perhaps We Should Throw Away the Books...

Hundreds of books have been written on the subject of prayer. Some are very good. But many are not worth the paper they are printed on. What's the difference between the good ones and the bad ones? The bad ones are man-centered, the good ones are God-centered. The bad ones are all about you - what you can get from God. They tell you how you can, as they claim, storm the citadel of Heaven and demand things of God.

The good books on prayer focus on what the Bible really says about prayer. Those books are not all about man, they are all about God - all about His attributes, and about how we should approach our Father in heaven. But I don't think it would hurt a thing if we were to put all those books aside, good and bad, and simply get back to what the Lord Jesus and His inspired penmen have to say about prayer in the Bible itself.

God's Will: Revealed and Secret

Our praying, making our requests known to God, should always be with the prayer, "Father, if it is your will." And beyond that, "Father, cause Your will to be my will as well." In another series of articles on Colossians 1:9-12, we dealt at length with the subject of knowing the will of God. God's will can be known, to a far greater extent than believers often understand or admit, in the pages of Scripture itself. Scripture is the revealed will of God for us.

But Scripture also explains to us that there is, from a human perspective, the secret will of God - those aspects of His counsels and plan which are not revealed to us, because, as David puts it in Psalm 139, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me [literally, it is humanly incomprehensible]; it is high, I cannot attain unto it [literally, I cannot endure it]." Here is the division: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

The Example of Job

The classic example of this is the account of Job. Little did he know that he was at the vortex of a conflict that was taking place at the very throne of God. He did not know God's secret will. He only knew of his past peace and prosperity, and his present affliction and poverty. Job knew nothing of the conflict that was taking place, or of the blessing that was yet to come. Yet in the midst of overwhelming grief and perplexity, Job acted and spoke in submission to God:

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)

Job and his "friends" speculated endlessly and ignorantly as to the reasons for his afflictions. Ultimately God appeared to Job out of the whirlwind, and demanded of him: "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me" (Job 38:2-3). After Jehovah had reminded Job in no uncertain terms of all of His greatness and the infiniteness of His wisdom,

Then Job answered the Lord and said: "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further. . . I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." (Job 40:3-5, 42:2-3)

In view of the revealed and the secret will of God - both aspects infinitely wise and perfect in every detail - the true believer in Christ can confidently pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Is this your attitude in prayer, whatever your present circumstances, and whatever may come? May the Lord by His grace make it so, for His glory and for your eternal good.

Next: Are You Willing to Depend on the Father for Everything?

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