Covenant Prayer

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 for 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

It would be cliché to say that this prayer (Wesley’s Covenant Prayer) changed my life. But perhaps it’s not too strong to say that it has been changing my life, bit by bit, for the past several months.

The prayer has its roots in John Wesley’s service for the renewal of the believers’ covenant with God, first held about 250 years ago. Many churches in the Wesleyan tradition continue to use a version of that liturgy at the beginning of each new year.

So why would such a thoroughly post-modern Christian such as myself be so drawn to this traditional prayer as to claim transformation by it? Two reasons.

First, I have noticed in recent years how tired I become of hearing my own voice in prayer. Always asking for one thing or another, reciting a litany of perceived needs, grudgingly admitting those I’m in conflict with and praying for them with all the zeal of a six-year-old eating raw broccoli. My own extemporaneous prayers probably have some value in helping me organize and prioritize the things that are most on my mind. But in terms of spiritual formation, they are the equivalent of an exercise diary for someone who never gets off the couch. Good intentions and empty words.

Second, and more to the positive, I’ve been praying this prayer each week with a group of friends that have covenanted together for about a year and a half. The closing prayer is my favorite part—not because it’s finally over, but because we end with Wesley’s covenant prayer. Each week it both comforts and alarms me.

Comforts, because I recognize that my calling is not to strive for professional success, but to live an obedient, faithful, and joyful life that is completely (as is possible for anyone) surrendered to God. With all the time I spend struggling against my denomination’s addiction to success and panic in the face of failure, it’s good to be reminded that such a struggle is vitally important, a part of our identity that remains at the bedrock level.

But the prayer also alarms me for the same reasons it comforts. Opening my hands and offering everything to God’s disposal is hard enough. But to welcome suffering? Or poverty? Or, maybe worst of all, the thwarting of my ego (brought low for thee, laid aside for thee)? Some weeks, it feels like I might as well pray to be bullet proof with laser vision, so impossible are these more terrestrial prayers.

I keep praying them though, and keep trying to live them out. I am not the person I was when I first started taking this prayer seriously, and I doubt I’ll be the same person in the future if I continue to do so. Change is the natural result of giving yourself over to God.

So tomorrow is uncertain, and I am unfinished, and I “freely and heartily” welcome the process. Onward and upward.