Sometimes A Prayer For Help Is More Than A Prayer For Help

O God, come quickly to save me;

O Lord, come quickly to help me!

Psalm 70:1

An early Christian prayer, the verses of this Psalm are also often referenced by their Latin translation: deus in adiutorium meum intende.  The prayer is as short and brief as it gets: a plea to God in all things, in everything.  A plea to God for aid.

But asking for help sometimes gets a bad rap in the Christian tradition.

In fact, I stopped asking God for help myself for a while.  I was conscious of the fact that help tended to be my primary request, that God deserved my praise and thanks and gratitude and simple unadorned time rather than a thousand petitions.  I was reminded of it by sermons and other believers: God is not a vending machine.  I tried to pray other kinds of prayers, instead.

And it is true that faith, that a relationship with God, ought be built on more than a wall of ceaseless petitions every time something goes wrong.  God isn’t a divine vending machine or a genie meant to grant all of our wishes.  It is also true that asking for help can be much more than that.  That asking for help in the spirit of this particular Psalm can be deeply relationship-building.

Life of late has not come easily for my family.  My mother, already battling cancer, nearly had to stop eating over the course of a month; she literally lost the ability to process food.  The result, after many emergency hospital visits and a desperate period where she subsisted primarily on ice chips, was the removal of her gall bladder.

It has helped.  But she is still having difficulty eating a lot, and eating solid foods; progress is slow, and the journey long.  She is tired of endless containers of yogurt and apple juice, struggling with a lack of energy to do the things she loves to do.  It is discouraging too, I know, to not be able to eat the things you want to eat.  And my father and I struggle alongside her.  Not because we are facing nearly the same sort of trial, but because we love her, and because watching someone you love suffer through a difficulty is—well, awful. 

The strange thing is that, in situations of crisis or struggle, I think God often narrows our vision and shrinks the world a bit to make everything bearable.  We live from moment to moment, we are grateful for the good parts of today, we celebrate small victories, and we pray for even more tomorrow.

But every now and then the camera pans out, and I catch myself seeing and comprehending the enormity of all of it—thinking of what life was like six months, even a year ago, and now, realizing the entirety of what has transpired and what my mom has endured—and it knocks the wind out of me.  Just knocks me flat.

At those times, I pray the deus in adiutorium.

It’s not a particular petition, although I have plenty of those.  I ask God daily to heal my mother, to ease her difficulties, to grant her encouragement and strength, to support my father, to give me the right words to say and things to do.  But this prayer is different.  It’s not a cry for a particular result or desire so much as it is a call for help generally.

Help, God, I don’t know what to do.

Help, God, I hate sickness and pain.

Help, God, I sorrow over hurts.

Help, God, because we are frail humans in human bodies.

Help, God, because it is hard to see you.

Help, God, because even when I see you I grow impatient and tired.

Help my faith.

Help everyone.

Help me.

I was embarrassed by myself a few weeks ago, because it seemed that every time I retreated to pray in my room I was a towering wall of frustrations: God, what is going on here?  What is going on?  What are you doing?  It was my husband who pointed out that I was praying more than I had ever prayed in my life, that it meant something that in my frustrations I still turned to God, even when He was the source of them. 

The prayer for help in Psalm 70 is more than “Lord, fix my stuff.”  It is a deep acknowledgement that in everything we need help.  We are not meant to make it on our own.  When the world feels unbearable, when everything is too much, when sin and sickness and decay and death repel us—all of that is real and true.  It is only in God and through God and with Christ that any of it can be redeemed, can resonate with meaning, can be saved. 

When we cry, “O God, make haste to save us,” we recognize that God can do the saving.  That God has the will to save, and the ability.  That we are a people who can be saved, that redemption is possible.  To plea for help reminds me of my weakness and incompleteness, and it reminds me that God alone can be sufficient.  Praying this prayer reminds me of who I am, and who God is.

And it reminds me, most of all, that God wants to be asked.  That He desires to help.

Recently, I received a piece of deeply joyous news out of the blue.  When I say deeply joyous, I mean “the answer to over a decade of prayer” joyous.  Sudden, grace-filled lightning into a period of struggle.  It was my mother and my husband who delighted in the fact that joy had entered a time of suffering in a way we had not expected.  It was a bright spot.  It was help, in a way I had never expected to be helped.

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught Peter, before he began to sink.  He caught Peter before He questioned Him.  He caught Peter because Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”  And He will catch us, too.

If you are at a loss for words during difficulty, turn to Psalm 70.  Don’t be afraid to pray the simple words, or to ask for help.  Because although sometimes demanding God’s aid can be a sinful manifestation of our desire to use Him as a wish-granter and nothing more, more often than not it’s an acknowledgement of who He is and what we know we are.

And that is where relationship begins.


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