Resolutions vs. covenants

This is the week where many of us (myself included) make “New Year’s Resolutions.” Typically people make big sweeping promises as we enter a fresh year, not yet tainted with the resignation of our own weaknesses and inabilities to maintain self-disciple. Ideas like, “I’ll go to the gym EVERY day” or “I’ll finally de-clutter the entire house” are a bit unmanageable. Most advice I’ve heard says to make the goals smaller and therefore more attainable. I took that advice last year, and had a much better success rate than ever before: I accomplished 50% of my 2007 New Year’s Resolutions.

That means…1 out of 2. The first was to submit my paperwork on time to the board of ordained ministry. That was met when I mailed off my packet Jan 6, 2007. The second, however, remained “something I’ll do when I find the time…” and I never did find all that time that seems to get misplaced in life. So, I’ve yet to learn a new dance step as I resolved last year, but I did learn something – it is easier to accomplish smaller and more realistic goals. It is so tempting to think that finally in 2008 I can totally change my life around and become a more disciplined person…but that just isn’t reality. So, why is it that just last Sunday I asked two parents, on behalf of their infant presented for baptism, to make promises that are greater than any resolution I’ve considered making? Renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness and rejecting the evil powers of this world is a much bigger deal than losing a few pounds…yet, on a regular basis the church asks people to affirm this statement.

The difference is that a resolution is a promise I make to myself, by myself. In our baptism we enter into covenant with God – that means we make promises to God, not just ourselves, and that God upholds part of the deal. “The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love.” (UMH p. 32) Jesus is the only one who could enter into the Baptismal Covenant under his own power, because he was already divine. We humans must enter into this covenant relationship with God only through God’s power and invitation. God is at work, and we get the awesome privilege of celebrating that in our lives through outward signs like baptism.

That is one of reasons that I affirm our denomination’s practice of infant baptism. Whether a person is cognitively aware or not we do not enter into this covenant relationship with God because we understand what is happening, but because God invites us into this relationship. I do hope that all those baptized as infants have the opportunity to grow up and hear God’s story so that they will know in their heads as well as their hearts that God is at work in their lives, and that at some point they will respond to God’s love with a heart for discipleship.

John Wesley was a man with a heart for discipleship. One of his spiritual practices was to celebrate the New Year not by making resolutions (those promises to ourselves that fail because we rely on our own power) but by participating in a covenant renewal service – reaffirming his participation with God’s work in his life.

Reaffirming this covenant means that we continue to cooperate with God. Even if we’ve slipped in our Christian walk during the past year (or many years) God has remained faithful to the covenant made at baptism – we never need to be re-baptized, but sometimes we do need a reminder that God keeps faithful and takes us when we’re ready to re-commit to our part of the covenant.

Remembering that baptism acknowledges that we are God’s and not our own, I share with you the words of “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition.” (UMH #607)

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.

I am grateful to Pastor Jeff Clinger who provides a more modern adaptaion of this prayer (With thanks to John Wesley and Lance Winkler).

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your hope and service.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be made also in heaven.
Amen.

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One Response to Resolutions vs. covenants

  1. Barbara L. Stohlman says:

    Thank you!

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