Saturday, October 24, 2009
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee . . .
If I had realized how important that day was, I would have written the date down! All I can remember is that it was sometime before or after Phillip was born during the time when I was working full time, going to school, active in church, and either having or nursing babies. Those years are a bit of a blur. But some time in the last 1980s/early 90s, I experienced one of the major converting moments of my life.
For those who like to date the moment of accepting Christ, this was not that moment. I was baptized as an infant at Grace Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, MD and given to Christ at that time. At age 11, I was confirmed at Brooklyn Avenue United Methodist Church in Dallas (Oak Cliff specifically) and accepted the baptismal vows for myself. When we moved to Gadsden, I was re-baptized at Whites Chapel Baptist Church when I expressed a wish to join. (One of the reasons I so strongly object to re-baptism. The first one took!) When I could drive, I drove myself to Gadsden First UMC and upon feeling God's presence in the beauty of the liturgy of Holy Communion, I moved my membership back to the denomination of my heritage and raising. I did the stereotypical thing and became very inactive during my college years. We visited Epworth off and on for a few years as young adults and joined when I was VERY pregnant with Steven so we could raise him in the church. Steven was one of the babies who screamed when left in the nursery and I was told that if I came regularly he'd get used to it. So God tricked us into weekly worship attendance --and Steven did quit screaming after a year and a half (or was it a lifetime--it felt like it!).
In those days, Epworth no longer held revivals. We hosted Spiritual Renewal events. In any case, at the time of year when churches held revivals, our pastor (Andy Wolfe) invited David Lowes Watson to led our Spiritual Renewal event focusing on covenant discipleship and the event ended with an invitation to form covenant discipleship groups.
As I recall, we were introduced to Wesley's Covenant prayer one night and invited to come back the next and actually commit to a covenant group after carefully and prayerfully considering the covenant.
If you take it seriously, Wesley's covenant prayer is more than a bit scary. "Put me to suffering. . . " "Let me be empty . . ." "Let me have all things, let me have nothing . . ." But the line of the prayer that really stopped me in my tracks that night was "Let me employed by thee or laid aside for thee . . ." And for the first time in my life, I realized that I didn't want to be laid aside. I wanted to make a difference for Christ!
So on the next night, I went forward and made a commitment to intentional, accountable discipleship. This converting moment was not about accepting a belief in the salvation we receive through Christ or of accepting a commitment to the church rather in this moment I not only committed my life and what would happen to it to Christ but I vowed to be accountable for how I served him. Without really knowing what it meant or where it would lead, I committed my ALL to Christ.
From there everything changed! A couple in my covenant group sponsored me on an Emmaus Walk and I left knowing that as a baptized Christian I was called to ministry and determined to find my ministry. Another friend from the covenant group convinced me to go with her to Huntsville First and take a Disciple Bible study class which led to teaching Disciple classes at Epworth. I served on just about every committee imaginable and I began to teach my Sunday School class. I attended "To Grow A Teacher" events and "Gifted and Called." And somewhere in the midst of all that, I began what seemed like a long hard struggle with my growing sense of call to representative ministry. Which lead eventually to candidacy, licensed local ministry, seminary, and now ordained ministry. And for the last 11 or 12 years, I feel like God has been continually calling me to jump in my car and go somewhere I've never been to do something I never dreamed I'd be asked to do (and was not to sure I wanted to do!).
There were days I've wondered why I ever worried about being laid aside! And some days, I confess it sounds pretty restful!
However, I noticed something this week that I don't think I had ever noticed before. For years, I have heard the prayer say "let me be employed by thee or laid aside BY thee" and interestingly enough that is not what the prayer says! Rather the prayers says "let me laid aside FOR thee"-- a rather different proposition. God never lays any of us aside, but sometimes there are seasons in our lives when we are laid aside for the sake of God. Sometimes the door doesn’t open where we expect it to and we have to sit and wait on God--laid aside FOR God--and it is during those times--usually uncomfortable times--that we grow the most. And while we are tempted to think nothing is happening and we are useless, God is at work growing and shaping us for the next season of ministry.
Through the years, I have revisited this prayer often. Each new year, I draw my congregation's attention to it. Recently, a friend told me that she has it posted on her treadmill so she can pray it daily as she exercises. Last Sunday, I posted it on this blog. And Wednesday during our final session of the gathering of the orders, Rob Weber asked us to pray it and I couldn't make it through the prayer without the tears falling.
In the end, Wesley's Covenant Prayer is about saying YES! to God. Yes to times of activity. Yes to times of rest. Yes to times of change and risk. Yes to times of waiting and seeking. Yes to going. Yes to staying. It's all about saying Yes to the one who said Yes to us! Giving ourselves to the one who gave himself for us. Giving ourselves to others unconditionally as Christ gave himself unconditionally for us. Entrusting our present and our future with all the unknowns to the one who knows us intimately and has a plan for a future and a hope for us.
So today, I place Wesley's Covenant prayer as well as Merton's wonderful prayer in my prayer notebook so that each and every day I can be reminded to say Yes to whatever and wherever God is calling me to go or to do.