Covenant Renewal in the Wesleyan Tradition, 3

The next part of the covenant goes like this:

Leader: Be satisfied that Christ shall give you your place and work.
People: Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands: Put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and with a willing heart give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

The first thing I see here is that the charge from the leader frames satisfaction as a choice. Satisfaction is not something that comes automatically or without attention or effort on our part. What is satisfaction? At its heart it has to do with out attitude and assessment of something. I am satisfied with my a meal if that meal lives up to my expectations and meets my needs. Can I understand my life in such a way that I understand my expectations and needs primarily in terms of Christ, who he is and what he offers? Or do I begin with a predetermined set of expectations and needs and then go to the divine store to find a god who will satisfy me? In this covenant service the assumption is that Christ sets the standards; Christ adjusts my expectations and my perception of my needs. Satisfaction then comes as a result of my life in Christ after my expectations have been transformed.

If this charge is correct, Christ desires to determine my location and what I do there. My place, my location, can be understood in various ways. It can refer to where I live, where I work, what institutions I take part in, as well as the relationships that define my life. I am not the Lord of my life to determine all these things; Jesus gets that honor. And what am I to do in each context, what is it that will constitute doing my duty? Will it be simply doing “the best I can,” whatever that means? Will it be merely doing what is convenient, or easy, or (currently) socially acceptable? The charge here is to allow that Jesus is the one to define the bounds of my duty.

Our response to the charge includes giving Jesus complete say over our lives. Jesus is the one who gets to decide where I am, what I do, what counts as good for me. Contrary to our current cultural values, this response assumes a degree of passivity on our part. It’s not that we’re out there, hard-charging, working in the world, making something of ourselves. No, we are practically objects in the hand of Jesus. Can we trust Jesus that much? Can we relax and let him decide what is good for us – and act on his determined good?

And all this with a willing heart! We could almost understand if Wesley had said “with a whining heart!” Sure, Lord, I’ll accept what you have for me, but I’ll do so grudgingly and with a continual bit of whining. That’s not the idea here. No, we’re considering ourselves – the whole of our lives – to be put at his pleasure and disposal. That takes deep faith, the kind of faith that only comes from regular attention.

If we say this – from our heart! – does it mean that we accept the maxim, “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “Whatever happens must be God’s will?” I don’t think so. It might be that some circumstance in which we find ourselves, a circumstance we would never choose for ourselves is God’s will – that Jesus has put us in it for some reason. But then it might not be. It may be that we are in that situation because we live in a broken and sinful world, where others have not obeyed God. we may be suffering the consequences of the unbelief and disobedience of others. So what do we do then? Do we just lay down and say, “Woe is me?” Maybe this is when we do what Jesus said (and did) – we take up our cross. In taking up the cross, Jesus willingly suffered the consequences of the sin of others (including our sin). He didn’t do it with the masochistic attitude, “Hey, yeah! I get to suffer tremendous anguish and pain because this is what God wants!” No, his joy – and Hebrews does speak of his joy in this context – was in the consequences that came from what he did, the ends, not the means.

At root, in this commitment we are allowing God to see to the outcomes of our lives and actions. We live in relationship with Jesus. We obey as far as we know how. We give him honor and glory. And we let him bring the results.

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