Not My Will but Thine

Not My Will but Thine

John Robertson

With tears I broke down and knelt trembling on the dusty floor … I wept my way afresh to Calvary. There God met me again.” These are the words of Geoffrey T. Bull1 when, after three days of solitary confinement in a Tibetan prison, the weight of circumstances began to crush his spirit and rend his soul. For this young man, far from home and kindred, alone in a filthy, dark-drenched dungeon, prayer won the victory over doubt, dread, and despair. What a glorious triumph! How wonderful to know that this same resource is ours to employ!

This twentieth century scene recalls to mind a similar one enacted long ago. Luke records the most meaningful prayer in Holy Writ (Lk. 22:42). The Lord Jesus Christ, with Calvary looming menacingly before Him, lifted His eyes to heaven and cried, “Not My will, but Thine, be done.” In the greatest test history has ever known, the Son of God prayed. Knowing full well the agony such a choice entailed, acutely aware of the poignant loneliness and utter desolation of soul that must follow in its train, our blessed Saviour bowed His will to that of God the Father. May we, by His grace, learn to yield and, by His power, so to live; for surely herein lies the secret of the truly God-directed life.

Thy will, O Lord, not mine,
Teach me to say.
Not my will, Lord, but Thine,
I would obey.
Then shall I know the joy,
And thy Name glorify,
When I, on earth, shall try
To follow thee.

The Apostle Paul began his Christian life with this prayer, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). A strict adherence to this path of obedience brought him much trial, suffering, and woe. Undaunted, he moved forward in the firm assurance that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom 8:28), and that nothing can “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). In his epistle to the Philippians, in which he recounts many of the painful experiences through which he was called to pass, it is worth noting that the words “joy” and “rejoice” appear again and again. Paul would teach us that Christian experience is not something that is happening around us as much as it is something that is taking place within us. Such a conviction prompted Silas and Paul to sing at midnight despite the fevered backs laid raw by the Roman scourge and aggravated by the cold of the subterranean gaol (Acts 16:24-25).

Looking back over his life, fraught as it had been with constant danger and personal suffering, the Apostle could say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-9). This aged servant of the Lord had nothing to offer the youthful Timothy but this same, painful, earthly path, but he could point him on to the same glorious future. May the Lord find us walking in the way the Saviour trod, perchance to feel something of the shadow in this vale of tears, that we might rejoice the more in the sunshine of His presence in the glory.

Romans 7:18-24 makes it all too clear that our lot is cast in a life of constant conflict. The arch-enemy of Christ, having failed in his bid to keep us from being saved, devotes all of his satanic power to the task of destroying our testimony. His prize product is an unhappy and unfruitful Christian. For this reason, Paul in writing to the Ephesians warns them to “put on the whole armour of God” for they wrestled “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11-12). These “high places” are the “heavenlies” of Ephesians 1:3. It is in this realm that the evil one seeks to accomplish his purpose, which is to deprive us of the “spiritual blessings” God would have us enjoy. The deep-rooted Christian is not likely to succumb to the grosser lusts of the flesh; nor is he likely to be enticed by the allurements of a gaudy world. Yet he can be carried away by some strange teaching or fanciful interpretation of the Word of God. What a tragedy it is to find one of God’s dear children led into a path directly opposed to His will! So subtle is the enemy that the erring saint is all too often persuaded that he is obeying the Lord. Even the whole armour of God will prove unavailing if the warrior neglects his greatest resource — prayer (Eph. 6:18). The “calm and sure retreat” that is found “beneath the mercy-seat” not only serves to carry us through the “stormy wind that blows” and over the “swelling tide of woes” but it can and does keep us on the only path the Lord will have us follow if the tenor of our prayer is the cry that rose from dark Gethsemane.

Prayer is the very air the Christian breathes. Without it we must perish as to our testimony. The disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1), and His answer is probably the best known portion of Scripture in Christendom. It is found on the lips of the careless throng at many official gatherings, and it is repeated perfunctorily in many school classrooms every day. May we who know the Lord as our own, claim the Saviour’s prayer, “Not my will, but Thine be done”. Can there be any question in our minds as to the results of such compliance to His will? God grant that this prayer may become not a mere “obiter dictum” but a living vital reality in our lives. If Christ Who loved us, even unto death, could make this His choice, shall we who profess to love Him attempt anything less?

Go labour on; spend and be spent, Thy joy to do the Father’s will: It is the way the Master went; Should not the servant tread it still?

1 When Iron Gates Yield, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1855, p. 140.