iResolve

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 for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours.

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–A prayer from the Wesley Covenant Service

From top songs of the year to most important newsmakers or influential citizens to efforts at identifying the year’s best athletes, recording artists, or actors, it is virtually impossible to avoid lists and discussions attempting to assess and quantify the past year.  Equally, once the New Year has begun newscasts and newspapers, sermons and state governments not only review the past year but also imagine the possibilities for the year now underway.  Often, these imagined possibilities include a cataloging of resolutions.

Among the countless other promises, we pledge to lose weight, to save more, to spend more time with our families, to volunteer, to finish those projects perpetually left undone.  Whatever the items crowding our personal and corporate “to do lists,” the start of a new year seems an appropriate time to construct such hopeful catalogues. 

Much like us, John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement, was no different. 

However, more than generally assessing what we did last year and what we must do in the year begun, Wesley was specifically interested in encouraging the members of his Methodist societies to identify those intentional actions done in the previous year that moved his people toward perfection—i.e., toward being and loving like God—and in fostering an environment where members would find such a pursuit of perfection successful in the year to come.  One means Wesley contrived to facilitate this pursuit was an annual Covenant Service.  

This idea of covenant was basic to Wesley’s understanding of Christian discipleship. He saw the relationship with God in covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God on the other.  His original Covenant Prayer involved taking Christ as “my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all others, and this to the death.”  Wesley recognized that people needed not simply to enter but also to grow in relationship with God.  He, therefore, emphasized that God’s grace and love constantly prompts and seeks to transform us, and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and love.  Importantly, the covenant is not a contract in which God and human beings agree to provide particular goods and services to each other.  It is not something that we have to do to create a relationship with God.  In Wesley’s understanding of grace, God has freely and graciously done that.  Rather, the covenant is the means of grace by which we accept the relationship and then seek to sustain it.

Since, covenant is about connecting and choosing intentional acts that maintain that connection, the Covenant Service serves as an annual recognition that God regularly chooses us.  In light of this recognition, it is no accident that Wesley referred to the societies as the “Connexion.”  The Connexion functioned as a material embodiment of our intended destiny to share life with God, each other, and all of creation. 

This week, as we start another semester and calendar year together, the need to remind us of our shared life and to affirm that shared life could not be greater.  The timeliness of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer supplies a counterweight to any inclinations at the solo engagement in the arduous task of maintaining our newly minted resolutions and embarking on a new semester’s academic venture.  As this prayer reminds, Wesley held—as do I—that we have been created to share life with each other and that shared life must be relied upon at this very moment.  

Have a wonderful, shared week together and see you along the way.yer reminds, Wesley held—as do I—that we have been created to share life with each other and that shared life must be relied upon at this very moment. 

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