First of all, and above all, we give thanks to God for all His blessings during the year that has passed and then we rejoice at all the opportunities that God will lay before each one of us in 2016!
I am always challenged by the Lord at this time of the year to both review the year that has passed and prepare for the year that is to come. For John Wesley, the first Sunday of the New Year was always designated as Covenant Sunday, when those who called themselves Methodists were encouraged to renew their vows to the Lord.
As the Church is the Bride of Christ, Wesley saw his relationship with God in Covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on the other (cf. Ephesians 5.21-33). His original Covenant Prayer, therefore, involved taking Christ as “my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all others, and this to the death”!
Wesley recognised that people needed not just to accept Jesus as their Saviour, but also to grow in their relationship with God. He therefore emphasised that God’s grace and love constantly prompts and seeks to transform us, and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and love. Wesley’s Covenant Service always incorporated Holy Communion, which included the confession and forgiveness of sin, before making the following covenantal prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
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 thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Wesley was the epitome of an evangelist and disciple-maker. He also believed in healing and deliverance and it was not unusual for people to manifest and experience deliverance as they listened to his preaching. Often, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, people were brought to a place where they were set free to serve the Lord. As the years have gone by, I have realised that the relationship between evangelism, making disciples, deliverance and healing those in need has rightfully drawn ever closer in our own teaching and ministry practice. This year I have sensed the Lord has been prompting me to encourage all our leaders to take time out during the beginning days of the year to follow in the steps of John Wesley, and prepare our hearts for all that lies before us in 2016. The clouds of darkness have been gathering across the world in 2015 and I believe that 2016 will not only be a year of great blessing for those who love and serve the Lord, but that the Body of Christ is going to face fresh challenges as well – we need to be ready!
In years gone by, when I actually had time to drive a vintage car, I would thoroughly prepare the vehicle for any long journey I was going to take. For me this meant servicing the car thoroughly, going over all the working parts and checking that everything was in order before setting out. And I always took a good set of tools with me for the journey, together with a workshop manual! Let’s look on 2016 as a journey that we are all going to take together in our respective ‘vehicles of life’ – may I encourage you to get ready for it and give your life a thorough and comprehensive service and get yourself equipped for the journey! He has given us an amazing tool kit in all the Scriptural material which is now incorporated in Ellel Ministries courses and books, and we have the best workshop manual that has ever been written in the Scriptures! May I encourage you to begin your time “in the garage” by giving thanks to God for all His blessings in the year that has passed?
I believe that God is preparing His people for greater responsibilities and opportunities for service – hence the prompting that the Lord gave me to encourage all of you to take time out this coming week to prepare yourselves in heart before the Lord for whatever He is preparing you for. The days are undoubtedly urgent. And the clouds may be gathering but, as we sang at our last international conference at Blackpool, there is also a light upon the mountains:
“There’s a light upon the mountains,
And the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
And the glory of the King:
Weary was our heart with waiting,
And the night watch seemed so long,
But His triumph day is breaking
And we hail it with a song.
In the fading of the starlight
We may see the coming morn;
And the lights of men are paling
In the splendors of the dawn;
For the eastern skies are glowing
As with light of hidden fire,
And the hearts of men are stirring
With the throbs of deep desire.
There’s a hush of expectation
And a quiet in the air
And the breath of God is moving
In the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus
Is the Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit
Is the travail of His own.
He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels
To build up the gates of day:
But His angels here are human,
Not the shining hosts above;
For the drum beats of His army
Are the heartbeats of our love.
Hark! we hear a distant music
And it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus,
Of our king, Immanuel!
Go ye forth with joy to meet Him!
And, my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest
For the triumph of our king!”
As we walk into 2016, let us never forget the reality of the second half of verse four:
“But His angels here are human, Not the shining hosts above; For the drum beats of His army, Are the heartbeats of our love.”