An Old Way to Begin a New Year

One of the things that has come to mean the most to me about praying with other people's words is that I realize these words which are given to me to pray have been prayed by a lot of other people before me. The written prayers I've been using (from The Book of Common Prayer) and those passed along in Live Prayerfully mainly consist of psalms, the Lord's Prayer, and other traditional Christian prayers. When considering the psalms and the Lord's Prayer, it's staggering to think of how many others have prayed them before me, and who some of those others would be, tracing all the way back through history to Jesus himself (and even beyond him with the psalms). Since I have my feet firmly planted not just within Christianity, but also within the stream of Christianity called Methodism, it's also a profound thing to me to pray these prayers that have been prayed by the heroes of my tradition of Christianity. One of the reasons I've chosen The Book of Common Prayer as my guide for the year is because, though it has changed over time, The Book of Common Prayer of John and Charles Wesley's day also provided the framework for their efforts to live prayerfully in Methodism's beginnings.

Because today is the first Sunday of the year, I was glad this morning to be able to share an opportunity with a group of friends at our church to join in an old Methodist way of praying with other people's words in connection to beginning a new year together. The early Methodists had the practice of annually meeting to renew their covenants with God together, most often either on New Year's Eve or on the first Sunday of the year. My first experiences with doing this were... well, very boring. Over the years, though, I've come to learn more of its background and context and therefore now have a deep appreciation for these old words that we prayed together. Now I look forward each year to an opportunity to pray them again with others.

Among other things, these words are an annual challenge to put ourselves completely into God's hands. That can be a phrase which gets used but to which it's difficult for us to attach any real meaning. The prayers of this covenant renewal don't leave things vague for us: they speak of entrusting God with our reputations, renouncing our tendencies to give other things higher priority than our love of God, and relinquishing our constant efforts to maintain a sense of control over our own lives rather than allowing God to direct us and use us as he desires.

The text of the prayer we used this morning, which is a very trimmed-down version of what Wesley used with his early Methodists, is here. Also, though it is from last year, here is a video of my explanation of the service to our church, as well as the congregation's participation in it using the same words.

Something I've prayed this week:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (A Prayer for Epiphany from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is 13th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]