Date: January 3, 1937
New Years Prayer
Father above, with whom there are no changes of time:
We come before Thee on this first Sunday of the new year to implore Thy guidance. We know not what the coming months may bring us, for none has ever walked these paths before; but we do know—and we ask Thee that Thy Spirit may mightily strengthen this conviction within us—that the love which once sent Thy Son into the world to bear in His own holy body the burdens of all sin has not grown cold. Teach us that in the deepest sorrows of our lives and in the moments of our highest joys we can enjoy the glorious companionship of our Savior, who promised: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” In His name we dedicate this year to Thee, O Triune God, to our fellow-men with the miseries and anguish that are breaking uncounted hearts, and to our own growth in faith and hope and love. And whenever during these coming months we lose sight of Thee and try to follow the blundering, selfish paths of our own righteousness, bring us back, penitently and trustingly, to Thy renewed mercies in Christ. Bless us, then, God of our Fathers, and in this new year of grace make us a blessing for many, through Jesus Christ, our only Savior! Amen.
By faith Abraham . . . went out, not knowing whither be went. – Hebrews 11:8
AS history marches into a new year, even the most courageous and optimistic will concede that we are surrounded on all sides by glaring question-marks. Last January no one could foretell that the British Empire would be shaken by the tremors of a constitutional crisis and that Spain would be embroiled in a treacherous civil war; and in this January no prophet can outline the trends of the coming weeks or tell how swiftly disaster may overtake the world and plunge civilization into unparalleled and hideous miseries. Above the New Year’s symphonies of peace we hear the foreboding rumble of munitions factories. Yesterday the nations of the world, after a long naval holiday, began a new battleship race, which will produce the largest and deadliest navies of all times. Europe is practising gas-mask drills and building concrete, airtight cellars to fight new perils of aerial warfare and poisonous gases.
No wonder that people devote much of their lives and their fortunes to find assurance for the future. A hundred different methods of fortune-telling flourish in our enlightened age, sometimes under the patronage of American wealth and American learning. But what have lines of the palm, position of the stars, cut of the cards, formation of tea-leaves, black cats that cross our paths, unlucky numbers, rabbit’s-foot and horseshoe charms, silly frauds and spiritist seances—what have all these superstitions to do with the future? Distracted men and women follow the creeds of a hundred false prophets who claim to have invented religious systems that push aside the draperies concealing those things which are to come. But what can this maze of manmade cults offer in any crisis hour or in the emergency of any quick disaster?
With men hurrying to the ends of the earth in order to discover the secrets of the coming age, delving into the depths of yesterday’s long history to uncover the means of combating tomorrow’s mysteries, let us remember that among all men, throughout all ages, in all lands, there has been one, and only one, sure guide for the labyrinth called life, one, and only one, assurance for the sharp turns of time,—and that is courageous faith in Jesus Christ. As we still linger on the threshold of a new year of grace, I offer you this—
FAITH FOR THE UNMARKED PATHS
by reverting our thoughts to the dim era of the patriarchs, when, as we read in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the eighth verse: “By faith Abraham . . . went out, not knowing whither he went.”
FAITH CONFIDENT OF GOD’S MERCY
When the mysterious voice of God summoned Abraham to start his caravan over a road that he had never traversed and on a journey to an unknown destination, the great patriarch must have set out with the same uncertain feelings that grip us when we pause to envision the new year, with all its untrodden pathways, its lurking dangers, its treacherous pitfalls. None of us has ever gone this way before. With all the provisions that the most prudent may have made for financial security, health security, home security, can we have any guarantee for our personal destiny during the next twelvemonth? We need the guiding star, the compass, the chart, that led Abraham along his unmarked road into the land of promise—his faith.
No word in the entire English language is more vital and essential than this word “faith”; yet few words have been more widely misunderstood and more disastrously applied. “Have faith in yourself,” our distinguished “self-made” leaders counsel this generation. “Have faith in yourself,” the modern pulpit echoes. Yet can anything be more cruel than this doctrine of self-trust and selfreliance? It would be just as cold-hearted and brutal to shout, “Have faith in yourself!” to a drowning man who cannot swim a stroke; to radio a passenger in an airplane about to crash, “Have faith in yourself!” to whisper into the ear of a condemned criminal marching his last few steps to the gallows, “Have faith in yourself!” as to proclaim this taunting song to a world which has utterly lost its sense of direction.
Here, for instance, is a letter from a twenty-five-year-old mother in Tennessee, with a problem which in one form or another assails every one of us. She writes: “I am a terrible sinner. I have broken every commandment in God’s laws. I have prayed to your God, but somehow I cannot find that peace. I do not want to go on living if I cannot find something sure and sound to sustain my tired, tired self. Is there really a God? All my life it seems I have been swept by the storm. . . . I have had one great disappointment after another. I arise from them only to fall harder the next time. . . . My husband became so depressed that he began to drink heavily, and before long he stayed drunk half the time. Now he is a drug addict. Two years ago he lost his job. A year ago I lost two precious babies. Convince me that there is a God, some one who cares for me, even though I am not worthy to live in the earth He has created! I want to know God more than anything else in this world, a God who can keep me from fear, from the terror of death, cemeteries, cold, bleak days, and dark, dark nights. Tell me about God, heaven, Jesus, death, how I can live happily though I have to drag a cross behind me.”
Now, what can we tell this distracted young woman and other seekers after peace? We could tell them, in line with the character talks that crowd into modern churches and in the words of modernist churchmen, that they must have faith in themselves, faith in “the eternal fitness of everything” that crowds into their lives, faith in their ability to rise after every fall, faith in their hidden assets and in their concealed and unused strength. But they know, and we know, that there can be no peace if we are to be the builders of our own inner happiness, if our peace of mind and soul is to be constructed by our own specifications and power.
Shall we tell them to have faith in their fellow-men? How can we when we reflect upon the glaring failures of the many movements designed to maintain international understanding? Before 1917 we had a great American Peace Society in this country. Over in Sweden Nobel Peace prizes were annually bestowed. In the Peace Palace at The Hague international conferences met in imposing sessions. Andrew Carnegie gave millions for an antiwar fund, to be administered by the greatest minds of America. His gifts of additional millions helped to establish the Church Peace Union and finance widespread demonstrations to show the folly of war. Yet at the very moment when men were extolling the glories of a warless world, with grim and bloody irony the hell of the World War broke loose. In 1917, in our own country, the various organizations founded for peace were among the first and most enthusiastic advocates of war; the trustees of the Carnegie Fund were unanimous in scrapping their plans for peace and enlisting for war propaganda. The preachers in the Church Peace Union were in the vanguard of those who fomented the war hysteria and spread the poison of hatred.
Have faith in your fellow-men! What a mockery in these decades, when as never before men have been cheated and defrauded of billions of dollars by their fellow-men; when unfaithfulness to the marriage pledges has shown how low men and women may fall in their wilful fracture of the holiest of all human relations! Have faith in your fellow-men! What a delusion in an age when avarice and selfish grasping have deprived millions of their right to work and support their families! If we were to face the coming year with faith only in ourselves and in our fellowmen, then of all years this would be the bloodiest and the deadliest.
Thanks be to God, we can have the same faith that led Abraham into his land of promise. Almost everything has changed since his day; for the world has moved on in amazing strides, and we have moved with it; but we have faith in the same God who guided the patriarch when he went out, “not knowing whither he went.” Do not think that Abraham’s faith was essentially different from that which I ask you to accept. There is much talk today about the evolution of religion, the changing concepts of God, a twentieth-century creed for the twentiethcentury mind. But faith and trust and belief, if they are true, can never change. Today, as always, the cry goes out, “Have faith in God!” Do not start the new year with any semblance of doubt as to His all-pervading existence! Your own reason tells you that He lives and rules; the world around you declares His glories and shows forth His handiwork; the pages of history bear unmistakable evidence to His controlling the destinies of men and nations. Only the fool, the mentally deficient, the intellectually underprivileged, can say and also mean it, “There is no God!” and believe that we are all toys of fate, playthings of cruel chance, bits of humanity that are destined to be crushed beneath the grinding wheels of time.
The faith that guides us over the unmarked paths of the new year must also, as the trust of Abraham of old, firmly believe that God can help us, that, ruling over the immeasurable vastness of this universe, He, in spite of His power, is concerned about us, in spite of our weakness; that we are more to Him than the dumb, driven cattle; that we need not fight the battles of life in our own strength, trusting in our own resources; that, whenever we are confronted by serious problems, deep-rooted problems, we know that they are not too intricate and complicated for the God of all wisdom. What a blessed assurance to know as year piles upon year in the swift flow of time that God can help us!
Yet above this assurance we need the pledge that God will help us. And here, how richly have we been blessed by His mercies, as one pledge towers over another! Here are those multiplied messages of love, almost a hundred for every day of the year: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” “He will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” “Those that seek Me early shall find Me.” “Fear not thou, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.”
To bring that love close to you, to silence that inner voice which objects that you are not worthy of God’s grace, your heavenly Father sent Jesus, His Son and Mary’s Son, to be the atoning ransom for every sin, the payment and sacrifice that would restore the race to the glories of heaven and grant us all our title to the heavenly mansions. Abraham was guided by the promise of this immeasurable grace. He lived, he prayed, he hoped, every day for the seed in which “all the nations of the earth” were to be blessed. It was given to him to see his Christ, but from “afar off,” to behold in spirit the day of his Savior, and to rejoice in His salvation. Yet how much more blessed are we since we know that all these Old Testament promises have become “yea and Amen” in Christ! Following the gospel narratives from the cradle to the cross, we have seen in fulfilment what the great figures of the old Church could behold only dimly in prophecy.
Can there be a greater and more glorious assurance of strength and courage in this first week of the new year than the pledge that God loves every one of us and that the coming of our Savior is the unmistakable evidence of this devotion? Only one other glorious truth comes to us as the keystone in the arching beauty of this faith, the blessed assurance, not only that God loves us, not only that He gave His Son for us, but that all these blood-bought mercies for this life and the next are the free, unrestricted, unlimited gift of His heavenly grace. Just as Abraham “believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness,” so by the crowning mercy of God everything that you and I need for the forgiveness of sins, for life, for salvation, has been heaped upon us by the full and free love of God.
May this faith be a living, pulsating reality in your heart and life, particularly during these first days of the new year! I am not asking you to try Christ and to see if this faith really works after you have followed a dozen other creeds and found them disheartening failures; for the Christ who shed His blood for us is too holy to be subjected to any trial-and-error experiment. I am not holding up this faith in the Savior as something that may help you and that offers certain possibilities of directing your life; for this faith, behold it from whatever side we may, is the positive and unquestioning truth, which must fulfil its blessings in those who believe. I am not pleading for lip-worship, as though there were some charm and benefit in an outward acknowledgment of Christ; for God wants your heart, and He wants it sorrow-stricken, contrite and repentant. I am not asking you to keep faith with Christ because you have a godly father or mother, or a Christian husband or wife; for you must come to Him by the conviction of your own heart to find peace for your own soul and to accept His guidance for your own life. But I do entreat you in Jesus’ name to receive that faith which until now you may have despised, this assurance of your salvation which you may have neglected, this promise of blessing which you may have regarded too lightly and carelessly, and, looking to your Savior, declare: “By faith in Thee, my sins forgiven, my weakness strengthened, my hopes revived, I will go out into the new year, confident and courageous, even though I know not whither I go.”
FAITH BLESSED BY GOD’S POWER
Can you not see that, if you have this pledge that God loves you, you know why He must guide, guard, and protect you; that, since even the gift of His Son was not too great for the salvation of your soul, no demands upon His divine love and power can be too great for your preservation and strengthening in grace? When “by faith Abraham . . . went out, not knowing whither he went,” the mercies of God watched over him by day and night and brought him safely to the fulfilment of His promises, even though he was sorely tried and repeatedly beset by obstacles, dangers, and disappointments. His unmarked path was anything but a smooth, pleasant journey; yet it was always the true path and the right road.
As you begin to travel the uncharted highways and byways of the approaching twelve months, with faith in Him who is always “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” your destiny, your blessing, and the fulfilment of God’s promise in your heart and life are assured. Come what may, this divine love will never fail; this divine direction will never mislead you. You may have family troubles, and you may think that you are on the wrong road, that God has forsaken you, and that your happiness is lost forever; but remember Abraham and recall that repeatedly he was plunged into the sorrows of domestic strife, and through his own sins twice he almost lost his wife. Yet as he, through faith, rose above all these afflictions, so you, too, can triumph over the adversities that may come into your own home.
While others are basking in the warm rays of prosperity, you may be struck by sudden adversity; your business may take a sharp decline; your money may be stolen; you may lose your work, your possessions, even your home. Yet see how Abraham defeated the blows of business adversity that rained upon him in quick succession. He was driven from the Promised Land by famine; he was exiled from Egypt because of his sins; his herdsmen lived in perpetual strife with the neighboring shepherds; his wells were destroyed by the marauding Philistines; one visitation followed on the heels of another. Yet as God blessed him through his faith, so your heavenly Father can turn your liabilities into assets, your losses into gains, if only you trust His guidance implicitly and sing into the midnight of your black reverses: “Whatever God ordains is good.”
You may be troubled by the hindrance of wealth and touched by its gilded temptations; for money has too frequently arrayed men and women of short vision and shriveled faith against Christ, and that means against life everlasting. And if I now speak to some of you whose God is gold, let me plead with you to make the faith that guided Abraham yours; for without this faith you can never find peace, joy, and the exhilaration of life. As he brought his sacrifices to God, paid his tithes, and made his money serve the welfare of his fellow-men, so I ask you, with faith in Him who gave His own Son for you, to take some of the thousands of those dollars that you do not need and that are making you blind to the suffering and the spiritual needs of millions, the money that easily proves a curse and blasts away your happiness and the love of your children, and, opening your heart, your hands, your pocketbooks, your checkbook, follow Abraham in promoting the cause of Christ and in removing burdens from your fellow-men.
Many of you may be troubled by the weaknesses of old age and by the multiplied cares of advancing years; yet with Abraham’s faith you will be able to renew your strength daily. Years piled upon years while Abraham waited, apparently in vain, for the fulfilment of God’s promise. Though God delayed, He still kept His word. The saddest and most disheartening of all spectacles, it always seems to me, are the cynical men and women too old to live happily and yet not ready to die happily because long years have kept Christ from their hearts and banished Him from their souls. If you, my aged friends, will drop all doubt and bitterness and with Simeon, whose eyes were not to close in death before he had seen his Savior, take the Christ-child into your arms or with Anna, perhaps more than a hundred years old, find your redemption in Mary’s Son, the faith in that Savior, that Guide and Assurance for your declining years, will make you exult in the joy of divine confidence, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation.”
“By faith” all of you will be able to greet each new day with the assurance that “God shall supply all your needs according to His riches and glory.” “By faith” you will have “the victory that overcometh the world.” “By faith” the seemingly impossible will be enacted in your life. “By faith” you will carry out the same conquest that marks the triumphant course of missions. Hans Egede, missionary to Greenland, baptized only twenty natives in fifteen years of unrelenting toil; yet as a monument to his faith the entire island has been brought to Christ; for with two exceptions every person in Greenland has been baptized into the Christian faith. In Japan over a million Christians, it is estimated, were beheaded, cast from cliffs into the sea, crucified, stoned to death in two long centuries of bloody persecution. The Christians had been destroyed, it was confidently proclaimed; yet at the middle of the last century, when Japan was opened to the rest of the world, 25,000 Japanese Christians gathered together within less than two weeks! In Madagascar a cruel and vicious queen called a halt to the spread of the Gospel and exiled the missionaries of the Savior. Before they left, they completed the translation of the Bible into the language of that large island; and after the reign of the bloody queen it was found that the number of Christians had increased five times during those years of royal hatred and official hostility. I present these striking triumphs of trust because by the same faith you can conquer any coalition of forces that would take you away from your Christ, your happiness, and your joy in life and death.
What is it, then, that the first days of this pivotal year would ask of us? I find no new year’s resolutions in the Scriptures, but I do find that the great heroes of faith marked every day with closeness to Christ, study of His Scriptures, testimony to His grace, and the petitioning of strength through fervent prayer and supplication. So may each day bring us to Christ if we stray from His mercy; so may each week bring us closer to Him with contrite hearts and fervent faith; so may each month make us grow in grace, with childlike trust and a Christlike life; so may the entire span of this year prove to us and to our homes a year of unending mercies and unceasing praise, a year of pardon and peace, a year of truth and triumph! With that hope and prayer may every one of us from this first Sunday go out “by faith,” not knowing whither we go, but knowing Him in whom we have believed, and exult: “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.