Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and, that we may receive what we ask, teach us by your Holy Spirit to ask only those things that are pleasing to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the same Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
While this collect is absent from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer it can be found in the 2019, 1928 and 1662 BCP. It was made a beautiful choral piece by Thomas Mudd(1619-1667). Its roots can be found in the Leo Sacramentaryand the Sarum Use.
There is immediacy about this collect, as it does not begin by ascribing an attribute to God, such as, “Lord of all power and might…”It is a direct appeal to His mercy (merciful ears) to hear our prayers. In this context, however, the call for mercy is not the appeal of a felon about to be judged, it is the heartfelt request of a child asking to be shown the Father’s steadfast love.
The collect takes us to the writing of St. James who tells us, “You ask and you do not receive because you ask amiss…”Thus we pray to be taught by the Holy Spirit to pray “only those things that are pleasing to you.”
Three lessons are taught in this prayer. First we are to approach the Lord as “your humble servants.” This was modeled for us on the night before He died, when Jesus approached the Father in humility praying, “Nevertheless not my will but yours be done.”This is in harsh contrast to the televangelist approach of “name it and claim it” or of those who say that we can demand God to answer our prayers. In one such article the author says, “It’s your prayers that allow Him to pour out His Spirit and sweep the earth with the revelation of His glory”If you truly believe that you “allow God” to do anything, then it is time to humble yourself in prayer and fasting. He is the Potter and we are the clay.
A second lesson is that we need to be taught to pray. That is what the disciples asked of Jesus.For His followers today, the best teacher is the Holy Spirit. It helps to read books on prayer but the best way to learn to pray is by praying. The Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness. We won’t always do it correctly and we will no doubt occasionally pray amiss. But we are not trying to pass an exam. Rather we are speaking with the One who loves us more than we can ever dream. A father delights in the first coos of his infant. He celebrates the toddler’s first words. He is thrilled when the child begins to form sentences. And he treasures every conversation that he has with his grown kids. To paraphrase Jesus, if we who are evil do this, then imagine how our heavenly Father must delight in even our feeblest attempts at prayer.
The third lesson is that prayer is not the spiritual equivalent of presenting a shopping list. We seek to be mature in our prayers by praying according to His will. Jesus taught this. It is not an accident that we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” before we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” That is why the Book of Common Prayer is such a treasure. These prayers, which have been prayed over the centuries, call us to heights in prayer that go far beyond our natural inclinations. Beyond simply asking the Lord to bless our families, the BCP has us pray, “…bring the nations into thy fold, pour out thy Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of they kingdom…”Such prayers teach us to pray “only those things that are pleasing” to Him.
Collect for Proper 17, 1979 BCP
James 4:3 NKJV
Luke 22:42 ESV
No internet source provided to avoid promoting heresy
1979 BCP p.58