O God, our refuge and strength, true source of all godliness: Graciously hear the devout prayers of your Church, and grant that those things which we ask faithfully, we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Truth: God is our refuge, strength, and the true source of all godliness
Like a steady drumbeat throughout the church year, the collects catechize us by affirming certain things to be true of God.
This week’s collect affirms, first, that God is our refuge and strength.
This should, of course, bring to mind the opening verses of Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Nothing against the profound ways in which God is the source of protection and strength, but even more interesting to me is the collect’s affirmation that God is the true source of all godliness.
At first, this sounds like a mere tautology, a circular statement. “Blue things are blue. God is godly.” OK, thanks for that.
But, upon further examination, this is a profound theological truth and reminder. Given humanity’s propensity to make and worship gods in our own image (idolatry), this prayer reminds us that God alone determines what it means to be godly.
For example, we don’t get to determine what it means for God to be our refuge or strength. We shouldn’t say/think things like “well, this is what I think of when I think of a refuge, so God must be like that, times a million or so” or “this is when/how I feel weak, so God must be strong by being the exact opposite.”
No, God is not the mere multiplication of our strengths. Nor is he the inverse of our weaknesses. He is God alone, and we are dependent upon his self-revelation (NOT our projections or extrapolations) to know what God is like.
Of course, “godliness” in this prayer doesn’t merely refer to what God is like, but also to how we are meant to resemble God. And, just as God determines his own character, he also determines what it looks like for humans to resemble him.
Request #1: that God would graciously hear the devout prayers of his Church
Based upon these theological truths—that God is our refuge, strength, and the true source of all godliness, we make the request that God would graciously our prayers.
Here’s where this prayer really gets circular. It’s a prayer about prayer!
Notice that, while the straightforward request is that God would hear us when we pray, the implicit point is that our prayers would be devout. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to interpret “devout” as meaning “characterized by the godliness of which God is the true source.”
Meaning: “God, hear us when we pray to you. And shape our prayers to resemble your character—to love the things that you love and to hate the things that you hate.”
Request #2: that God would effectively give us what we faithfully ask for
Really, this is just a restatement of the first request!
Why? Because when we ask God to “hear” our prayers, we’re really asking him to “answer” our prayers.
And, just like before, the implied point of this request is that God would help us to ask/pray faithfully. Within the context of this prayer, it makes good sense to view “godly” = “devout” = “faithful.”
We’re asking God, first, that our prayers would be in accordance with his character. We’re praying that God would help us to pray for the right things.
Then, we’re asking God to answer such godly prayers. And, thankfully, doing so—answering our prayers—is in perfect accordance with God’s character! He delights to answer the prayers of his people.
Consider the words of Psalm 50:14-15
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
So, this week, let the words of this prayer shape all your prayers to God. Then, when God proves himself faithful to answer your prayers, make sure to give him praise and thanksgiving.