The Sunday bulletin slipped through the mail slot in my door. I’d been home sick and a friend had dropped it off. I read the simple liturgy used that week to commission volunteers for their service in the church and the world. At the end, the whole congregation was asked to stand, recommitting themselves, too, by praying together the Covenant Prayer written by John Wesley almost three hundred years ago.
“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 heartily 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. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
I’ve encountered this prayer several times in recent years, and each time have been challenged by it.
Seeing it there, bolded on the page, it drew me again, and challenged me. It drew me not because I could easily pray it, but because I couldn’t. In the days of lacking energy to write the ideas burning within me, or clean my own apartment or buy my own groceries, could I honestly pray, “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”?
And yet, day after day I’ve been returning to the prayer, asking for grace to be able to pray it. And as I ask, once again I’m hearing the good news in that first line more fully.
“I am no longer my own but yours. . .”
Sometimes when the prayer has come across my path, I’ve been able immediately to hear that line as good news. Other times, I first hear in that line what I’m giving up – the right to my own self-determination, and with it, a sense of control and the apparent security of choosing the comfortable options.
Now when I read that line and the echoing lines near the end, I hear more deeply what I gain in exchange. I need to know this in order to dare to pray the rest of the prayer. I gain all of the tender, protective, providing love of the Trinity, who takes on my problems as though they were God’s own. Still more: I gain all of God himself.
“. . . And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. . .”
Only when I know that I’m safely held and cared for can I dare to pray, “Let me have all things, let me have nothing,” knowing that if God chooses to let me have nothing, he himself will provide, day by day, exactly what I need.
Only when I know I’m already cherished as someone worth dying for can I let go of my striving to have others think well of me and pray freely, “Rank me with whom you will.”
Only when I know God gives himself wholly to me can I dare to give myself wholly to him.
The first line and the echoing lines near the end remind me that in this prayer I’m reaffirming the covenant of marriage that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5, where the command to submit to God is given alongside a description of the God to whom we’re asked to submit.
God doesn’t ask me to surrender to abuse, or even to uncertainty, but to love, gentle and passionate love that protects and provides and cherishes even to the point of giving up his life for me.
God doesn’t ask me to do anything that he doesn’t do first.
He gives himself wholly to me, asking me to open to that love by giving myself wholly to him.
As in a loving marriage, when I suffer, he suffers with me. When I have nothing, he steps up to provide. We are in this together, sharers of life and love. He asks for all of me—and gives me all of himself. (I think I’m the clear winner in this exchange. Incredibly, he seems to think he hasn’t done badly either. “The Lord delights in his people.” Psalm 149:4) He loves me.
When I let all those middle lines of the prayer stay framed in this truth that I am not only his but he is mine, then I see that what I lose in this arrangement is not security, but the weight of having to provide it for myself.
I pray, “Let me be employed for you or set aside for you,” and I’m freer to receive both the days when I don’t have energy to work and the days when I do as gifts. God and I are both in each kind of day, loving each other, giving ourselves to each other, and that is enough to make even a low-energy day a beautiful, worthwhile day.
Which line do you find most difficult to pray? Why? How do you think the God who delights in you might want to be with you both in your current situation and in your struggle to pray that line?
What’s the greatest freedom or encouragement for you in this prayer?
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“Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing”
I don’t know if it’s the struggle in these lines or the joy that I love the best.
“You are mine. I am yours.”
Such comfort in that, childlike and good. God of the universe, so intimate and so yet so big to provide all of what we need and more.
Despite your wincing at accolades, of which you have known and deserved many, academically and in friendship, your English prose, your succinct encapsulation and distillation of idea and experience, God’s deep spirit to spirit truth within your missives carry me into your blogs, when initially only glancing at the intro en route to another task. Your “intrusions” reveal themselves so task-appropriate because they always draw me to the prior and more important, to the LORD of all. Thank- you.
The idea of working or not doesn’t seem to bother me too much right now, although I’m sure it would probably be different if I couldn’t work, but the idea of suffering bothers me. Perhaps because I know a little bit about suffering mostly of others but a small amount of my own and how painful it is or can be.
I know I have drawn closer to God through suffering or struggles I have had and that is a good thing, perhaps I haven’t fully embraced that and feel a bit presumptuous to think I have a special relationship with Him.
Thank you for the challenge and encouragement to remember the context and whose we are and that God gives Himself to us. That is so helpful.
And thank you for sharing your very real struggle so openly and allowing that struggle to help you Hear him better. Your acceptance of low energy days encourages and challenges me as well. Thank you!