Yesterday I got coffee with a friend and she asked me how classes were going. I told her that my covenant theology class has changed the way I pray. When she asked how, an analogy came to mind.
You enter a store teeming with nothing but precious valuables. You take a stroll around trying to figure out how you could afford anything before resigning yourself to just pining after all the wonderful things you’d like to buy. All of a sudden, the store owner emerges from the back to greet you and says everything in the store is yours. You don’t just get to choose whatever you want—there’s no choice, it’s all yours.
These valuables—rest and contentment, joy in the midst of sorrow, comfort, abundance, peace, an end to striving, acceptance, protection, fought and won battles, an anchor for our souls, living hope, security, forgiveness, intimate companionship, wisdom, freedom, strength, mercy, ears that hear, eyes that see, and my favorite, a heart that can love God and find him beautiful—are God’s great and precious promises. And they’re mine. No convincing. No haggling. No earning. No payment plan. Just mine. Christ died so these things could be mine, so God could be mine.
Covenant theology helps me understand why I can come before God’s throne of grace with confidence to find grace and mercy in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16) and why all of the promises of God are yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Understanding covenant theology makes Christ so much more precious to me.
Today I was thinking about that analogy and thought that next to the store of treasures, there’s another one. It’s filled with things I recognize, things native to my everyday experience and not otherworldly like those in the first store. I go around and say, “that’s mine!” “What’s my _____ doing here?” The same store owner comes out and says, “No, these things are all mine now.” My sin, my anxieties, the fragments of my broken heart, my failures, my best efforts being blanketed in the mold of pride, my unmet desires—all that is burdensome—he owns. They are his. He is responsible for them. Even so, how prone I am to shoplift from this store.
Martin Luther is believed to have said that Christianity is about personal pronouns. My professor began class discussing the implications of the use of possessives in the passage from Song of Solomon, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (6:3) As he unpacked each half he said that to say ‘my beloved is mine’ is to say that in the covenants God gives us legal claim to all that he is and has. To say ‘I am his’ is to imply that prayer is not me convincing God to take an interest in my personal needs. It isn’t cajoling. My lament operates from the assumption that God owns my needs.
It’s not that I didn’t know God wanted me to come to him with my burdens before, but it hadn’t struck me that it was because he had obligated himself through covenant to owning them. He’s put his name on them. They’re really his if I’m his. And I’ve believed that God longs to give me his treasures, but hadn’t thought that I had claim to them—not in a name-it-and-claim-it or prosperity gospel kind of way—but that even beyond his faithfulness, or maybe rather as an expression of its lavishness, these treasures come with covenant.
When I go home for the holidays, I am always asking my mom if I can have this or that to eat and she always says, “Alicia, have whatever you want. I bought this food for you.” It’s a wild thought that the God who sustains all things—my God—says, “Alicia, have whatever you want, I bought this for you.” And that he bought it with his own blood while I was still his enemy. Covenant theology has made my prayers more bold and more humble and more full of thanks.