Who wants to be “laid aside” for God?

December 29, 2011

Statue at Wesley Church, Melbourne, Australia

We have a beautiful liturgy for the new year, called the Covenant Renewal or Watch Night service, in our United Methodist Book of Worship. I’ve never been part of a Methodist church that observed it (frankly, it would be a tough sell against our culture’s traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations), but we often include a prayer from the service on or around New Year’s. It’s the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. Wesley didn’t write it, but he adapted it for this service. He’s become closely associated with it:

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.

As you can see, there’s a strong emphasis on God’s sovereignty, which might make us uncomfortable. What would it mean, after all, for us to “have nothing” or to be “laid aside” or “brought low” for God? Do you really want to find out? If these things happened to us, we might be tempted to imagine that God were punishing us or that God didn’t care for us. Not so, this prayer says.

It also challenges us to resist the temptation to imagine God as some fretful grandfatherly figure, who may not like what’s going on in the world but isn’t powerful enough to do anything about it. It assumes that what God wants will not be frustrated by human sin or naturally occurring events.

We place our lives at God’s disposal, trust that we’ll be O.K. one way or another, and learn to say, “So be it.”

This is a hard prayer to pray, but it seems exactly right to me. May God teach us to pray it and live in this year ahead.

4 Responses to “Who wants to be “laid aside” for God?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, it is especially hard to be “laid aside.” John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Of course, John had already had “a day in the sun,” but the point remained that he was willing to be “demoted.”) I would love to have some big string of people about whom I could say, “I had a part in bringing them into the kingdom.” Aside from what I trust was assistance from me with respect to my own two kids, I can only think of one couple 28 years ago I may have had some hand in. But, we do have to trust God that he knows what he is doing, however he may choose to use or not use.

    With respect to sovereignty in general, the way I see it (dimly, as through a dark glass, and in part), God generally brings the events of our lives into our lives, and our part of the “puzzle” is primarily how we respond to that. Something like that, I think.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Trusting that God’s hand is in whatever comes our way—without going full-on Calvinist and making God the author of evil—seems critically important.


  2. Against the grain of some who think Wesley’s Covenant Renewal service is old and too traditional, I will be using a good portin od it as the New Year’s Day response to Holy Communion this Sunday at Simpsonwood UMC.


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