On many of his birthdays, English writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) would compose a prayer. I first read these prayers 30 years ago, and ever since have prayed through them on my own birthday. I appreciate their seriousness, depth, and eloquence. They cannot be read quickly. Each phrase is filled with meaning, covering many aspects of our spiritual life; gratitude, praise, repentance, trust, servanthood, obedience, commitment, and the hope of eternal life. Below are several of Johnson’s birthday prayers.
(1738) Father of all mercies, I do give Thee most humble thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to me. I bless Thee for my creation, preservation, and redemption, for the knowledge of thy Son Jesus Christ, for the means of Grace and the hope of Glory. In the days of childhood and youth, in the midst of weakness, blindness, and danger, Thou hast protected me; amidst Afflictions of Mind, Body, and Estate, Thou hast supported me; and amidst vanity and Wickedness, Thou hast spared me. Grant, O merciful Father, that I may have a lively sense of thy mercies. Create in me a contrite heart, that I may worthily lament my sins, acknowledge my wickedness, and obtain forgiveness, through Jesus Christ. And, O Lord, enable me, by thy Grace, to redeem the time which I have spent in Sloth, Vanity, and wickedness; to make use of thy Gifts to the honor of thy Name; to lead a new life in thy faith, fear, and love; and finally to obtain everlasting life. Amen.
(1757) Almighty and most merciful Father by whose providence my life has been prolonged, and who hast granted me now to begin another year of probation, assist me by thy Holy Spirit, that the continuance of my life may not add to the measure of my guilt. I repent of the days and years passed in neglect of the duties which thou hast set before me, in vain thoughts, in sloth, and in folly. I pray that I may apply my heart to true wisdom, by diligence redeem the time lost, and by repentance obtain pardon, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
(1758) Almighty and most merciful Father, who supports me in my weakness and spares me in my sins, and hast now granted me to begin another year, enable me to improve the time which is yet before me, to thy glory and my own salvation. Impress upon my soul such repentance of the days misspent in idleness and folly, that I may henceforward diligently attend to the business of my station in this world, and to all the duties which thou hast commanded. Let thy Holy Spirit comfort and guide me that in my passage through the pains or pleasures of this present state, I may never be tempted to forgetfulness of thee. Let my life by useful, and my death be happy; let me live according to thy laws, and die with confidence in thy mercy. Amen.
(1766) Most merciful Father, who hast granted me to prolong my life to another year, look down on me with pity. Let not my manifold sins avert from me thy fatherly regard. Enlighten my mind that I may know my duty, and strengthen my resolution so that I may perform it. Let not another year be lost in vain deliberations; let me remember, that of the short life of man, a great part is already past, in sinfulness and sloth. Deliver me Lord, from the bondage of evil customs, and take not from me thy Holy Spirit; but enable me so to spend my remaining days, that by performing thy will I may promote thy glory. Grant that after the troubles and disappointments of this mortal state I may obtain everlasting happiness… Amen.
(1768) O Lord, look down with pity upon my troubles and maladies. Heal my body, strengthen my mind, compose my distractions, calm my inquietude, and relieve my terrors; that if it please thee, I may run the race that is set before me with peace, patience, constancy, and confidence. Pardon and bless me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
(1779) Almighty God, Creator of all things in whose hands are Life and death, glory be to thee for thy mercies, and for the prolonging of my life to the common age of man. Pardon me, O gracious God, all the offenses which in the course of seventy years I have committed against thy holy laws, and all the negligences of those duties which thou hast required. Look with pity upon me and enable me to pass the days which thou shalt yet grant me in thy fear and thy glory; and accept, O Lord, the remains of a misspent life, that when Thou shalt call me to another state, I may be received to everlasting happiness. Amen.
(1781) Almighty and merciful Father, who hast brought me to the beginning of another year, grant me so to remember thy gifts, and so to acknowledge thy goodness, as that every year and day which thou shalt yet grant me, may be employed in the amendment of my life, and in the diligent discharge of such duties, as thy Providence shall alot me. Grant me, by thy grace, to know and to do what thou requirest. Give me good desires, and remove those impediments which may hinder them from effect. Forgive me my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and when at last thou shalt call me to another life, receive me to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(1784) Almighty God, who art the giver of all good, enable me to return Thee due thanks for the continuance of my life and for the great mercies of the last year, for relief from the diseases that afflicted me, and all the comforts and alleviations by which they were mitigated; and gracious God, make me truly thankful for the call by which thou hast awakened my conscience, and summoned me to repentance. Let not thy call, O Lord, be forgotten, or thy summons neglected, but let the residue of my life, whatever it shall be, be passed in true contrition and diligent obedience. Let me repent of the sins of my past years and so keep thy laws for the time to come, that when it shall be thy pleasure to call me to another state, I may find mercy in thy sight. Support me in the hour of death, O Lord, and grant me pardon in the day of Judgment. Amen.
Psalm 90:10 — The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:12 — Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 139:13-16 — For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Isaiah 46:4 — (The Lord says), “Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.”
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”