“AND THE COVENANT WHICH I HAVE MADE ON EARTH,”
Today’s Scripture Reading
6 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
A bold reminder that this prayer is more than passing thoughts or fleeting words, Wesley makes a promise when he prays, “And the covenant which I have made on earth.” More strongly stated than the word promise, we could essentially say that Wesley makes a contract. A contract is a formal spoken agreement, and using a word like contract (or pact, treaty, or accord) takes this prayer from something we might have an inclination to undervalue -- as human promises hardly carry the weight they ought to -- and assigns an unmistakable significance to the prayer.
The majority of phrases in the Wesley Covenant Prayer require that they be tied to either the preceding or succeeding statement to fully grasp the context and appreciate and comprehend the main idea. This particular phrase, to be held in context, must be understand as linked to the succeeding statement of “let it be ratified in heaven.” While the covenant is made on earth, it requires God's blessing to be wholly authorized.
Wesley wishes to elevate his commitment, or take it up a notch, and makes a covenant to prove his words are more than mere lip service to surrender, suffering, humility, and the like. Unlike the covenants in Scripture, in which God outlines the roles and responsibilities and which there is no negotiation, Wesley makes a human attempt to raise the stakes of the prayer left undone. Wesley knows he will struggle to perfect the prayer. The practical reality is that there will be times he fails to do as his words say he will, and so is true for us. However, his desire is that he not fail and that he perfects the prayer by flawlessly living out the principles and precepts.
What is required of a Christian? What exactly are we saying yes to when we choose to follow Jesus? I realized that Wesley’s covenant is in the context of the previous statements made in the prayer. Through the prayer, Wesley surrenders himself, even to the possibility of suffering, and commits to serve God in honor or in humility. Wesley also chooses to live in community with God and participate in God's missional commitment to restore the world. Wesley is naming the requirements for him (and others who wish to follow) to fully live into God's mission, beginning with the realization that he is no longer his own and continuing to the commitment that he is bound to the remarks he is making in the prayer. as Christians, without even any knowledge of the Wesley Covenant Prayer, what are we committing to when we become Christians? What are we contracting with God to do?
There are many ways to answer the question of Christian commitment. For me, the most basic way to answer the question, “What is required of a Christian?” is summed up in what we call the Great Commandment, to “love God and love others.” When they say yes to follow Jesus, Christians commit to strive to perfectly love God and perfectly love others. Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind,” and, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22: 37, 39; see also mark 12: 30- 31 and to Luke 10: 27).
To be faithful Christians, we must grow inwardly in our adoration of God and outwardly in our expression of love to others. This is what Christians say yes to. This is what it means, in part, to be a follower of Jesus. This inward growth means that we surrender to God, abide with God, and worship God with all of our lives, which begins on the inside, in the heart. The outward growth means that we live in such a way that speaks truth or bears witness to God's love. We seek to restore a community of people, reminding them that God has not forgotten them, and we impart life or give away our own interests and desires for the sake of the world, placing God's Kingdom activity first. The inward and outward formation in our lives, loving God and loving others, happens in harmony. This means these two areas of formation are inseparable -- you don't do one without the other. We can't choose which one we like better and then live by only that one. A virtuous life in the way of Jesus is about the identification of and, ultimately, the working out of both inward and outward formation, in chorus.
Now, back to the Wesley Covenant Prayer. Wesley isn't trying to usurp God's authority by originating the covenant. Instead, Wesley, by praying, “And the covenant which I have made on earth,” is actually placing himself under the authority of God by inviting God to hold him accountable for his actions or inactions. this is a critical element of the prayer as Wesley, and all of us who pray with him, is opening up his heart as if to say, “Search me, know me, and discipline me, as I may stray.”
Each of us is prone to wander, and Wesley knows this. Therefore, the covenant is a sincere act in which the desire to surrender to God's work is intensified. Deeply committed disciples know they wander, but the earnest desire of their heart is faithfulness that leads to perfect love.
Do I keep my promises? Would others say I keep my promises?
What is most significant to me about this part of the prayer?
Search us, oh God, and know our hearts. Lead us in your everlasting and good ways. We submit ourselves to you as a living sacrifice, God, for your use and the use of your Kingdom. Let us no longer be conformed to this world, but be transformed that we may be a sacrifice to your perfect will. Amen.
Ask a friend, relative, coworker, or neigbor (someone who knows you well) to answer this question:
[insert your name] keeps his or her promises:
all the time
some of the time
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