The life of Jesus Christ exemplified obedience. He came to earth to fulfill His heavenly Father’s will no matter how painful the task set before Him. Nonetheless, Jesus spoke honestly with God when faced with His crucifixion: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me” (Luke 22:42, NLT). In His human state, Jesus did not want to endure a torturous death. Yet in the same breath, He prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
This scene in Gethsemane records one of the most desperate hours of anguish in the life of Christ (Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:40–46). He told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Worse than the thought of death, Jesus, in His humanity, must have dreaded the thought of bearing the sins of the world (1 Peter 2:24). In the garden, the Lord fell to the ground flat on His face and offered God this desperate cry of His soul: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Christ’s words and actions here serve as a great comfort to us, His followers. God wants His children to pour out their hearts to Him in sincerity (Psalm 62:8). He is our refuge, our safe haven. Like Jesus, we can reveal the deepest longings in our hearts to our loving heavenly Father. He knows what we are feeling, and we can trust Him to carry the burdens of our souls.
Facing the cross, Jesus was able to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done” because He was wholly submitted to His Father’s will. “My food,” He had said, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). “By myself I can do nothing,” explained Jesus, “for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30).
Obedience to God’s will was central to Christ’s mission. He told His disciples, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Hundreds of years before, Scripture foretold Christ’s destiny to come to earth and do God’s will (Hebrews 10:5–7; cf. Psalm 40:6–8).
For Christ’s followers, “Not my will, but yours be done” is the definitive prayer that never fails. According to 1 John 5:14–15, we can pray with confidence “if we ask according to his will.” Praying God’s will guarantees that He hears us and will grant what we ask. In fact, one of the primary purposes of prayer is to allow the will of God to be accomplished and to bring glory and honor to His name on earth. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). Those who pray this way, desiring God’s will above all else, reveal that they are indeed Christ’s disciples (Matthew 7:21; see also Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35; Luke 8:21; John 15:10; Ephesians 6:6).
The apostle Paul encouraged Christians to seek the Holy Spirit’s help to pray in agreement with God’s will: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will” (Romans 8:26–27, NLT). Paul also urged believers to “learn to know God’s will” for their lives because God’s will “is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NLT).
When Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done,” He surrendered His own will to God’s, fully convinced that His Father knew what was best. When we pray this way, we yield ourselves to God’s wisdom, trusting Him to work out what’s best for our lives, too (Romans 8:28).