One of the great principles of worship that informs how liturgy is shaped and filled is lex orandi lex credendi – the rule or prayer is the rule of faith, what we pray is what we believe. It’s not a one-way street: the deposit of faith ought informs our prayer and the way we pray informs our faith. So it is very important especially when we pray together that we adhere to a faithful liturgy that promulgates orthodox belief.
One of the major points of faith to an Anglican, and our Protestant brethren, is the authoritative primacy of Scripture. Arguably the most famous prayer that has originated in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is the “scripture collect” for Advent II – “grant us to so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…” But today let’s highlight a different one. Occasional Prayer #70 on page 667 is entitled For Inner Renewal through the Word. It reads thus:
Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
My goodness this prayer is packed full! Let’s break it down.
- God is a gracious and merciful Father.
- The Bible is a rich and precious jewel granted us by God.
- The Spirit helps write the Bible in our hearts.
- When in our hearts, the Bible comfort us.
- When in our hearts, the Bible reforms (corrects and redirects) us.
- When in our hearts, the Bible renews us in the image of God.
- When in our hearts, the Bible builds and edifies us into the perfect dwelling place of Christ Jesus.
- When in our hearts, the Bible makes us holy.
- When in our hearts, the Bible increases heavenly virtues (such as faith, hope, and love).
- For the sake of Jesus Christ, we pray the Spirit would do all this in us.
For many Christians the language of the Word being written on our hearts is commonplace. For some, especially for onlookers in other faiths or none in particular, this may sound strange. What’s the difference between having the Bible “written in our hearts” and having the Bible “memorized”? Think of the Pharisees in the Gospels: they had memorized the Scriptures flawlessly, and outwardly conformed their lives to what they understood them to say, but inwardly many of them were still very crooked people. Think of the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3: “the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.” Think of the words of our Lord in John 6: “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.” The literal words of the Bible are not its power. It is the god-breathed nature of those words, and the application of those words in the human heart where their true power is made manifest.
One can say the same thing Lord of the Rings or Doctor Who or any other story: there is a real difference between memorizing the contents and knowing all the trivia and the behind-the-scenes stuff, and being inspired and changed from the experience. Good poetry, good music, good arts – these have the potential to change one’s perspective on life, to touch the heart in ways that the mind cannot explain or words express. That is the beginning of what it means to have the words of sacred scripture written on our hearts. It has been heard, it is been read, it has been marked (or studied), and it is being learned and inwardly digested to nourish and strengthen the reader. You know the saying “You are what you eat”? It’s not only true about a healthy diet of food, but the same principle applies to the ingesting of the Word of God. (And to Holy Communion too, but we’ll save that for another time!)
Anyway, go read this prayer in the Daily Office today. It’s good for you. 😉