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.
Have you ever tried to do something over and over again, and no matter how much harder you tried, you still failed?
I’m sure there are more significant examples of this in my own life, but the first thing that comes to mind is recently trying to fold a fitted sheet while sleep-deprived (our first child was born this summer).
I was convinced that I should be able to fold a fitted sheet on my own, because I had done so before, while watching a Youtube video that provided instructions.
Yet, though I tried several times with increasing frustration, I was unable to fold the sheet correctly until I pulled up a similar Youtube video on my iPad. Without the instructions, I was going nowhere.
Praying this week’s collect will hopefully help us avoid the tragedy of living our lives in that kind of frantic frustration when it comes to following God’s will!
Without God, we are not able to please God.
Now, at first glance, it seems like this collect departs from the norm and confesses something to be true about us, rather than about God.
Yet, as is so often the case in theology, a statement about humanity usually at least implies a statement about God.
Here, the implied statement about God is that he alone is able to provide human beings with the resources they need to please him by following his will.
On their own, due to both their finitude and fallenness, humans will always fall short of living their lives in a way that is perfectly pleasing to God, no matter how hard they try.
This should be pretty obvious.
A bit of self-examination, or even just turning on the news, is usually enough to convince people of what’s called total depravity, which is the idea that humans can’t do anything to gain saving favor with God, because their entire being has been corrupted by sin.
(Note: this is different from claiming that human beings are as bad as they possibly could be and can’t do anything “good” in any sense of the term. That’s not what the Church has taught.)
So, we need the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts.
Notice how this collect does not respond to total depravity.
First, it doesn’t deny it. That is, it doesn’t insist that no, really, we’re fine without God’s grace. We can just try harder to live perfect lives and at least some of us will be OK.
Second, it doesn’t get angry about it. That is, it doesn’t blame God for blaming humans for their sinfulness. It doesn’t claim that it’s unfair to hold us accountable for our shortcomings if we can’t fix ourselves.
Instead, this prayer rightly asks God for the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts.
So, this week, admitting that we have a problem and recognizing that God has provided a solution, we ask God to shape us—so that we might love the things he loves and hate the things he hates.
We need this divine transformation in every area of our lives, of course. But in what areas do you need the Holy Spirit’s direction and rule this week?