Suggestions from an old Latin Collect known as Trinity XIX in the BCP.
In his best moments, what any genuine Christian wishes to do is to please the LORD. That is, in thought, word and deed, in relations with others and in life in the world, he desires to please the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.
In moments of renewal and insight, what any real Christian Church wishes to do is to please the LORD. That is, in doctrine, worship, discipline and polity, in preaching, teaching, evangelizing and in mission, the congregation of Christ’s flock desires to please the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.
However, no Christians and church assemblies desire—even in high moments of religious experience—to hear the suggestion that perhaps they just are not able or even competent to please the LORD our God even they really want to! In response, the reply may be: If we are made in the image of God surely we have the inward possibilities and potentials to please God if we go about it the right way!
So how do we please the Lord, our God?
First of all, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him [by faith]” (Hebrews 11:6). That is, we are to not only to believe in, but also to trust in, the One God, the Father almighty. He is not only the Creator of the universe but also the Judge, Savior and Redeemer of the world. Such trust in the Father (through the Lord Jesus Christ) implies that we are to receive and believe what he tells us in his revelation and act upon it in our lives.
In the second place, to please God, says the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, is specifically to present to him continually and increasingly a sanctified life, a life set apart to him and for his will. “For this is the will of You’re your sanctification that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God….For God has not called us for impurity but for holiness.” So we please God by offering to him lives that are pure and chaste, not contaminated and infused with the worldly passions and pursuits that characterize much of the secularized life around us. As Paul put it in another place: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
In one of the many brief Collects in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) there is an important reference to pleasing God by the Church and by each individual member. The Collect for Trinity XIX begins, “O God, forasmuch as without Thee we are not able to please Thee…” and then it goes on to make a petition. We could put this into a modern form as, “Lord God, since without You we are not able to please You,…” Probably the allusion here is to the words of Jesus in John 15:5, where he uses the analogy of the vine with its branches to make the point that “without me you can do nothing.” A branch severed from the trunk cannot produce grapes, and a human being, not united to the Lord Jesus and through him to the Father, cannot bear fruit, faith and sanctification, and therefore cannot please God the Father.
So God requires that we please him and he also makes clear—and this we do not like—that the only way we can please him is by his direct help so that, in fact, we please him in the resolve and strength which he alone supplies. As Paul said of faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Further, as he wrote about sanctification and holiness: “For it is God who works within you both to will and to work for his [own] good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Now we can appreciate the whole of the short Collect:
O God, forasmuch as without thee we cannot please thee: Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Coming to the painful realization that we cannot please God in and of ourselves by our own ways and powers however much we try, we are ready as individual Christians and as congregations humbly to implore God our Father to give us what of ourselves we do not have and cannot produce.
We pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts—at the very center of our beings—so that he will do two things for us. That is, he and he alone will direct and rule our hearts. Unless we are careful we may think that the two verbs used in this petition in the prayer are speaking of the same general theme and do not point to two specific requests we make of God our Father. Let us be clear that “to direct” is to tell or show someone the way; but “to rule” is more than telling and showing, it is governing and controlling.
We may agree that the Holy Spirit directs often the hearts of the children of God and the mind of congregations of believers, as he make clear from the reading, meditating and study of the Word of God, what is the right way for them to walk in. And, we mat also agree, this time with deep regret, how often we receive this direction and fail to walk in the way put before us from heaven. Thus, we need to offer the full prayer and really mean it: “in all things direct and rule our hearts.” We need guidance and direction but we also need and, in fact, cannot do without the further rule—direct rule—of the Holy Spirit causing our hearts (mind, affections and will) to do what is the will of God, which will be our sanctification and for the glory of God.
Praying for the Anglican Communion of Churches
The problems and crisis now felt and known in the Anglican Way, particularly in the West, is serving to make many Anglicans painfully aware of their joint failure both to be directed and ruled by the Holy Spirit in the way of faith, holiness and sanctification to please the Lord our God. Of all Christians they at this point in time ought to be able to begin their time before the Lord God our Father in prayer by saying and meaning: ‘Since we are not able in and of ourselves to please thee and to do anything to get ourselves out of this mess we have gotten ourselves into, have mercy upon us and send the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts in the way of faith and holiness.”
The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford)