A Prayer For Cleansing

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.

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

First my apologies for some technical difficulties: last week, the service that sends out my posts had some sort of “hiccup” and sent an old post from October! Then this morning my blog decided to post an unfinished entry that’s not supposed to go up until next week (February 14). So here’s the “real” item for today!

Liturgical churches celebrate today as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is a season of self-examination, repentance and even fasting in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. The following prayer was written by English reformer Thomas Cranmer to be used in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– Thomas Cranmer, 1928 Book of Common Prayer

I see several biblical truths in this prayer, including echoes of both 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 51. My sin is a genuine offense against God, and I must truly repent if I want to experience the forgiveness Christ purchased for me. Look how repentance is described: being penitent, having a contrite heart, lamenting my sin, acknowledging my wretchedness. How often I substitute self-hatred for this kind of healthy mourning for my sin! But if God doesn’t hate me when I sin, what right do I have to hate myself? Especially when He is the God of all mercy who graciously gives me a new heart, complete with all the repentance I need to enjoy His forgiveness!

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me...

Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me...

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart,
    O God, you will not despise.

- Psalm 51:1-3, 9-10, 17 (NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

Defend Us Thy Humble Servants

I’ve been thinking about spiritual warfare these days. I’ve experienced waves of doubt and discouragement right before important ministry activities, and the uncanny timing of these thoughts shows they are not coincidental. Also, several friends are going through very tough circumstances in health, family, job, or finances. While I’m not the type that blames the devil for every hardship, I do know that he loves to exploit our weaknesses, whether or not he had a hand bringing them about. Continue reading “Defend Us Thy Humble Servants”

A General Confession

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, but in college began attending churches of other denominations. Recently I’ve been looking at the liturgy again and have gained a new appreciation for many of the prayers. This one is the General (i.e., congregational) Confession from the communion service. Although I’m quoting from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the wording has remained substantially unchanged since 1549 when it was written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the Church of England’s first protestant prayer book.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer reminds me that true repentance means seeing my sins for what they are: serious offenses against a holy God. I should be grieved and burdened over them, yet too often I treat my little rebellions casually. Repentance also requires throwing myself on God’s mercy, because forgiveness can only be found in Christ. And finally, repentance involves trusting God to produce in me what only He can produce: a radically new life that pleases and honors Him.

Shortly after this prayer, the liturgy includes these scriptures:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath) for our sins… (1 John 2:1-2, NASB)

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