Four prayers for the New Year

I have always had mixed feelings about New Year resolutions. In previous years, January has always been the biggest time for new gym subscriptions—but most don’t continue the habit past the end of the month, and many gyms run on the subscriptions of people who never come. This suggests that January isn’t the best time to make changes in life—September works better after the summer period of reflection. And perhaps ‘making resolutions’ is not the way that most people embrace lasting change.

So instead of suggesting resolutions, I offer here four prayers, or poems-as-prayer, for the new year.

The first is very well known, usually under the title ‘The Gate of the Year’, and is by Minnie Louise Haskins, a poet and academic working in the field of sociology. Though first published in 1908, it was made famous when George VI read it in his New Year broadcast in 1939—a prophetic word for a country on the brink of global conflict. I remember seeing it cast in iron at the chapel in Windsor Castle, where George VI is buried.

Most people know only the opening sentences, and not the poem that follows. It challenges me to accept God’s mysterious work, though perhaps suggests too much that discipleship involves passive acceptance rather than active embracing.

God Knows

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

The second poem comes thanks to Revd Richard Coles, who posted it on his Facebook page. It was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate. It originally formed part of an elegy to his sister’s fiancé who died aged 22, and you can hear hints of grief particularly in the third stanza. It has been set to music several times, and (slightly curiously) is read as part of the public celebrations in Sweden every New Year. I like the rhyming pattern (1–4, 2–3) which is chiastic, suggesting beginnings and endings, as well as the implicit claim at the end that Jesus is in fact the key to all change in life, and in particular the movement from death to life, from despair to hope, and from the past to the future. The penultimate stanza also hints at postmillennialism, which was a widely held doctrine in the nineteenth century.

Ring out, wild bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

My friend Thomas Renz pointed out to me another poem that uses some similar ideas, in the hymn written by the late Michael Perry, and which is used at the service when the bellringers ring in the New Year in the parish of Monkey Hadley.

Ring out the bells, and let the people know
that God is worshiped by the church below:
to all around this truth the bells declare
‘Your needs are lifted up to God in prayer!’

Ring out the bells, and let the people hear
let hearts be open now, and faith draw near;
receive the grace that only God can give
by word and symbol feed and grow and live.

Ring out the bells, and let the people sing
through changing seasons to our changeless King:
all perfect gifts are sent us from above
respond with praises for such faithful love.

Ring out the bells until that glorious day
when death shall die and sin be done away:
then comes our God so everyone shall see
let all the bells ring out in victory!

My third offering is a Puritan prayer from a collection The Valley of Vision edited by Arthur Bennett in 1975 (pages 206–207). It was sent to me by a friend Tabitha Smith from Poulner Baptist Church in Ringwood, Dorset. I love the challenge of the Puritan tradition and its absolute sense of dependence on and dedication to God. Alongside that, I also find the tradition austere in its demands, and want to find God in celebration and the ordinary business of life as a counterpoint to the strenuous demands of total discipleship. But I love the way the second half of this prayer deploys the metaphor of sailing rooted in the triune action of God.

O Lord,
Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service, to Thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love,
advance Thy kingdom.

Give me They grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.
May Thy fear by my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.

The last of my four is a personal favourite which I used to have pinned on my study wall. It is often claimed to be by Francis Drake, and similarly deploys the metaphor of sailing (not surprisingly). It is claimed that he wrote it in 1577 as he departed Portsmouth on the Golden Hind to raid Spanish gold on the west coast of South America. He returned with booty worth half a million pounds, and received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, so I guess that would count as a prayer answered. In fact, all this is something of an urban myth; it actually has nothing to do with Drake, and this blog tracks it down to a certain M K W Heicher in 1962.

Disturb us, Lord

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

There is another prayer often attributed to Drake which goes as follows:

O Lord God,
when though givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter,
grant us also to know that it is not the beginning,
but the continuing of the same unto the end,
until it be thoroughly finished,
which yieldeth the true glory;
through him who for the finishing of thy work laid down his life,
our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

But it turns out this wasn’t written by Drake either, but adapted in 1941 from a letter written by Drake to Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State, on May 17, 1587:

There must be a begynnyng of any great matter, but the contenewing unto the end untyll it be thoroughly ffynyshed yeldes the trew glory… If we can thorowghly beleve that this which we dow is in the defence of our relygyon and contrye, no doubt but out mercyfull God for his Christ, our Savyour’s sake, is abell, and will geve us victory, althowghe our sennes be reed.

or, in modern English:

There must be a beginning of every matter, but the continuing unto the end yields the true glory. If we can thoroughly believe that this which we do is in defence of our religion and country, no doubt our merciful God for his Christ our Saviour’s sake is able and will give us victory, though our sins be red.

The last phrase appears to come from Isaiah 1.18.

None of these, perhaps, offers a rounded sense of discipleship. But each offers some powerful and challenging images for renewed discipleship in the year to come. What is your favourite prayer for the New Year? Add it in the comments below. (I previously shared these prayers in 2015.)

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25 thoughts on “Four prayers for the New Year”

  1. They are all moving and helpful. Personally I like New Year resolutions, and last year managed to keep 2 1/2 out of 7, which is an unusually good record for me.

  2. Here is a poem I wrote the year before last.

    The Coracle in Time

    It roils beneath his feet.
    Not feared as we the coiling deep.
    He launched it, like a coracle.
    All his joys are in this miracle.
    His lantern, marking times.
    Signs and seasons are its chimes.
    His paddle, sculling rhyme.
    Waxes ’n wanes to draw down time.
    They’re just the milky wake –
    Where he slew the water snake.
    His thrown over coat,
    To cover this simple, woven boat.
    Indeed, I count the score.
    Tucked in until I jump ashore.

    Inspiration: Psalm 131:2
    But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
    I don’t want to meddle with things too wonderful for me this year!

  3. Thanks for posting this.
    How miniscus thin is our Christianity today; in our occluded vision of our. Triune God.
    The Valley of Vision , I find is, a corrective to the common austere, impression of Puritans. How well they knew and beautifully dependent they were on our triune God. How God centered and great was their God of scripture.

    • Ah, Puritans! Someone, somewhere, somehow is enjoying themselves. 🙁
      I’m not aware of this book. Have you an example Geoff?

      • Hello Steve,
        I’m not at home at present but Ian has quoted some from the Valley of Vision.
        But for others check out Richard Sibbes and his Bruised Reed, and others of his, such as the Love of Christ in the Song of Songs. Again it is in book form from banneroftruth. Check out Mike Reeves stuff on the site. Thomas Goodwin and his Heart of Christ is recommended by some.
        While perhaps not quite
        classed as Puritan, John Owen and His Communion with God (Banner of Truth for modern English, not expensive by today’s standards) to me, is without peer, even today, as is his Glory of Christ.
        My O My how he knew his God and ours, even in times of tumult.

          • p.s. It was the Valley of Vision’s “I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year” that reminded me of my poem.

        • I have appreciated the devotional warmth of the Puritans since my teenage years while not always finding myself comfortable with some of their thinking. But reading Puritan Paperbacks from Banner of Truth and sitting under the ministry of Martyn Lloyd Jones at Westminster Chapel were formative influences. William Bridges’ A Lifting up for the Downcast is another worth checking out and John Flavel was another favourite. When we were on the mission field in Africa my father would read Thomas Watson to us on a Sunday afternoon. Possibly an odd thing to do for teenagers, but I still treasure the memory.

          The prayer cited in the blog seems to have some interesting Celtic overtones; I rather like the idea of Puritan Christianity and Celtic Christianity meeting.

  4. God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
    whose years never fail
    and whose mercies are new each returning day:
    let the radiance of your Spirit renew our lives,
    warming our hearts and giving light to our minds;
    that we may pass the coming year
    in joyful obedience and firm faith;
    through him who is the beginning and the end,
    your Son, Christ our Lord,

  5. Just to remember with thanksgiving my training vicars at St Pauls in Elswick, Newcastle: Peter Cook (who called himself a disciple of John Calvin, but not a Calvinist) and Brian Seaman. In 1992 I sat in a chair allegedly owned by Martin Luther, encouraged by a Lutheran pastor friend who I think saved me from arrest by the ex-East German policewoman on guard, by my friend’s admission of shared guilt). More recently I respectfully stood beside John Calvin’s chair when in Geneva. Thanks Ian, and Steve for ‘the coracle of time’ which reminds me of my ex-China missionary father’s autobiography ‘My web of time’, its title drawn from the hymn ‘The sands of time are sinking’ composed by Ann Cousin, based on words by Samuel Rutherford, another great Puritan. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

  6. “Dear God -so far today I’ve done okay.
    I haven’t gossiped or lost my temper. I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish. But in a few minutes I’m going to get out of bed, and that’s when I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
    Ian, you may ask where that is from; it’s from our ‘fridge magnet prayer!

    • That made me laugh and I have to say that I sometimes fail even before I get out of bed, as I selfishly relish the sound of the door closing as my husband takes the dog for his morning walk.

  7. A friend reminded me of the words of a well known hymn by Arthur Campbell Ainger published 1894

    1 God is working this purpose out,
    as year succeeds to year;
    God is working this purpose out,
    and the time is drawing near;
    nearer and nearer draws the time,
    the time that shall surely be:
    when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.
    2 From utmost east to utmost west,
    where human feet have trod,
    by the mouth of many messengers
    goes forth the voice of God:
    “Give ear to me, ye continents,
    ye isles, give ear to me,
    that the earth may be filled with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.”
    3 Let us go forth in the strength of God,
    with the banner of Christ unfurled,
    that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
    may shine throughout the world.
    Let us all fight with sorrow and sin
    to set the captives free,
    that the earth may be filled with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.
    4 All we can do is nothing worth
    unless God blesses the deed.
    Vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
    till God gives life to the seed.
    Yet nearer and nearer draws the time,
    the time that shall surely be,
    when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.

  8. Here’s a couplet I wrote this month for the coming year:

    “If aught be fraught
    Let ought be naught.”

    [the “ought” should be italicised]

    I.e. if you’re feeling stressed then drop all unnecessary obligations, including — perhaps especially — religious ones.

      • I like this from Malcolm Guite, inspired by Tennyson:

        Not the bleak speak of mobile messages,
        The soft chime of synthesised reminders,
        Not texts, not pagers, data packages,
        Not satnav or locators ever find us
        As surely, soundly, deeply as these bells
        That sound and find and call us all at once
        ‘Ears of my ears’ can hear, my body feels
        This call to prayer that is itself a dance.
        So ring them out in joy and jubilation,
        Sound them in sorrow tolling for the lost,
        O let them wake the church and rouse the nation,.
        A sleeping lion stirred to life at last
        Begin again they sing, again begin,
        A ring and rhythm answered from within

  9. Two additions to the list:
    The Methodist Covenant prayer, while not specifically a New Year prayer, is widely used in that tradition early in the year and remains stirring:

    I am no longer my own but yours.
    Put me to what you will,
    rank me with whom you will;
    put me to doing,
    put me to suffering;
    let me be employed for you,
    or laid aside for you,
    exalted for you,
    or brought low for you;
    let me be full,
    let me be empty,
    let me have all things,
    let me have nothing:
    I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
    to your pleasure and disposal.
    And now, glorious and blessed God,
    Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
    you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
    And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

    The Methodist Church website ( likens it to a love poem.

    Secondly, the New Year message for 1945 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), smuggled out of prison to be delivered to his friends, has been translated and in English versified by Fred Pratt Green and Keith Clements to make the hymn “By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered”. This is still in copyright but can be found in several books including the 2013 “Ancient & Modern”, “Praise!” (Praise Trust, 2000) and the URC’s “Rejoice & Sing” (1991) and, inevitably, online as well. It provides welcome words of trust and hope in God in the face of troubles around and potentially ahead of us.

  10. A wonderful start to the day reading your prayers and others in comments. It’s aided my reflections on my writing group piece for this month, ‘New Year, New Start, New Beginnings’
    In late August 2014, I listened to a sermon at St Hywen’s Church, Aberdaron (my spiritual home,I visit often) about September as New Year.
    It began a new journey in my life, now linked a great deal to Celtic Christianity and the four seasons. Not a once a year opportunity for new resolutions but many times a year as needed.
    This New Year’s day I’m laid up and have been for nearly 2 weeks, feeling a bit fed up and bored with it now but having to listen to my body and get well. Reading your piece has brought me joy and hope. Thank you.
    I particularly love this excerpt I have noted as I love a metaphor.

    I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
    with Thee, O Father as my harbour,
    Thee, O Son, at my helm,
    Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
    Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
    my lamp burning,
    my ear open to Thy calls,
    my heart full of love,
    my soul free.



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