“No longer my own”: the good news

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.

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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?

Related post: What you were made for

What you were made for

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I’ve been soaking again lately in John Wesley’s covenant prayer which begins, “I am no longer my own but yours” and I just have to say this, folks: I love not being my own.

More on that in a minute.

“Have you seen a fish swimming?” Sally Lloyd-Jones asks in her wonderful devotional book for kids (and big kids like me). “It dives, darts, glides, turns, flashes through the water. A fish was made for water. That’s its natural habitat—the place where it belongs.
And the Bible says we were made for God—to be loved by him and to love him. That’s where we belong.” (“Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing,” p. 62)

It seems to me the greatest tragedy of the fall that we now fear the One in whom alone we are free. We’ve forgotten who we are and where we belong, forgotten that we were made by God’s love, for this love, and, whether we’re aware of it or not, that we live surrounded by this love.

When I encountered Wesley’s prayer four years ago my own praying of it was mostly an asking to be made able to pray it. This time around, though some lines are still harder to pray than others, the prayer tastes of freedom and joy, like a gentle hand picking me from the riverbank where I’ve been flopping and gasping, and setting me back in the river where I find myself free to swim and work and play with a remarkable joy and energy—because I’m not trying to flop and wiggle my way to the top of the riverbank.

What has changed? Maybe just this: God and I have been through the cycle enough times—me falling apart, him bringing me close and gently loving me back together again—that my heart is finally starting to believe that He really loves me. That I can trust Him.

“I am no longer my own but yours.”

It’s the simple gospel truth for all of us who belong to Jesus, and it’s such good news! I don’t have to carry the burden of providing for myself, figuring out my minute-by-minute schedule, or trying to manage my future (Matt 6:25-34). Someone who dearly loves me is always looking out for me. As the hymn writer said, “The protection of his child and treasure is a charge that on himself he laid.” On himself. Not on me.

“Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.”

I was never meant to be the one to determine my status, my significance, or my daily occupation.

“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.”

I keep thinking about the viola dream and how I’m made to be played, not to play myself. Sometimes there’s energy and my strings resonate to His touch, and then the energy’s gone and it feels like God has gently laid me back in the case to rest a while. And both—the good, hard work, and the gentle rest—can be equally lovely when I don’t fight them. . . when I don’t presume I’m failing and God is disappointed with me. “Put me to what you will. . . . Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you.” When I’ve prayed these words at the start of the day and God chooses to place me back in the case and invite me to rest, there’s peace there, and joy. And when he gives me work different than I’d planned, that’s okay too. He’s the musician and when I remember that I’m just the instrument it can even be fun when He plays a tune other than the one I was expecting.

“Let me be full, let be empty.”

When I’m full I can celebrate—He is filling me with Himself!—and pour that fullness out in love. And when I’m empty at the end of a day of writing, or when I wake empty and unable to write, that isn’t something I need to fight or fix either, just delight in His welcome to come close and enjoy resting in His love.

“Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

This is one of those lines I still find it hard to pray. I don’t want all things—that seems too great a burden. I don’t want to have nothing either. But I’m pretty sure that there’s a freedom in this line as great as in all the others so I’m asking God to set me free to honestly pray it.

“I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, blessed and glorious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And may the covenant now made on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

This fish wants to dart and dance and shout “yes, yes!” and “thank you!” in fish-language, and get on with the joy of being a fish in water.