A Prayer for a New Year
Read – Psalm 141
Key Verse – Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice (Psalm 141:2).
Key Thought – Start the new year with prayer.
It seems to me that whenever we enter into some new endeavor, it’s a good idea to start it with prayer. The New Year is not yet a week old. This is our first Lord’s Day together in 2020. It is a blank canvas laid out before us, upon which we have no idea what the Artist of the universe will paint.
We ought to start it out right – with prayer.
The question is, I suppose, “What should we pray for?”
Once again, we find our country combatting enemies overseas. Peace would be a great thing to pray for, wouldn’t it? Wisdom for our country’s leaders would be good.
Here at home our country is embroiled in the worst political quagmire I can remember in my lifetime. Godly leadership would seem to be a good request. Wisdom… maturity… humility… for our leaders sounds right and good to pray for.
Our church is launching something really big now. We’ve been talking about Phase 3 for a couple years, but the machine is starting to move now. We may well put a shovel in the dirt in the next few months. There’s plenty to pray for there, isn’t there? We certainly seek God’s wisdom… we seek to know His will… we seek courage and stamina and determination to do His will… and we seek His help and the help of His people to fund a project such as this will be.
Of course, each of us, individually faces this new year with just as many needs and just as much uncertainty. Only God knows what will happen in each of our lives in 2020. Some of us will rejoice over loved ones coming to Christ this year! Praise the Lord. Some will weep over loved ones going home to Christ this year. Some will coast through this year as one long success and joy. Others will struggle through this year needing all God’s strength just to put one foot in front of the other each day. Some will grow in Christ this year. Some will drift and fall away. Some will laugh a lot this year. Some will feel more sorrow than joy this year.
What does this New Year bring? And how then shall we pray? Especially, this morning, I want us to think about how we, individually, should pray… for ourselves… right here at the start of the year.
Kathy and I read our Bibles together each morning. A few days ago, we read Psalm 141, and I was struck about the appropriateness of this passage to the question at hand.
James Montgomery Boice wrote that in this psalm “every word or sentence is a prayer.”
Herein, David prayed for several things, which I think we would do well to pray for as well:
May my words be right.
Let’s pray this as we start the New Year – Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).
Is it just me, or does this get harder the older one gets? I struggle with words more now, I think, than I ever have. I was, as I’ve no doubt told you before, a bit of a smart mouth when I was younger. My wife, Beth, used to cast a sad eye my way when I’d say something particularly snarky, “Your mouth is going to be the death of you.” I mentioned that to my brother, Chris, just recently, and he nodded in agreement with her. “Yes,” he said, “we all thought you were demon possessed.” What? Apparently my mouthiness was more legendary than I thought.
When younger, I looked forward to being older and wiser… I looked forward to a day when I’d have victory over some of those childish sins. But now I’m older, and the struggle is still there! I still find myself wanting to say things I shouldn’t… spout off in anger when I’m displeased… smart off in frustration when I don’t get my way. And in my old age, I find my filter is LESS rather than more! God help me!
I need to pray this as I start this New Year – Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).
Am I alone in that?
Boice wrote, “We have a saying that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but words do hurt, and they have done far more harm in the long history of the human race than physical weapons.”^[James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1225.]
James wrote, If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless (James 1:26 NKJV).
Xenocrates, the head of the famous Athenian Academy from 339–314 B.C., said on one occasion, “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having been silent.”(James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1225.)
Lord, may my words be right in 2020. Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).
May my heart be pure.
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing… (Psalm 141:4a).
When I ponder the tendency I have to sin with my lips… to displease my Lord with my words… I cannot escape the fact that the sin goes deeper than that. Much deeper. It’s not just my mouth that needs attention… it’s my heart.
Jesus said that the heart is the source of our words. We speak what’s in our heart. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45 NKJV).
What we speak is merely a reflection of what we are. Out of our mouth pours the evidence of what we are in our heart. And the problem is our heart is black… it is rotten… it is sinful… it is broken. Hear the warning from the prophet Jeremiah who reminded us of just how corrupt the heart of man is – The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV).
How can I speak rightly if my heart is not right? We need to pray for this new year, Do not incline my heart to any evil thing… (Psalm 141:4a).
I’m reminded of a central truth of Scripture, that we are all sinners, and all of us have within us a heart filled to the brim with the propensity to sin. It is our nature, and one which we struggle against daily. If it was something David, the man after God’s own heart, needed to pray about, then you better mark it down that it’s something you need to pray about, too. The apostle Paul, the man I and many others classify as the greatest Christian who ever lived, said he had the same problem. So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t (Romans 7:14-18 NLT).
On my fireplace mantle, I have a very familiar verse of Scripture on a plaque. It is Joshua 24:15 – And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua made that statement and issued that challenge at the end of his life, knowing that the children of Israel would soon have to go on without him. The people heard his challenge and responded, We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God (Joshua 24:18 NKJV). “Yes, Joshua, we choose God… we will serve Him.” But then Joshua said something interesting. He had charged them to serve the Lord. They had answered in the affirmative, “Yes we will serve God.” But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins (Joshua 24:19 NKJV).
The point is simple – none of us can serve God in and of ourselves, for we are sinners. Sin dwells in us. It is our nature… our bent… our innermost self. Our heart is, as Jeremiah wrote, deceitful and desperately wicked.
Ezekiel wrote of the solution, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 NKJV).
And Jeremiah wrote something similar to Ezekiel, But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:33-34 NKJV).
That evil heart in you cannot be fixed by anything you might do… you simply cannot make enough new year’s resolutions to clean up your evil heart. It needs to be remade… replaced with a new heart. Only Jesus can do that.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV).
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 21:5 NKJV).
If you’ve never been made new by Jesus Christ… never born again… never prayed and sought the salvation He offers, then you need to pray that prayer first. Before you can pray, Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, you need to pray, “Lord, change my heart… give me a new heart… come into my heart and save me.” You need to trust Christ as your savior… be born again… be forgiven of your sin and redeemed from your lost state. If you’ve not yet prayed that prayer, it’s the only one He will hear from you anyway.
But those of use who are saved find, with increasing realization over the years of life, that our heart is still black, and we need to pray for a pure heart daily. Only when we get to heaven will we finally be delivered from that heart Jeremiah called deceitful and desperately wicked.
I need to pray this prayer for this new year… you do, too: “Lord, may my heart be pure.”
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing… (Psalm 141:4a).
May my works be godly.
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works… (Psalm 141:4b).
David knew his heart was evil, and so he prayed for God to protect him from doing wrong things… from practicing wicked works. Jesus taught us to pray something similar, Lead us not into temptation (Matthew 6:13).
Imagine a world where Christians prayed, “May my words be right,” and “May my heart be right,” and then lived in light of those prayers. It seems a foregone conclusion, doesn’t it, that our actions and our works would be impacted by that. It seems like if we get our hearts right, we won’t need to pray for God to help our WORKS to be right.
But David knew better. He struggled with not just wicked tendencies, but wicked works, all his life. So do I. So do you. As long as we dwell in what one of my old pastor’s used to call “this enfeebled body” with its sin blackened heart, we will be tempted to do sin blackened things.
We need to pray this prayer for the new year – Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works… (Psalm 141:4b). “Lord, may my WORKS be godly, in 2020.”
Right here, at the start of the new year, some of us need to get real with God about some things. We need to repent of some of the things we did in 2019, and without His help will continue to do in 2020.
– Maybe it’s drink. Maybe you struggle with the whole issue of alcohol or drugs.
– Maybe it’s pornography. Maybe when nobody is looking you fill your mind with sexual sin.
– Maybe it’s rebellion against the clear teaching of Scripture regarding marriage… maybe you’ve been living with someone outside of marriage and know it’s a sin.
– Maybe it’s dishonesty… maybe you’ve been lying to someone… lying about your taxes… stealing time or material from your employer.
– Maybe it’s laziness.
– Maybe it’s unkindness… to your spouse… to your children… to your parents… to those around you.
– Maybe it’s a lack of concern for the lost.
– Maybe it’s rebellion against what you know is God’s will for you in serving Him. Maybe He’s gifted you in some way. You know it… He knows it… you’re not using that gift.
– Maybe it’s…. FILL IN THE BLANK!
Yes, at the start of the new year, let us get real with God about these things.
Let us pray, Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works… (Psalm 141:4b).
Let us pray, “Lord, may my works be godly.”
May I not be ensnared.
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies… (Psalm 141:4).
We need to seek God’s help in not being ensnared by our own sinful heart. But we also need to seek God’s help in not being ensnared by others’ sinful hearts. We are too easily tempted by sin, and too easily enticed by sinners.
My daughter Amy, when she was only a couple years old, learned a verse in Sunday School which she memorized – My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not (Proverbs 1:10). I can still hear her little voice repeating those words. (BTW – Parents, here’s another thing you ought to pray for the new year – “Lord, forgive me for not bringing my kids to Sunday School in 2019 and help me to faithfully bring them there in 2020!” If you don’t fill your kids minds with God’s Word, the entire world and all the demons of hell are waiting and drooling over the opportunity to fill your kids’ minds with the opposite! Sunday School and youth group are free! What possible reason is there to walk away from something so needed? (End of rant.))
But I digress. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies… (Psalm 141:4). May I not be ENSNARED by others!
No matter how much we pray for our words to be right, and our heart to be right and our works to be right, we will still face temptation from others… friends, family, co-workers, the steady pull of our rotten culture… to do wrong. We will find ourselves enticed by sinners daily!
David knew this from his own experience. He knew that if he had only gone to battle when he should have, he would not have been in a place to be tempted by Bathsheba. He knew that if he had only stayed away from that rooftop where he knew he had a view of Bathsheba’s bathing area, he would not have been so tempted. He knew that if he had not gone where she could be a temptation, he would not have fallen into sin with her. He was enticed… ENSNARED… and fell into sin.
Abraham’s nephew Lot could have told a similar story. The Bible calls him a righteous man, and yet he liked what he saw when he looked toward Sodom. He put himself in a place where he could watch it from afar. He was enticed by it and he moved closer, and then closer, until the Bible says he was living within the city, surrounded by its filth. Eventually being enticed led to being ensnared, and he even became a leader within that sinful place… it was a part of him now.
My favorite professor in college said once, “There is no substitute for distance when dealing with sin.”
I love what Boice wrote about this, “David’s prayer is not only that he might be kept from evil, however. It is also that he might be kept from the company of evildoers, so he will not be tempted to sit down with them and ‘eat of their delicacies’ (v. 4)…. David is not too good for evil people; he is too much like them and therefore likely to be swept away by their wickedness if in their company. David swept away by evil company? If that was a danger for David, how much more so for you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying, ‘Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil’ and ‘Lead me not into temptation’?”(James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1225–1226.)
At the start of this new year, let us pray, “May I not be ensnared”
Well, let me mention just two more, very briefly:
May I be open to correction.
Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it (Psalm 141:5).
Just a quick word on this. We need to pray for a humble heart in 2020 that will be open to God’s correction. May we not be offended when a brother or sister reaches out to help us… points out a suggested course correction… reminds us when we are forgetting ourselves… rebukes us when we are arrogantly plunging ahead in sin.
I need this. I need it a lot. I need to pray, “Lord, may I be open to correction in this new year.” Do you?
May my perspective be right.
But my eyes are upon You, O God the Lord; in You I take refuge (Psalm 141:8).
I guess this kind of sums up how we ought to pray at the start of this new year – “Lord, may my perspective be right, always.”
There is another scene from Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan that has always struck me forcefully. Pilgrim is making his way up a steep path by night toward the Porter’s Lodge. He comes to a place where two lions are chained by the path, one on his right and the other on his left. He does not know they are chained, and he is afraid and about to turn back when the porter calls to him, saying, “Fear not the Lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that have none. Keep in the midst of the Path, and no hurt shall come unto thee.” So Pilgrim presses forward, keeping on the straight path by fixing his eyes on the porter and refusing to look at the lions lunging at him from the sides of the path. This is the image David paints. He is fixing his eyes on God as he makes his way through the dangers of life.(James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1227.)
– May my words be about You, Lord.
– May my heart be filled with You, my God.
– May my works reflect You… may they point to You.
– May my efforts to avoid being ensnared by others be only and ever about You.
– May my openness to correction always lead me closer to You.
May everything in 2020 be about You. May my eyes stay firmly fixed on You. May my perspective be right.
But my eyes are upon You, O God the Lord; in You I take refuge (Psalm 141:8).
Can we agree together, church, that we ought to enter this new year prayerfully… that we should start this year with prayer?
I’m sure many of you have specific prayers you would add to David’s list here, but I think it’s a good starting point. Pray with me on this first Lord’s Day in 2020. Pray:
– May my words be right.
– May my heart be right.
– May my works be right.
– May I not be enared.
– May I be open to correction.
– May everything be about You.