Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Haiti Perspective

Ever since Janury 12 we have been aware of the plight of Haiti. Certain images hit me hard. On the front page of the Chicago Tribune a photograph looked up at a compacted pile of concrete beams that had once formed several storeys' high apartments. My eye travelled up to see on top an exhausted Haitian rescue worker, framed against blue sky, standing and bending over to look below. Then, to my horror, there was one arm obtruding from between the massive beams.

And another photo showed three children all standing bravely to attention against a whitewashed wall. Two boys Bethill, aged 16, Berlau George, aged 13, and a girl Bioutelle, aged 11. Now fatherless, for their father, Bienne L'Amerique, aged 46, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Port-au-Prince, had died in their house.

There are countless stories of loss and each one poignantly calls for compassion, prayer and financial response. But just focussing on the loss of one pastor, seeing his family, imagining what's left of his church, trying to picture what lies ahead has been sobering reality day after day.

In the news cycle Haiti's earthquake is already beginning to lose prominence. But it has not only invaded my prayer life and imagination, but provided stark perspective to my January. In a mixture of highs and lows some matters have seemed so important. Yet concrete beams and three children standing silently keep reminding me of what really matters. The gift of being alive, and the responsibility to live fully for God.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saying the New Year Covenant

Unusually, for a Baptist church, this morning's worship focused on John Wesley's Covenant Prayer. Of course, Methodists use this as the centerpiece of their annual Covenant Service, but I think this was new stuff to many of us. The preacher took us line-by-line through the prayer:

I am no longer my own, but yours,
Put me to what you will,
Rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
Exalted for you or brought low for you;
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 your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made one earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.

He explained about covenant having two parts - God's promises and our commitment. And that the prayer's beginning -"I am no longer my own, but yours" - lies at the heart of Christian life. All my identity is found in Christ (Gal 2:20, Phil 1:21, 2 Cor .5:15). Who am I living for in 2010? Him.

The prayer powerfuly spells out a two-fold commitment - of all that we do, and all that we have. Intensely personal, some lines are especially radical: "put me to suffering", "let me be empty," "let me be nothing."

After explaining its content, we spent time quietly before he invited us to stand to say the prayer together. And this is the crunch point - we all said it. Perhaps one or two felt they couldn't, but it seemed everyone joined in But, honestly, I felt inner turmoil. It just seemed too soon and too easy to scale the heights of spiritual commitment by repeating these words. Talking with my wife Carol on the way home, she said she also felt it seemed too ambitious, and rather shallow to say the words aloud. Of course, I know you cannot say this without being alive in Christ, and if you are alive in Him it should be easier. It should!

I guess, the worthy response is to desire such a covenant, say these words with as much of myself as is possible, admit the words still come too easily and to keep them in front of me as 2010 pans out. And to remember my covenant with God when suffering, emptiness and nothing actually happen! I think these great words need my "yielding" over 12 months. It made me think about other prayers, and hymns, that I too readily spout! Are there times when we need to stew and reflect before speaking?