“Let Me Be Empty”

By Ward Shope

On New Year’s Eve, members of the early Methodist movement would gather together to give thanks to the Lord for the year that was passing and to consider the year ahead of them.  As the year turned, they would pray the covenant prayer, reaffirming that all they would do, or not do, in the year ahead would be for the glory of God.

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 by 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.

As an American, I am addicted to productivity.  I’m not always concerned about being in charge or having power.  I’m not even that motivated by money – though I’m not saying I wouldn’t receive it if, in the Lord’s wisdom, he should curse me with it.  The bottom line, however, is that I want to be contributing to something that makes a difference – something that makes a difference for Christ.  I love being “employed by thee” and being “put to doing”.  There is great satisfaction and fulfillment in knowing that there is a result which honors Christ.

Several weeks ago, I ran across a couple of friends visiting our church that I had not seen in almost a decade.  After very warm hugs and some quick reminiscing, they reminded me of an incident where I had provided them some counsel.  Quite honestly, I only vaguely remember the incident and don’t remember at all the quote they attribute to me.  But I do remember the excitement of those days.  We were partners in changing the world for Christ quite literally as they lived overseas then.  I was very “full” in those days and sometimes I certainly felt at times like I “had all things”.

Many of us are not in positions like that.  Circumstances have either changed, or never were, when it was obvious to the Christian community as a whole that we were living lives of fruitfulness for Christ.  Most of us are historically anonymous, and the best things we say or do will never be remembered by anyone save Christ.  (Thankfully the worst things are already forgiven.) The emptiness and the nothingness of our lives begin to encroach on our productivity either because our situations change, or ultimately because our mortal bodies and minds can no longer bear the accomplishments for Christ we all sought when younger.

But then, life never was about our sense of usefulness – even if we lived it that way.  The Wesleyan prayer affirms God’s hand behind what we see.  My emptiness may be, or maybe is, the instrument of someone else’s fruitfulness for Christ.  Or it may simply be a reminder to me, as well as to others who see my frailty, that his fullness is moved forward in my lack.  Matt Redman’s song, “Blessed Be the Lord” often brings tears to my eyes as he quotes Job, “He gives and takes away.”  It reminds us of the hard and sweet truth that even our emptiness contributes to God’s glory.

Now, if I can only get my heart to believe that…