Sunday, January 02, 2011

Renewing Covenant

Today is the first Sunday of 2011. On the first Sunday of the New Year, Methodist congregations renew their covenant relationship with God and each other in the words of a prayer attributed to John Wesley. Methodism began as a revival movement within the Church of England, and in recent years more and more Anglicans have adopted this challenging prayer for themselves. The prayer was also adopted by The Order of Mission, of which Jo and I are members.

The Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but Yours:
Put me to what You will,
Rank me with whom You will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for You or laid aside for You,
Exalted for You or brought low by You;
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am Yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

In our disposable consumer society, covenant relationships are vitally important. Such commitment keeps us grounded when times are good, and sustains us when times are bad. The marriage service – the clearest example of a covenant in our culture – includes vows of commitment “ have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part...” No one says these words hoping that their partner will become sick, providing them the opportunity to test their commitment, to exercise it like a muscle and so to see it grow. No-one hopes for worse, for poorer; most wish for better, for richer – not realising that good times and material wealth can test a relationship just as much as hardship, if not more.

No-one says the Covenant Prayer hoping for its dark side – for suffering, for being laid aside, brought low, empty, for having nothing. But as we journey through life, some years are better and some years are worse; some years we are richer, and some years – contrary to the belief that we are entitled to increasing wealth year on year – we are poorer; some years we experience health, and some years are marked by sickness. Such is the reality of our experience; and denial will do us no favours.

Nothing happens to us that is not at least allowed to happen by God (that is, his permissive will) even if it is not what he would want for us (that is, not everything we experience is God’s perfect will for our lives). Many ask, why would an allegedly loving God allow suffering? In part the answer lies in God’s choice to give us the gift of free will – freedom to embrace or question or reject his perfect will. Rejecting God on the basis of having already rejected his love is simply an attempt to justify ourselves. But - here is another reason – in allowing suffering, both our character and God’s character is put to the test. And my experience is that God is always found to be faithful.

The question is, will I be faithful in return? Jesus said that those who are faithful with a little are entrusted with much, to steward faithfully. We are shown to be faithful in little things through little testings; and in greater things through greater testing.

It is better to have failed, and to have received forgiveness, than to have never known whether we would have passed the test at all. But everything in our disposable, consumerist culture encourages us to quit while we are ahead; before we take a beating; before we discover what we are created to be capable of achieving...

For me, 2010 is not a year whose passing I shall mourn. In so many ways it was a hard year. 2011 may or may not prove to be better. I need to give myself – to keep giving myself – back into God’s hands; secure in the knowledge that he is with me, in the good and the bad; and that every resource he brings to our covenant relationship is available to me, so that neither good nor bad circumstances will come between us.

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