A New Year’s Prayer
A little over a week ago, Jenine and I went shopping to buy Christmas gifts for our four children. Our goal was to start and finish this (daunting) task in one day, even if it meant staying out late to do so. When we arrived at our first destination, the Tyler Mall in Riverside, Jenine asked me, “Where do you want to begin? Do you want to start in a men’s section and try to find something for Quinn and Luke?” My immediate response was, “Where’s our list?” Jenine said, “You know how hard it is to shop for teenagers; I don’t have a list. Hopefully, we’ll see something that we think they’ll like.” I then replied, rather curtly, I’m sure, “Without a list, I have no idea where to even begin.” (I apologized later for my rudeness.)
I’m a list-maker. This is how my brain works. Writing things down helps me think with greater clarity and remain focused. This is one reason that I sometimes write out my prayers.
To be sure, God desires our unrehearsed and unguarded communion with him. As John Bunyan once wrote, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” I echo those sentiments. However, if we’re not careful, we can get in a rut and neglect some of the key elements of biblical prayer (e.g., worship, thanksgiving, confession, supplication).
Biblical prayer should be both spontaneous and planned. Heartfelt and prepared. Sometimes we cry out to God when we don’t know what to say and trust that the Spirit of God will intercede for us, which he does (Romans 8:26). But on other occasions, it’s beneficial to write out our prayers or even pray through words that others have penned, such as the Puritan collection, Valley of Vision, or Kenneth Boa’s Praying Through the Scriptures. Written prayers help us to focus on what matters most to God.
With that in mind, I’ve included below the prayer that I prayed this morning. Rooted in and enriched by the aforementioned Valley of Vision collection, it is both a guide and a sample of one way to write out our prayers. I’ve changed the pronoun ‘I’ to the plural ‘we’ so that we can pray it together, even while we are in separate locations.
May God stir within our church in 2018 a greater dependence on him and richer joy in him than we have yet to experience.
We come to you now in desperate need of your sustaining power and endless grace. We have been hasty and short in our private prayer; we have been quick to rely on our own strength and planning; we have subtly moved you to the periphery. Awaken our hearts to feel this folly; to rue this lack of understanding of you and of ourselves.
Our first sin of the day, our insistence on autonomy, leads to many others: the neglect of those around us who are in need, the presumption that we are justified in our thoughts and actions, a lack of love for our neighbor, and worst of all, a lack of love for you.
Our reliance on our strength has led to countless failures on our part. Lord, help us. Keep us this morning from robbing you of the worship you desire, and of which you are alone worthy. Keep us this morning from having lofty notions of ourselves, while entertaining thoughts of you that are mundane, and ordinary. Keep us this morning from giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, while questioning your every motive. Keep us this morning from praising you with our mouths, while remaining spiritually aloof and disconnected.
With our voices we sing praises to you, and with our mouths we proclaim you as Lord, but our hearts are slow to feel. Gratitude eludes us.
Father, forgive us as we have dishonored you with our priorities, allowing our minds to be captivated by temporal things, while remaining unmoved at thoughts of your kindness. Your holiness. Your salvation.
May we never forget that you have our souls in your hands. You uphold us by your strong right hand. You give us everything we need, and indeed, so much more than we deserve.
Remind us of your unfailing love. Impress upon our minds the merits of Christ’s atoning work for our sin. Enable us to believe. Grant that through the lens of repentance we may see more clearly the beauty and sufficiency of the cross. Let your mercies draw us to yourself. Cause us, by your grace, to long for your coming.
Father, enable us to rest in this: to all who confess their sins to you, you are faithful and just to forgive. This is our assurance: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ; in Christ, we are free indeed. When you forgive, you remove our offenses as far as the East is from the West. For those who trust in you alone, nothing shall separate us from your love: not trials, nor victories, not failures, not successes, neither valleys nor mountaintops. For you keep us for yourself.
Be our portion. Give us more grace. Stir our souls to trust only in you. There is no peace so rich as to rest in the finished work of Jesus, the only one through whom we dare approach you, and the one in whose name we pray. Amen.