The Wesley Covenant Prayer as a Declaration of Missional Discipleship
By Steve Manskar
Many United Methodist congregations are familiar with the “Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition.” It is #607 in The United Methodist Hymnal. If this prayer is used at all it is likely used during the first or second Sundays in January as a way to begin the new year. It is part of the Covenant Renewal Service developed by John Wesley and used by Methodists in Britain regularly since 1755.
The Covenant prayer is jarring to the 21st century ear. Its language is antiquated. Its petitions are demanding. (Please note that older editions of the hymnal contain a mistake in the prayer. The fifth line should read, “exalted for thee or brought low for thee” not “…brought low by thee.” This mistake was corrected in later editions.) I have heard some fellow United Methodists tell me they cannot pray the prayer. They say that it describes a god they do not recognize.
The God to whom the Covenant Prayer is addressed is the God who is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The prayer is a description of what is required of people who take up Jesus’ challenge when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
The God addressed in the Covenant Prayer is the One into whom we are baptized. The prayer is a reaffirmation of the baptismal promises to:
“renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin…”
“… accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves…”
“… confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races…”
The God addressed in the Covenant Prayer is the One who invites us to his table where he offers his flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine when we pray “Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”
The Covenant Prayer is a radical declaration of love and loyalty to the God whose nature and name is Love. I say “radical” because the prayer directs those who pray it to the source, or origin, of love and life. It re-focuses our life upon the One who is Love. It re-orders and re-aligns our life and mission with the life and mission of God. It is a pledge of missional discipleship that directs us beyond ourselves, towards unity with Christ in the world that God loves.
I hope that your congregation prays this prayer at least once a year. It is a powerful way to help Christians remember who and whose they are: children of God adopted by grace and citizens of God’s reign:
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 wholeheartedly 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 now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.