When I was recently in Gatlinburg, TN, we walked by five mini-wedding chapels all sitting side-by-side. What a place to ratify a life-long covenant with the person of your dreams. What a glorious inception to the deepest commitment two people can make: “till death do us part” – right here in this ridiculous little doll-house of a chapel.
So much of the pain we go through in life comes as the result of making covenant improperly. Not understanding covenant, we often make it too quickly with our spouses, don’t make it with our friends, and don’t understand that it should be at the center of our concept of church.
Let me be clear: We were made for covenant! You will not feel the fulfillment and abundance God made you for until you can commit to a community that knows you in a deep way and loves you in that place. This is God’s design for church and it is why so many people are dissatisfied with it.
When we go to a “church service” and never touch spirits with other human beings, what we really did was some kind of social obligation, a safe little pantomime of what God intended church to be. We need to covenant to be in other people’s lives and we need to connect with them regularly, encouraging them as we do. That is church.
“So,” you say from your cynical place, “that sounds nice, but how do we get there from here?”
Fair enough; we live in a society founded on the principle of anti-covenant – independence. Our forefathers were abused by tyrants and they risked life and limb to be able to breathe again. But past does not have to be prologue. We need to swing the pendulum back the other way. That said, here are some guidelines for making covenants with people you care about and want to commit deeply to:
Make covenant with just a few people. You’re promising to be there for them through thick or thin. Do you feel you can show up in their lives even when they are no longer charming, but in fact have become particularly annoying?
Make covenant in stages with accountability. Most people not only don’t know much about the people they want to commit to, they also don’t really know themselves that well. Rather than betting the farm on a promise you can’t keep, better to earn trust over time. And decide in advance how you’re going to hold one another’s feet to the fire. People getting married have a pastor performing the ceremony. Pastors should take their role in ratifying and keeping the covenant strong much more seriously.
A covenant promise means you stay at the table. Even when everything in you is screaming, “cut and run,” if you are in covenant with someone else, you can’t do that. The whole idea of covenant is to create a safe relational zone with other people so that no matter how big the mess-up, you don’t push back from the table and say “sayanara.”
The highest level of covenant is with God. When you make Jesus your Lord, you are committed to stay at the table despite the pain that life brings your way. You give him veto power in your life. You pre-determine to not bail out at the first sign of disappointment.
Karen and I are going on 28 years of covenant together. And my buddies from college are our friends for life. But community is harder to come by. Several years ago, realizing that my independent streak was dangerous and claustrophobic, I knew I needed covenant with a few people. That’s how I mixed lives with Andrew Shearman, Gary Black and Tom Davis. And locally, the Bokelmans, Almands, Livingstons, Finneys, Goodes, & Rogers know me inside out. We want to invite more to the table, but it’s amazing how crowded and complicated most people’s lives are. They don’t have time for covenant, or they are scared of it.
Who knows and loves you at a deep level? Perhaps it’s time you began taking steps to make covenant.