(…continued) And so that new truth also has a great deal to say about our next holiday, New Year’s Day, later on this week. Each New Year’s Day, as each birthday, brings with it the unsettling reminder that another year is gone. I would guess that everyone (after a certain age, anyway) thinks about that at least a little bit. We get only so many years here, and its not all that many when you think about it. Not only that, but these annual reminders seem to come around faster every year.
Therefore, New Year’s Day, as much as Christmas Day, should be a time to think about Jesus, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live again.” Believing that changes one’s whole perspective on the passage of years. No one or nothing else can do anything about the way the years keep getting away on us, but Jesus has done something. Jesus can give us years without end.
Samuel Johnson lived for 75 years, from 1709 until 1784. He was a journalist and a linguist. In just three years, he produced the most comprehensive English dictionary published up to that point. It was a huge task and a tremendous accomplishment. Samuel Johnson was also a deeply religious man, and had a profound sense of the presence of God. Every year, on New Years Day, he had a special awareness of the presence of God in his life, and he would think about what it meant to live one’s life for God. As he considered that, being a writer, he would write a prayer to God, putting before God his meditations and requests and confessions as the old year ended and a new year began.
The focus of Johnson’s prayers is on God. Samuel Johnson’s faith was centered on God and not on himself. Of course, we do come to God out of a sense of our own needs and weaknesses, but as we do so, we must keep the focus on God and not on ourselves. Faith must consist of more than asking the ME questions; ‘Why is this happening to me, why don’t you do this for me, Lord, why haven’t you answered my prayers, how can I believe in a God that is not there for me,’ and so on. That approach to faith is like what I saw one time imprinted on the back of a little girl’s school bag. It said in cute pink letters, “It’s all about me.”
We might not put that on our school bag, but we need to be careful of the danger of approaching faith that way. God certainly encourages us to bring all our needs and request to Him, but I must look at more than how God is fitting into what I want. The problem with that self-centered approach is that if God doesn’t do what I think He should do, I may decide not to believe in or pay any attention to God anymore.
This was not Samuel Johnson’s approach to God, as you will see in his prayers. For him, it was all about God and not little Sam; God, who is far bigger than you or me or Samuel Johnson. So the main question then becomes how does little me fit in with what the great God Almighty says about me and life and the whole world and all of eternity? The prayers of Samuel Johnson can open our hearts and minds to this deeper, more solid, faith. The prayer below contains passages gathered from several of the prayers Samuel Johnson wrote at the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. Praying this prayer is a good way to remember Jesus at the end of this old year and the beginning of a new year.
Psalm 8:3-4a — When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?…
Psalm 90:10 — Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:12 — Teach us to number our days, O Lord, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Almighty God, by whose mercy I am permitted to behold the beginning of another year, and by whose forbearance I have not yet fallen into the grave, bless me with thy help and favor. Grant that I may remember my past life, and repent of the times I have spent in forgetfulness of thy mercy and in neglect of my own salvation. I give you thanks that you have so far been patient and have not snatched me away in the midst of sin and folly, but permit me still to enjoy the means of grace and the time to repent. Grant, O Lord, that your patience may not be in vain, and that the days of my life may not be continued to the increase of my guilt, and that your grace may not harden my heart in wickedness. O Lord, as I remember my past life, may I recollect the many ways you have sustained and preserved my life. In affliction may I remember how often in the past I have been assisted, and in prosperity may I remember from whose hand the blessing is received. Let not the cares of the world distract me, nor the evils of this age overwhelm me. Enable me to use all enjoyments with due temperance, and run with diligence the race that is set before me. Calm my thoughts, direct my desires, and fortify my purposes. Let me remember, O my God, that as the days and years pass over me I approach nearer to the grave, where there is no opportunity for repentance; and so grant, that by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I may so pass through this life, that I may obtain life everlasting. In the course of my life protect me, and in the hour of my death sustain me; so that I may lie down in humble hope and die in the confidence of your mercy. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.