Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, the Son, our Lord. Amen.
Our natural suspicions, and the suggestions of Satan, cause us to restrict the generosity of God. Deficiency in the knowledge of the character of God enables the evil one to foist a grotesque caricature of God upon our minds. Features of the divine nature can be so exaggerated that others are eclipsed. Our perception of God may become grossly distorted to such an extent that thoughts of him become repellent. God is neither a bully nor a milksop. His perfections are perfectly balanced and wisely exercised and our response is to fear and love him. Sin will always attract his judgment; righteousness is the gift he bestows for fellowship with him. Judgment is deserved and grace is donated. All his decisions and actions are always consistent. In the miracle of salvation his justice is satisfied and mercy moves to the fore. The cross of Christ is the irrefutable evidence. He is the bearer of sin and the benefactor of sinners. The Substitute endures the severity of a just God on our behalf and then endows men with the sweetness of divine compassion. This is the greatest and most ingenious solution to an otherwise intractable problem ever. Hosea poses the dilemma, “How can I give* you up?” (11:8). Isaiah was given the answer, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). The key answers to man’s huge moral predicament are supplied in the Old Testament. The full report of God’s redemptive activity is available in the New. Even if it is, strictly speaking, an anachronism, Luther is, in a sense, right to rate Abraham a Christian. “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
In the cross, rightly expounded according to prophetic and apostolic testimony, we find the key to the divine character. It is the clearest window into the divine Self. Justice prevails and goodness overflows. The gift of the Son is strongest proof of the generosity of God and that is our sure starting point for an assessment of the divine goodwill, as Paul points out, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave* him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The forgiveness of “those things whereof our conscience is afraid” is at the heart of Jesus’ mediatorial role for our sakes. This is acknowledged in the General Thanksgiving: We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The love of God is inestimable – beyond measure. For those who have received Christ by God’s grace, the love of God towards them is boundless. He has bound over to them through irrevocable promise the fullness of his being and provision. All things are ours in Christ. We can only agree, in all things best and beneficial for us, that we do not have because we do not ask. Unbelief or sluggishness prevent our petitions. Here is where the collect rushes in to prompt our prayers when our spirit flags, our faith becomes faint, our difficulties seem insuperable, and our requests too large. What wisdom and encouragement is packed into our sample prayer from our forbears in the faith.
We are reminded of the God whom we address and bidden to approach him. He is able to answer prayer for he is almighty and everlasting. Omnipotence makes his action easy. Ultimately nothing can obstruct him when his wisdom certifies his response as wise, as his responses infallibly happen to be. Desires implanted by him are granted; desires of our own invention are refined. Because he is everlasting the answers he gives and the gifts he bestows are of eternal validity. He can uphold his undertakings and bring them to fruition. If he delays according to our reckoning he has plenty of time to reply appropriately for he knows and decrees what lies ahead and can suitably fit a blessing into its right place according to the overall scheme of things. When he withholds an answer the fruit of his love is ripening. We do not have to grab at green apples in God’s purposes for us. We must not hurry his season for harvest time.
Furthermore, God wills our prayer, not in a formal sense, but with a Fatherly desire. He wants to hear from us and expects our pleas and praises that constitute the kind of rapport that exits vocally between earthly parents and progeny – asking and appreciation. Prayer is family conversation. The marvel is that the God of infinite majesty bends his ear to us. His disposition to us is such that he is, “more ready to hear than we to pray”. Indifference and apathy close our communication with God. Distractions and idols turn us from diligence, and desire for him, in prayer. It is self deprivation. When he quickens us with trials and disappointments to consult him we cannot imagine ourselves more intense in our seeking of him, yet even at those points of crisis he is more ready to hear than we to pray. His yearning for the union of souls with him outstrips ours. He does not need us but he generously creates our need of him. We cannot estimate his eagerness to hear our voice. Sometimes we are prostrate before his throne, at other times we are positioned in an armchair talking with Father Dear (Abba). Circumstance will determine the posture, but always we are filled with the sense of awe and privilege. And what draws us to him is his willingness to hear, so easily forgotten.
More than this, God is willing to lavish his goodness upon us to such an extent that it exceeds our desire. Our holy cravings are an appetite for God that only he can satisfy. Our emptiness is such that we feel it cannot be filled and the world soon proves that it is not adequate. So deep is our native dissatisfaction and hunger for repletion that we scale down our expectations of God. We minimize his ability to give. We hesitate at his willingness. Nature speculates that he is miserly: Satan alleges that he is mean. God is at the ready to pour upon us the abundance of his salvific mercy and this can be realized also through temporal blessings that are contributive to the soul’s wellbeing. The Lord is bountiful in immediate provision for we have no deserts of the slightest favour or comfort. These have been forfeited. And he holds in reserve for us an unimaginable inheritance.
Well does John Newton advise us:
Come, my soul, thy suit prepare:
Jesus loves to answer prayer;
He himself has bid thee pray,
Therefore will not say thee nay.
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his power and grace are such,
None can ever ask too much.
While I am a pilgrim here,
Let thy love my spirit cheer;
As my Guide, my Guard, my Friend,
Lead me to my journey’s end.
We deserve nothing, but our confidence is in the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord. When we are in a state of equipoise between prayer and competing preoccupation the collect tilts us in the right direction.