In the third petition of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s will to be done. This request flows from the petition for God’s kingdom to come, for the Lord’s kingdom is present where we find righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Such fruits are possible only as we do the will of God.
Yet, it might seem strange to pray for God’s will to be done. Scripture is quite clear that God’s will, at least in some sense, is always done. Ephesians 1:1, for instance, explains that the Lord “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Psalm 115:3 adds that “our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Such passages refer to what is commonly called the decretive will of God. In keeping with Deuteronomy 29:29, which tells us there are some things the Lord has revealed and some things He has not, Reformed theologians distinguish between the decretive and preceptive wills of God. The decretive will refers to God’s sovereign decree of whatsoever comes to pass. For the most part, this will is hidden from us, but it includes everything that actually happens in creation. If God ordains something in His decretive will, it will certainly come to pass.
Our Creator’s preceptive will, on the other hand, refers to those things that He finds morally pleasing in themselves. Think of the Ten Commandments—the positive things they enjoin such as the preservation of life, chastity, contentment, and so forth are pleasing to God. It is His will that such things be done because He approves of them. However, we know that God’s preceptive will is routinely broken. People violate the commandments; they go against His preceptive will. Yet, in such cases, we note that they are not going against His decretive will. For the sake of some greater good, God decrees some things that are in themselves detestable—sin—and that violate His preceptive will. Christ’s crucifixion is a good example of this. God ordained that those who murdered His Son would do their evil deed. Considered in itself, He hates that act of injustice (Acts 2:23). Those men who had Christ killed violated God’s preceptive will against murder. Even so, God decreed the crucifixion for a greater final good, namely, our salvation and His glory (see Rom. 8:28).
To pray for God’s will to be done is to pray for His preceptive will to be kept. Yet, it is more than that. It is to ask that people would do this will not merely out of duty but because they want to serve God with all their hearts.