I love the beginning of a new calendar year almost as much as I love the beginning of the church calendar year. As in Advent, January is a time for fresh starts. It affords us time to stop and consider where we have been and where we are called to go next. It is an opportunity to be reminded of who – and whose – we are. It is a time for hope.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was fond of leading his parishioners through a Covenant Service on New Year’s Day. He found the service to be very meaningful, as he described in his journal: “many mourned before God, and many were comforted . . . Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of His graces, healing all their backslidings.” The Covenant Service clearly offered hope to a lot of people.
Many Methodist churches, including ours, continue to use Wesley’s Covenant Service today as a way to begin the new year. It is a wonderful opportunity to recommit ourselves to God. As such, I wanted to share the service with you in the form of a prayer bead devotion. I pray that it offers you a meaningful way to begin 2013.
What follows is a condensed version of the Covenant Service. I wanted to capture the highlights while incorporating the beads. Still, it is a longer devotion than what we usually use with prayer beads. I encourage you to find a time when you will have the chance to go through this devotion without being hurried or interrupted. It’s power comes from using the beads to meditate on each part of the covenant, so that you, too, might experience “fresh manifestations of His graces.”
Cross: We renew the covenant that binds us to God. Let us make this covenant of God our own.
Invitatory Bead: 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:
Resurrection Bead: Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things. Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands:
First Cruciform Bead: Put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you.
Each Week Bead: commit to being employed for Christ, or laid aside for Christ.
Second Cruciform Bead: Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing.
Each Week Bead: commit to having all things or having nothing in the name of Christ.
Third Cruciform Bead: I freely, and with a willing heart, give it all to your pleasure and disposal.
Each Week Bead: commit yourself to Christ’s pleasure and disposal.
Fourth Cruciform Bead: I do here covenant with you, O Christ, to take my lot as it may fall.
Each Week Bead: commit to taking your lot as it may fall.
Resurrection Bead: Through your grace I promise that neither life nor death shall part me from you.
Invitatory Bead: I make this covenant with you, O God, without guile or reservation. If any falsehood should be in it, guide me and help me to set it right.
Cross: Glory be to you, O God the Father, whom I from this day forward shall look upon as my God and Father. Glory be to you, O God the Son, who has loved me and washed me from my sins in your own blood, and now is my Savior and Redeemer. Glory be to you, O God the Holy Spirit, who by your almighty power has turned my heart from sin to God. O mighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have now become my Covenant Friend. And I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant. So be it. And let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.