O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
One evening last week, my youngest daughter confessed to me that she sometimes thinks my husband and I are the meanest parents ever. We do such shockingly horrible things as making her pick up her toys, eat her vegetables, and go to bed on time — and as a five-year-old, she can’t fully understand that we do these things to help her, not to be unkind to her.
I thought of my daughter as I read the collect for this week. This prayer asks that God will put hurtful things away from us and give us instead what is profitable; as we pray it, we implicitly ask and trust God to decide what is hurtful and profitable. We pray for God to give us what we need instead of what we want.
This prayer requires trust, because just as my five-year-old cannot comprehend that what she wants may actually be harmful, so we cannot always see when our desires lead us astray. Nor can we always recognize what is profitable, whether it’s the habit of eating vegetables with dinner or of loving a difficult neighbor.
God as Good Father
Our trust as we pray this prayer comes from our belief that God is a good father. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9-11, NIV).
A good parent both gives good gifts and knows when a child’s desires will bring harm. A good parent leads a child to what is profitable, even when that child must endure a painful moment in order to gain the benefit.
We adults have the advantage of not being children as we pray this prayer. We can comprehend that our desires and aversions may not align with what is beneficial or harmful for us, and we can understand why a good God might not give us everything we ask for.
But this collect stretches our trust in our good father, since we must be ready to change our ideas about what is hurtful or profitable. And the opening words of the collect remind us that we can have this trust because of God’s never-failing providence that orders the universe.
Trusting God’s Providence
God’s unfailing providence sets all things in order and sustains all creation, including us. We trust that this providence is at work in our lives even when we cannot see or comprehend.
Sometimes this trust is easy; sometimes the benefit of trust is obvious, or becomes clear in hindsight, just as a child eventually realizes that their parents were instilling good habits.
Sometimes trust is far more difficult, when we long for the removal of hurt or the provision of something good and neither seems forthcoming. We experience the tension between our faith in a good God and our life in a fallen world as we suffer ourselves or see the suffering of others.
In this context, today’s prayer is an act of faith: it affirms God’s providence at work in ordering and sustaining the world and then requests that God keep us from harm and lead us to what is good. As we pray, we proclaim God’s goodness and care for us and we declare our belief that God is a good father, even in the midst of pain and suffering.
And so let us this week remember to affirm God’s goodness and our trust in God’s providential care for us — God’s care as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reigning eternally.