This time of year, Wesley’s Covenant Prayer is prayed in many of our churches as part of a Covenant or Watch Night Service or as an element of our communion liturgy. It’s a surprisingly elegant and deeply moving prayer. Its simplicity disguises its depth; its brevity masks the unachievable commitment it invites the reader to make, to re-think, and to make again. In the end, it turns us back with humility toward our complete reliance upon grace in our imperfect efforts to follow Christ.
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
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 thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.” (UM Hymnal, No. 607)
Wesley’s journal for August 11, 1755 describes a practice (he wrote practise with a British s!) that is a means of “increasing serious religion.” The practice involves joining in a covenant to serve God with all our heart and soul. He developed “a manner of doing it acceptably to God,” and from that came the Covenant Prayer.
I love this prayer. I can’t even totally express why. Lines and phrases from the prayer come to mind for me year round. It’s a constant reminder of the mutual agreement between God and those who seek earnestly to serve God. It provides a “gut check” and causes us to consider the costs of discipleship along with the joys and delights of serving God. Without explicitly saying it, the prayer reminds us that the one we follow went to the cross, and that the new life and hope we carry is bigger than us and requires more than we can ever fully offer.
The prayer asks us, “Do you understand the implications of your baptismal vows, your discipleship and membership vows, and of your ordination covenant, and are you still serious about doing this?” The prayer pulls out of us our very best and highest, and reminds us that ministry is not a part-time job or a side avocation, but a way of life, a pathway toward Christ, a vigorous and difficult and rewarding journey with Christ’s people into the world. What we do really matters, and doing it faithfully and fruitfully requires a great and joyful willingness to go places we would never go on our own. It’s quite a prayer, and not for the weak of heart!
As we’ve entered the new year, I’ve been examining this prayer line by line, and will post my reflections soon, in entry 105.
Yours in Christ,