God’s will, what he wants and decrees to happen, is the status-quo in Heaven. Jesus assumes as much in the phrase “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Even Satan, who apparently must give a regular accounting of his whereabouts to God, must ask permission when in the throne room of the Almighty to carry out his intentions where God’s earth-bound people are concerned (see Job 1 &2).
In one sense, that is also the case on earth. Daniel confesses to Nebuchadnezzar his confidence that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Dan. 4:25). He stood on the shoulders of Isaiah through whom God made a similarly comprehensive claim: “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa. 46:10). The New Testament confirms that this is still the case as God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11).
But that brings up a question: to what end should we pray that God’s will be done if it’s already a foregone conclusion?
To recognize this tension is to quickly realize that there are various ways in which we speak of our will or what we want. I'll give you an example: Imagine your beloved Fido has come to the end of his road. You’ve enjoyed the good years together but your pup’s health has diminished with time and now the pain is more than he can bear. The only compassionate thing to do is something you do not “want” to do. At the same time, no one is forcing you against your "will" to make that final trip to the vet either.
Theologians have given names to this phenomenon, contrasting God's "will of decree" (as seen in the passages above) with His “will of desire," otherwise referred to as His “perfect will,” “moral will,” or the “revealed will” of God. It’s what God would like to see happen, and it’s something we’re supposed to pray for.
As we do, I believe we’ll realize that, far from passively asking God to do whatever he wants, praying "Thy will be done" is an active commitment on our part to personally do the things we know for sure are his revealed will…
A. It’s a commitment to keep his commands
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; (then why do you break the law yourselves!)
How did the Jews know God's will (v.18)? Because they were instructed by God’s law, of course. For the Jewish nation, it was Gods will for them to obey his commandments. That we would obey his basic declarations of what is morally right and wrong is still God's desire today. That fact is confirmed when lawless behavior is called “the will of the gentiles” in 1 Peter 4:3. These self-indulgent activities are directly contrary to God’s moral will for believers and so Peter says “be done with them.” In no uncertain terms, Paul commands in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 abstinence from moral impurity on the basis of “that’s the will of God for you.”
When we pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are committing ourselves to doing those things we know to be his will and moral purity and all other aspects of obedience to the law of Christ are included.
B. It’s a commitment to sacrificial living
(2 Cor. 8:5)
“they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
"they gave... to us" refers to a love offering the Macedonian Christians had collected. This offering was for the relief of suffering saints who lived in and around Jerusalem. It was given to the apostles and company for safekeeping and delivery. This gift was possible because they first gave themselves to the Lord which transformed their view of life and material goods. The context explains it was a sacrificial offering: these were extremely poor Christians and they deprived themselves in order to give! But it was also God’s will for them to do so.
Sometimes we attempt to discern God's will by looking for an "open door." If we equate that to the path of least resistance, surely we will miss out on some of what God desires to do through us. There were times when the apostles declined to go through open doors (2 Cor. 2:12) and other times when they broke down the door and experienced excruciating persecution because of what they believed was the will of God (2 Cor. 1:8).
C. It’s a commitment to trust God’s decisions
(1 Thess. 5:18)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
This machine-gun style conclusion points out at least three things that are God’s will: constant rejoicing, frequent prayer and universal thanksgiving. Each is enabled by trusting God that his will, as we are experiencing it, is drawing us closer to him and thus is something to be thankful for.
This is exactly what we observe in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ as he prayed in the garden "Not my will but thine be done" (Mark 14:36). From a human standpoint, he did not eagerly desire what he knew the coming hours would entail. He even expresses a desire that the Father’s will might be different than what he knew it to be. Yet that request was not passive because it involved a commitment to take whatever steps were necessary to bring the Father’s will about.
In light of these things, we realize that “prayer is not a device for imposing our will upon God, but rather the bending of our will to His in the desire that His good will may be done." (D. Edmund Hiebert)