Monday, October 26, 2009

Help Wanted

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help… But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. (Psalm 22.11, 19)

In the Bunker

There will be times when we feel unduly beleaguered. A pending problem bears down on us, confusing our minds and draining our spirits until we can’t see or respond to anything else clearly. At other times, “little things” go awry. Everything we hope for gets put on hold, shows up late, or doesn’t work out in a way we’d prefer. The most frustrating aspect of these periods is our sense of being held in abeyance. Nothing moves as swiftly or favorably as we’d like. Stumbling around and staring at the horizon only taxes us further. It’s time to hide away in prayer.

Psalm 27.5 reads, “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle.” Taking sanctuary in prayer is very much like stealing away in a bunker. We go there to find peace and safety the from real-time battle that continues while we retreat. It’s a strategic move to reconstruct our resolve and return to the front. But we should also be aware the bunker has certain drawbacks. It’s being a peaceful place doesn’t necessarily make it a happy one. It’s often lonely there. Our removal from the action may add anxiety about what’s happening outside. Lastly, because the bunker’s built to withstand heavy attacks, it sounds like our prayers bounce off the ceiling. An overwhelming sense of futility accompanies the solitude and safety we find. What’s the use of praying, we think, if our prayers don’t appear to reach God?

Stuck in the Middle

Psalm 22 is composed in a bunker. David opens with the most anguished cry in Scripture—the exact words Christ calls out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He elaborates on his angst about not feeling confident that God hears him in verse 2: “O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” Anyone who’s spent time in the bunker understands David’s anxiety. With our prayers echoing back at us, it’s easy to assume we’re the first ones who’ve ever felt total isolation from God. David blames himself. He recalls how many times God heard his forefathers’ prayers. “In you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people,” he says. (v5-6) Wherever he looks David sees people shaking their heads. “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him,” they jeer. (v8)

With all the negativity surrounding us, it doesn’t take long for the sanctuary we sought to feel like a prison we can’t escape. We sink into David’s mindset, comparing our present circumstances with examples of how God intervened for others in the past—often bringing them out of situations many times more threatening than what drove us into hiding. We forget we’re looking at them in retrospect, and stories of divine deliverance tend to short-shift the agony of feeling defeated to get to the triumphant ending. Nothing looks good when we’re stuck in the middle of conflict and uncertainty, which is why it’s vital we realize where we are affects what we see. Psalm 22 is jammed with gruesome imagery. Bulls and dogs encircle David. Lions bare their teeth. He feels as weak as water, disjointed, his courage melting like wax. Everybody stares and laughs at him.

We Need Help

These and similar realities might be taken as reasons to stay out of the bunker. But David’s poem explains why hiding away in prayer is the most strategically sound thing to do. Temporarily removing ourselves from conflict brings clarity to our prayers. We cease asking for concrete answers and humble ourselves to admit we need help. Our sights turn from waving banners of victory to hanging out a “Help Wanted” sign.

The great spiritual also rings out of the bunker: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” That’s where David is in verse 11: “Trouble is near and there is no one to help.” And then, after a few verses of describing how close trouble appears to bear down on him, David comes to his senses and explicitly asks for help: “But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.” Stark periods of duress inevitably find us trying to describe our emotions to others. Many respond in love and kindness, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” Bless them for trying, their comfort lands with a thud. How can they possibly know?

Stealing away in prayer brings us to the place of knowing nobody knows but Jesus. And there’s no denying He knows. In that moment, the picture of Christ in Hebrews 4.15 comes to life: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Our Strength comes quickly to help us. When we leave prayer’s bunker, it’s not atypical to come out with many questions still unanswered. But they no longer trouble and weaken us, because we’ve found an answer all its own. Psalm 46.1 puts it like this: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” He knows. He is our help. He is our Answer.

Prayer is often like a bunker—a safe retreat from conflict. Though we may not come out with answers we want, we leave with help we need.

(Tomorrow: Debt Resolution)


Anonymous said...

Truly a "word in due season" for me. Thanks, Tim.

Tim said...

Jake, it always delights me to hear from you. Thank God for His Word; it's always in season, isn't it?

Please know you're always in my thoughts and prayers. It's a great joy to share Christ with you--to have a brother who also believes in "our very present help in time of trouble!"

Blessings always,