Introducing collects

During my studies of Reformed worship in seminary, I was introduced to something called the “collect,” a particular form of prayer. At my professor’s recommendation, I picked up a book titled The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, edited by C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, and have found this form of prayer to be eminently useful in my own prayer life.

A collect is a short prayer made up (usually) of five parts. The following is a well-known collect that will enable us to identify each of the parts:

“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.”

Notice the five elements:

1. The Address. This is a name or title of God that He has revealed to us, in this case, “Almighty God.”

2. The Acknowledgment. This is a quality or attribute of God upon which the petition to follow is based. The petition in the above collect is for cleansing of thoughts, so the particular qualities of God that are noted relate to His omniscience (His knowing all things, including the thoughts of our hearts).

3. The Petition. This is the precise thing asked for (a specific need). In the above instance, it is cleansing of our thoughts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

4. The Aspiration. This part is generally introduced by the word “that” and discloses the purpose for which we ask the petition. Here, we desire perfectly to love God and worthily to magnify His holy name; this is the purpose for which we ask His cleansing of our thoughts.

5. The Pleading. Finally, we plead the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ. All prayer for all things must be made in His worthy name: “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I hope to put up a number of collects in the coming months, and I would encourage readers to consider writing and praying their own collects as a way of introducing fresh order, clarity, and beauty into their private prayers.

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