The Collect read in church on September 17
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
In our exploration of the spiritual life, we can come up with all kinds of ideas about who God is and what God expects of us. It’s easy to fall into images of God as a person or presence requiring us to prove ourselves, maybe like a college admissions committee or a prospective employer or the policeman who pulls you over for speeding or rolling through a stop sign (not that that’s ever happened to me). It’s easy to imagine that we have to show ourselves to be worthy of God’s attention and affection.
The collect we read in church yesterday (above) suggests another way of looking at things. It says that in the spiritual journey, God is working with us. We can see that kind of holy synergy in a passage from the letter to the Philippians, a letter which we’ve been reading in the Daily Lectionary. In that letter, written by Paul from a first century prison cell (Imagine what that was like!), Paul describes a holy synergy. In chapter 2, vv. 12, 13. He writes: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do you see what I mean about synergy? We are to work out our salvation. We are not potted plants. We have a role. We have responsibility, ownership, stewardship. But it is indeed God who is at work in us to make it happen. That sounds like yesterday’s collect, which addresses God, saying that without God’s help we are not able to please God. In that collaborative process, where God’s powerful grace encounters our active gratitude, we pray to be led by the Holy Spirit, asking that the Spirit direct and rule our (unruly) hearts.
There is freedom here, the recognition that we are not alone, that it’s not all up to us. God is not sitting at the monitor getting ready to press the “smite” button when we mess up. We can believe that is true because of the incarnation, because Jesus came to live among us, to share our experience.
Along side the freedom, there is responsibility. Grace is not cheap. As saints through the ages have shown us, grace can be costly. For reasons that sometimes mystify me, God calls on us and maybe even counts on us to be part of furthering the Jesus movement, and building his kingdom. When that call feels daunting, as it did to so many biblical characters, we are not alone. When that call invites us to do things we’re not sure we can do, to do things we’re not worthy to do, a prayer like yesterday’s collect can reassure us that we’ve not been left hanging. We can give thanks that we have not been left alone:
Our hearts need to be directed, indeed they need to be ruled by the loving power of the Holy Spirit. How might we open our hearts to be so ruled, so guided this week? How about this synergistic idea: We will with God’s help.