Wednesday of Holy Week (Psalm 70)

Ninth Station of the Cross, Jesus falls the third time, by Théophile Marie François Lybaert, c.1886

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.

Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay! (New Revised Standard Version)

We all need help. Even Jesus.

As we journey with Jesus, and walk with him along the Via Dolorosa, we learn to set aside our illusions and delusions of radical independence, and to adopt his sense of dependence upon the heavenly Father. We come around to saying that we need divine help.

Continuing with a deliberate Christological view of the psalms, we are reminded that there was a time that Jesus felt desperation, just like we do. We go with him to the Garden of Gethsemane. And even though, in our own stressed out souls, we end up falling asleep and failing to pray as we ought, nevertheless we remember that the Lord Jesus sweat great drops of blood and agonized over what he was about to face.

There are times when the help we need isn’t for next week or tomorrow, but immediately, now!

I don’t know if you have ever been in such a stressful and dangerous situation in which all you could say is “Help, help me!” The abject feeling is helplessness is palpable and just plain awful. The sense there is nothing you can do to improve your circumstance other than some sort of merciful divine intervention is more than unnerving. It’s downright hard to breathe, let alone cry-out to be rescued.

In today’s psalm, it seems there were people getting a twisted sense of joy over the misfortune of others. It’s as if they were delighting in the confusion and vulnerability of those unable to stop what is happening.

In the throes of such stress and danger, the help we need is to have the evil turned back on the wicked. The psalmist wants such persons off his back – to have God hunt them like they are hunting the poor and needy who have no ability to resist.

It makes sense this psalm is short, just a few verses. Long prayers aren’t necessarily better than short ones, especially when it’s a frantic cry for God’s help. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that dictates how long or short prayer ought to be.

“Help!” just might be one of the best prayers we can pray. One little word. That’s all it takes.

It makes sense to me that this is an honest prayer. When in the throes of some horrible situation, all pretension goes out the window. Honest heartfelt prayers are the best kind of prayer.

If we are hurting badly enough, boldness comes quickly to the tip of our tongues. I once had a kidney stone and walked, doubled over in pain, into the Emergency Department of a hospital. I yelled at the first staff person I encountered, saying, “I need help, NOW!

To confess our great need to a God who listens might just be the best kind of theology we could ever express.

In such a terrible place of agony – of either body, soul, or both – there’s no thought to keeping up appearances, but only an unfiltered expression of need. Our prayers can, and need to be, earnest and urgent.

Prayer can be short, honest, and urgent because emergent situations require it. So, what do you do when you feel desperate? How do you handle your emotions? Where do you go for help?

In this Holy Week we are reminded that Jesus looked to the Father for help. In the worst of circumstances – facing ridicule, torture, and a horrible death – the Lord Jesus let the psalms shape his own prayers of desperation while under severe stress and duress:

“The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” (John 13:18; Psalm 41:9)

“They hated me without a cause.” (John 15:24; Psalm 69:4)

“I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38; Psalm 42:5-6)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1)

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:16)

There is a God who understands our plight. Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation, has gone before us in the way of suffering. He knows what it’s like to experience the agony and anguish of evil’s weight. He is our great high priest, the one who can intercede effectively and compassionately for us in our great times of need:

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So, let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (Hebrews 4:14-16, MSG)

May you find in Jesus the help you so desperately need. Amen.

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