This prayer by English reformer Thomas Cranmer is one I memorized growing up from hearing it repeated so often in the liturgy of my church. The words often come back to mind when I feel the need for God to cleanse my heart.
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 Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Book of Common Prayer
I’m amazed at the amount of solid biblical theology that’s packed into these few phrases. First comes the acknowledgement that God is not only all-powerful but all-seeing. I may be able to hide my real desires from other people and even from myself, but my heart is an open book to God. That thought used to scare me, but now it feels incredibly safe to know that He knows me better than I know myself, and still loves me.
Next comes the request. I cannot purify my own thoughts and desires, no matter how hard I try – and believe me, I’ve tried! Only God the Holy Spirit can make me clean as He supernaturally applies the work of Christ to my heart. That’s the “through Christ our Lord” part, which I used to think was just the proper way to end a prayer, like saying “please” and “thank you” and “may I” instead of “can I”. But it’s really a crucial part of the prayer itself, because Christ is the means through which the prayer is answered. His sinless life and atoning death make my forgiveness and possible:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)
What’s more, Christ’s resurrection and ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come and take up residence in my life. Jesus said:
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” – John 16:7 (NASB)
Cranmer’s prayer also includes the purpose for cleansing. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that many times – maybe even most times – the reason I confess sin is so I won’t feel guilty anymore. But to God, confession is all about restoring my love relationship with Him, which will transform my life into one that brings honor and glory to Him.