10 Prayers for the New Year

We all need a little inspiration as we approach the New Year. Following is a series of short prayers based on Jewish wisdom and tradition.

1. Looking Backward and Forward: The name January comes from the Roman god “Janus.” He had two faces so he could look forward and backward at the same time. Eternal God, help us to know this truth. We can look back, and in so doing, we can help create the way forward. The past need not hold us back. It can lead us ahead.

2. Unwrap the Gift: Eternal God, You gave us the greatest gift: the gift of life. In the coming year, help us use it wisely. May we grow in generosity, kindness and forgiveness, hope, faith and love. Amen.

3. Beginnings are blessings: Eternal God, bless this new beginning with an extra spirit of your strength, so that we may turn our days into blessings of your name. Amen.

4. Possibilities: To begin again is not a dream. It is an everlasting possibility. God, help us to grab hold of it and make it real in the coming year. Amen

5. The Book of Life: A new year is a new page in the book of our lives. May we write with color, wisdom and humility. And may your grace fall upon it consistently and unceasingly. Amen. (The ultimate prayer for many Christians is the Lord’s prayer. I offer a new understanding of it in this excerpt from my upcoming book.)

6. Waiting for Us: The good we missed last year waits for us still. Eternal God, give us the eyes to see it, the ears to hear and the heart to find it. Amen

7. Strength: God, we do not ask for a life of ease and comfort. We simply ask to be uncomplaining and unafraid. May you give us that strength for the New Year.

8. The Possibility for Change: The Hebrew word for “year” also means “change.” Change is a possibility for each us. May we embrace that possibility for change within ourselves, change within our families, change within our communities, and change within our world.

9. Change is inevitable: Growth is not. It depends on our will, our hopes, our dreams. And it rests on Your Grace. Give us an extra portion of it, so that we may fill the New Year with your Presence. Amen

10. Presence: The greatest gift we can give to others and You can give to us, Oh God, is Presence. May we be present for others during the coming year, and may You bless us with Your presence at every moment. Amen.

What is Your Prayer for the New Year? (The ultimate prayer for many Christians is the Lord’s prayer. I offer a new understanding of it, unpacking its Jewish context, in this excerpt from my upcoming book.)

It’s Time to Go All In

A New Perspective on the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot

Near my home is a very intimate theater. My wife and I love attending plays there because you can almost reach out and touch the performers.

go all in

We recently attended a play and had one of the seats closest to the performance area. During a particularly poignant part, my phone vibrated.  I did not commit the grievous sin of interrupting another person’s experience of the show because only I could hear the vibration.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I glanced at the screen to check the message. I pulled my attention away from the show and missed one of the most moving and critical scenes. 

When We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

Happy New Year! In the excitement of thinking about goals for the coming year, I decided to take a look at what I had written and resolved at this time last year. My excitement quickly waned.

A year ago, following Michael Hyatt’s fantastic program, I had written 10 goals for 2014. I achieved only two of them. Is this a failure? Perhaps. Yet, it puts me in good company. And it also reminds us of the real reasons we set goals. 

The Strangest Book of the Bible

Tonight begins the Jewish “Festival of Tabernacles.” Known in Hebrew as Sukkot, we spend time in  temporary outdoor dwellings.

They remind us of the fragility of life our ancestors experienced during their journey across the Sinai Desert.

Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity! 

The biblical book we read on Sukkot is Ecclesiastes. Tonight we will chant it in my synagogue.

I confess this book has always mystified me. Ecclesiastes seems to contradict other parts of the Bible.

What is the Most Important Jewish Holiday?

The answer may surprise you. The most important Jewish holiday is not one that happens only once a year. It is one we celebrate every week.

shabbat do it

It is the Sabbath, known in Hebrew as Shabbat.

Shabbat is at the core of Jewish life. It is built into creation, as we discussed in a previous post. It is part of the Ten Commandments. It has helped keep Judaism alive, and it is a gift adopted in different forms by other religions and cultures around the world.

Were You Ever Addicted to a Crackberry?

The Book of Psalms tells us “Number our days so we gain a heart of wisdom.” The Jewish sages took this verse literally. They instructed their communities to count the days between the holiday of Passover and festival of Pentecost.


We count the days by saying a blessing over each of them. This little-known tradition has its roots in the agricultural cycle.

Is It Ever Okay to Hate? A Lesson for Purim

In Sunday school we tend to emphasize the inspiring parts of the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God.” (Leviticus 19:18; Micah 6:8)

Tough Topics

But what about the more difficult passages? What about the murdering and pillaging and sexual perversity? As we begin the Jewish holiday of Purim, we confront an immensely challenging text.

A People to Destroy 

Hanukkah Night #8: The Miracle of the Future

Tonight we light the full Hanukkah menorah. Jewish homes are filled with brightness. Yet, the eighth night was not always the culmination of Hanukkah.

hanukkah 6

2000 years ago, one rabbi said we should begin with eight candles, and end with one. He contended that we have moved farther away from God.

The past was glorious, with Moses ascending to the top of Mount Sinai. The future looks bleak, he said, as people turn away from God’s law. The Hanukkah candles should symbolize this decline.

A Brighter Flame

Another rabbi named Hillel disagreed. The past was glorious, he conceded. Yet, even as we struggle, the future will be greater still. To symbolize his hope and vision of the future, Hillel ruled that we begin with one candle and build up to eight. 

Jewish tradition sided with Hillel. The past was wonderful, and the future will be brighter still.

Hanukkah Night #7: The Miracle of Hope

Hanukkah began as a military holiday celebrating the capture and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple around 160 C.E. About 200 years later, however, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Some Jewish leaders of the period said Hanukkah should be abolished. Since the Temple was destroyed, why celebrate its rededication?


The answer lay in the most profound Jewish idea: hope. While the Temple was destroyed, hope was not.

Hope is not blind optimism. It is faithfulness, confidence, and vision, combined with a determination to act. Hope has sustained the Jewish people through countless experiences of persecution and exile. Hope is the conviction that what was once destroyed can be rebuilt. 

Tonight let us praise the power of hope. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “The Jewish people kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive.”