There’s nothing quite like tearing off the last page of a calendar and turning to a new year. It brings a clean slate, offering a new start with fresh possibilities. New Year’s resolutions will abound. New habits will be attempted. Once again, we will aspire to put our best foot forward. But before we do that, let’s remind ourselves of our back story. It’s an all too human thing to want to be better and to strive for more. We are created in the image of God. The inconvenient truth is that our ancient ancestors determined that bearing the image of God was not enough. They wanted to be God. They were reaching to be God’s equals.
And maybe that’s our problem—reaching. Isn’t that where things went wrong? When our ancestors reached for the forbidden fruit. It wasn’t an apple they were reaching for. They were reaching for equality with God. They wanted to be their own god. Then and now, sooner or later, it always leads to epic failure. You see, by definition, God has no equal.
We’ve been doing it ever since. That’s the essence of sin—not trusting in the trust worthy goodness of God. The minute we do that we set out on a course to find another god or worse, to become our own god. We make great humans, but terrible gods. And when we set out on a course to find other gods, we can actually become quite terrible humans.
We were not made to reach for God, but to bow before Him. That’s the one place where we discover that God was reaching for us all along. That’s who Jesus is—the one who reaches to us, right where we are. Not only does He reach us, He restores His glorious image in us and remakes us into the people He created us to be in the first place. In short, He reminds us to think like God thinks and to act like God acts and to love like God loves.
Scripture gives us an amazing snapshot in Philippians:
Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing. And taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself and become obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11)
Did you catch that? He reminds us. By the working of the Word of God and the Spirit of God and the fellowship of one another, Jesus saves us from the broken patterns of this world and transforms us by the renewing of our minds. He transforms our mind, which, far more than our brains, is the innermost place of our lives where our affections and dispositions and aspirations live. This is where our character is formed and transformed.
This is where the roots are—from which the fruit comes. The Bible gets so carried away with the miracle of all this it almost breaks into song:
“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. . . . for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9–10, 16.)
You may be asking, What does all of this have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Let me ask you: Would you rather resolve once again to try harder, to do more, to reach higher, to be better (and lighter), only to run out of gas again by Valentine’s Day? Or would you rather try something different this year? Our resolutions and resolve aren’t bad, just futile.
What if we started out this year on our knees, reminding one another of the mercy, grace, and faithfulness of God? What if we gave up on reaching for the stars and found ourselves bowing down to the ground before the one true and living God? What if instead of re-firing our confidence in ourselves, we renewed our faith in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit? What if we began this year with repentance—realigning our minds and hearts and lives according to the things that matter most?
Well, that would be a New Year’s revolution. Watchnight: John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service is designed to do just that—to start the new year with a short but defining practice called covenant renewal. It’s where we read Scripture, hear challenges, receive encouragements, make promises, and offer all we know of ourselves to all we know of God.
We learned this New Year’s practice from John Wesley, who founded and led the revolutionary movement known as Methodism as it began in eighteenth-century England.
- Host a Watchnight service at your local church on New Year’s Eve. After a covered-dish supper (a.k.a. potluck), gather everyone and do the covenant renewal service as a community.*
- Gather your family around the lunch or dinner table on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Appoint someone to be the leader for the service. Appoint others around the table to read the Scripture readings and walk through the covenant renewal together.
- Set up a video conference call (FaceTime, Skype, etc.) with friends or family across the country and walk through the covenant renewal service.
- Host a New Year’s Eve gathering with friends and engage the covenant renewal service together.
- Take the covenant renewal service into your prayer closet at home and pray through the service in secret before God. See also Matthew 6.
- Lead a local church congregation through the covenant renewal service during your Sunday service on the first Sunday of the New Year.
- Engage the covenant renewal service with your small group, Sunday school class, Class Meeting, or New Room Band.
- Order a bulk supply of these Seedling books and pass them out to your church.
- Hand deliver copies of this Seedling book to elderly people who can’t easily get out of their homes or who live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
- Order a bundle and distribute them at the local jail or prison.
- Get a supply of Covenant Renewal Service Seedlings and sneak them into the stockings on Christmas Eve.
- In the quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s mail a Covenant Renewal Service Seedling to family and friends you weren’t able to see over the holiday. Enclose a note of New Year’s blessing.
- Tuck a Seedling into your Christmas card envelopes this year. It will add to the postage but be totally worth it!
- Keep a supply of these in your car and be on the ready to sow them extravagantly as the Spirit leads you.
Get Watchnight: John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service. In 1775, John Wesley introduced a covenant service as an important part of spiritual life in the Methodist Societies. This renewal service was a time for the Methodists to gather annually in a time of self-examination, reflection, and dedication, wholly giving up themselves and renewing covenant with God. Repentance through confession and commitment was a key focus of the service, demanding humility from those willing to submit themselves to the dynamic words stated within the liturgy.