By the Reverend F. Richard Garland
The Collect for Purity of Heart, while not used as often today, has been at the heart of Methodist spiritual life for generations. It has been a part of our Service of Holy Communion from the beginning and is included in our most recent liturgy (UMH, p. 6). Most people of my generation know it by heart. It is a part of our spiritual formation. Speaking personally, when my prayer life goes dry, The Collect for Purity of Heart unfailingly brings me back.
It is a brief prayer. There is a poetic quality to it. It is a complete prayer. What it teaches us about God and our relationship to God is healthy and helpful. It is a pattern for prayer that serves us well, even today.
“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In his book “Prayer” George Buttrick succinctly lays out the pattern. Its purpose is “…to open the door to God without whose coming all worship is vain.” It is “…addressed to God, as Jesus taught” and “…does not lapse from that reverence to address the congregation.” “Almighty God!” In a word, its focus, as it should be, is on God alone.
Then there is a reflection on the nature of God to whom we pray: “…unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” We can’t hide from this God. God knows our secrets and our desires. We are an open book to God.
Now that we know Who God is, we can then make our petition: “… cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit.” In a word: “Give us a pure heart.” Clear away all that gets between us and God. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” [Matthew 5:8] Hence the name of the prayer.
Then we, according Buttrick, “…offer proof of the sincerity of our prayer” by praying “…that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name.” It’s not enough to ask for a pure heart. What do we intend to do with it? Pridefully keep it for ourselves? No! With our pure heart we want more – to love God, to make God’s Name known by our words and deeds.
And how is it that we dare to ask this of God? We ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who told his disciples: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” [John 16:23,24]
Even the final “Amen.” is important. It is a prayer that closes the prayer. The word simply means, “Let it be so.” Do we want our prayer to be answered or not? Well then say “Amen!” “Let it be so!”
The Collect for Purity is thus a pattern for all Christian prayer. Buttrick observes: “The collect does collect people: its necessarily general language covers individual need, and yet provides a communal tie. Besides, it links worship generations, joining each congregation with the communion of saints.”
I find it wonderfully nurturing to pray a prayer that my mother prayed, that John Wesley prayed, that Desmond Tutu prayed, that saints in many generations have prayed. When we are connected like that, our worship takes on a rich, deep character that will shape us and nurture us.
Let me commend to you The Collect for Purity of Heart. Pray it. Learn it. Internalize it. It will teach you who God is. It will deepen your relationship to God. It will show you that you can trust Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. It will nurture you when your prayer life goes dry. And it will connect you to faithful people everywhere.
I invite you to cut and paste this prayer into a document you will see regularly on your phone, tablet, or computer desktop. Or print it out in a large font, and place it where you can see it prominently throughout your day. Or perhaps, better yet, write it out by hand on a note card and place it where you will regularly come across it– on your bathroom mirror, or on your refrigerator, perhaps.
For now, join me as we pray together:
“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Rev. F. Richard Garland is a retired United Methodist pastor. He continues to contribute to the life of United Methodists and many others through his monthly newletter column, “From Where I Sit,” published by the North Kingstown United Methodist Church. You may see his other columns here.