Covenant Renewal in the Wesleyan Tradition, 2

The service begins with an affirmation of God’s temporal ubiquity:

Leader: Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
People: From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

This God who calls us into covenant has already been active in our lives and in our world. This is not some strange god, new on the scene, demanding our attention. This is no god holding the gun of omnipotence to our head, forcing us to make a move. This is the same God who created us and in whom we have lived thus far.

The service continues:

Leader: Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants. Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him. Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ. Let us therefore, go to Christ, and pray:
People: Let me be your servant, under your command.

This part presupposes that we are, to at least some degree, at our own disposal. We are not mere objects at the mercy of our environment, a powerful society, or our own hormones and desires. Neither are we mere objects, mere pottery, in the hands of God. God invites our commitment; God does not coerce our commitment.

While we are, to at least some degree, at our own disposal, Christ calls us to particular ministries (services) that may or may not be what we would choose for ourselves. This is hard for us in an age where we are taught to please ourselves, to pursue our passions, to be true to ourselves. The charge recognizes that some of the things to which Christ calls us may well fit with our desires and inclinations; others likely will not.

When we teach on spiritual gifts in our churches, one of the tools we frequently use is a spiritual gift inventory. These can be a useful tool to help people identify spiritual gifts. They should not be trusted on their own, however. In the first place, they measure only those things with which we have experience. If God is gifting/calling us in some area we have not yet experienced, chances are that an inventory will miss it. An inventory may also point too much at areas of service we enjoy, areas we would choose for ourselves. As reflected in the biblical tradition as a whole, God habitually calls us to do what we cannot do on our own. Our challenge is obedience before it is pleasure.

On the positive side, one of the elements of discipleship (though often neglected) is transformation not only of habits and practices, but of desires and emotions. Our culture frequently assumes that desires and emotions are simply given. If we want to be realistic – and we all want to be realistic, don’t we? – then we must bring our spiritual life into alignment with our desires and emotions. The Christian tradition, here in this covenant renewal and more broadly, refuses to take emotions and desires as givens. They are affirmed as good, in general, but frequently misdirected and disordered. We need the healing and reordering work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform our desires and emotions so they become an aid rather than a hindrance to our life in Christ.

A final move in this segment of the service is to consider what it means to be a servant of Christ. Emotions and desires have an important role to play in Christian spirituality. They are not the whole of it, however. God also calls us to think, to engage our minds in the process. Now, just as our emotions and desires need healing and transformation by the Spirit, so do our intellectual faculties. We need the Spirit’s guidance as we exercise our gifts of perception, our memory, our abilities to analyze, compare, contrast, and create. God wants all of us, including our minds. So we offer the whole of ourselves to him in prayer, as we proceed.

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