Our collects are gems of theological insight converted into prayer. They are worthy of our meditation and facilitate effective supplication. They express our deepest spiritual needs and identify the perfections of God as the source of supply. Thus they are candid as to our dependence and confident as to God’s mercy knowing that he will satisfy our genuine wants. The collects are patently honest about the human condition and immensely hopeful concerning the divine provision. They help to mould a mature and well-rounded spirituality that is well informed and not misguided and dangerously self-centred, fuelling prayer that is filled with wrong expectations.
Every collect is God honouring, God-centred, and absolutely accurate in its analysis of our spiritual destitution and moral helplessness. They delineate our predicament as sinners but they do not devastate us. At the point of self-despair they avert our attention to the deliverance of God, his willingness and ability to help us. Contemplating and praying the collects is an exercise in the encouragement and nourishing of our souls. We are drawing on the legacy of spiritual masters who wish us well as is indicated by their pious bequests. Prayer requires purity of desire and clarity of vision, the right intent and understanding in asking, the true knowledge of ourselves and the right apprehensions of God, and these the collects create within us, showing us the source of our concern and the solution which flows from God’s concern for us. Manuals of prayer may indeed be helpful. The range of our collects is educating us in this joyful discipline without us being especially conscious of the process. Right thought arising from sincere hearts is what the collects seek to inspire and they form an orthodox approach to the Lord that has a right estimate of the parties involved in this holy dialogue – we the petitioners, and he the gracious responder ready to lavish mercies liberally.
Every collect is a journey of faith that firms up our faith with its aptness of expression and suitability to our situation. Each frames our desires without misreading possibilities, knowing that God alone is the answer to our appeals, and that all consequent benefit is all of God. We cry from impotence and emptiness. Every godly attitude that brings an alteration to our character is wrought by him, and every good action in our conduct is enabled by him, and all credit is attributed to grace. This is the marvel of salvation. It performs the renovation of our desires that produces compliance with the pleasure of God, and there is no conflict between grace and works, because grace is the cause and ongoing energy of good works in the renewed self. Works are not our contribution to salvation but rather the effects, evidence, and fruits.
The exhortation and impulse to be good can only be realized by grace. The grace is a gift, but it never fails to be exercised because it is a living power implanted within the renewed soul. Regenerated desire results in holy living and righteous action. The urge to be, and do, good cannot be repressed. The new nature surges forward, incited by the Spirit. The desires and affections of a new heart cannot be denied. The heart must be what it has become, the centre of operations within a person now bent on pleasing God through divinely given disposition.
This is the conviction of our collects as a collection. They know that the bent to do good is absent from the natural heart and must be a bestowal of God. Each one is an urgent appeal, a strong request, for the gift of grace A right spirit must be donated and inserted by God. Without proper intent, motive, and desire nothing produced by human nature can be essentially good, even though to human observation it may apparently be so. But the searcher of hearts knows the reality, and those convicted of the evil and selfish bias of our nature concur with the divine verdict. We cannot do any thing that is good because our intent is perverse. Our hearts are corrupt. It is not merely a matter of incompetence or finding difficulty in doing good, it is actually unwillingness because our preferences and disposition are askew. We are afflicted with moral incapacity. We just happen to love sin and self, and this fact excludes the possibility of pleasing God. We will always, by nature, eliminate him from our reckoning and the formation of our choices. We are averse to his nature, hostile to holiness, and cannot help but protest at his Lordship. It is not that all the barriers to goodness are entirely outside us. The greatest obstacle is within us. We do not want God or goodness. We prefer our will to his, and our will must be renewed and re-inclined towards his. A different “pleasure principle” has to prevail and that can only come from God. The collects equate goodness with the will of God and his will is unattractive to us. It doesn’t satisfy our longings and so the Lord must enable us to prefer and perform his will, making it our own.
The collects accord with Holy Scripture in its assessment and appreciation of the human situation, consequent helplessness, and need for grace as the initiator and maintainer of goodness. We are utterly dependent but not despondent. What we lack the Lord loves to supply. The truth never turns us away, but serves to turn us away from self and to God. That is why truth may be transformed into prayer. The moment we recognize our insufficiency we reach out to him. Our poverty drives us to his promises. These the collects always hold forth and help us to embrace.
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. Romans 8: 7 – 8.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2: 13.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1: 6