Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'God, help.'

Psalm 54:4 (NIV)

Surely God is my help;
   the Lord is the one who sustains me.
The pastor at a church we once belonged to told a story during a sermon — more than once, if memory serves — about the shortest prayer in the English language: “God, help.” I apologize if I have the details correct (I should have asked him in advance, but I’m not the best planner), but I believe he came to favor this prayer after using it during a particularly harrowing behind-the-wheel experience. With immediate tragedy looming, he said all he could think to say: “God, help!”

One lesson I took from the sermon is this prayer is the essence of all prayer. First, you are praying sincerely, which in itself is a step in the right direction. You are acknowledging your human limitations. You are affirming God’s power and authority over you. You are requesting God’s intercession in your life. I suppose this prayer does not explicitly confess any sin, other than the innate imperfection in all of us. You can say all these things in many more words and in much greater detail. But some people just won’t do that.

The other lesson I remember is the prayer is useful not just when you are seconds away from physical danger. Invoking a “God, help” whenever you feel overwhelmed can help maintain a connection with God throughout the day, as opposed to just while you’re at church or when you read a Bible passage or say grace over a meal. Thinking practically, chances are you’re far more likely to be on the brink of spiritual danger anyway.

I suppose if you’re an atheist you could teach yourself to count to ten or take deep breaths or what have you. Heck, a believer could do the same thing. But that’s not prayer. That’s trying to empower yourself to take control of the situation. And while I’m not an advocate of running to God with everything (“Lord, please help me decide if I should buy these jeans that are on sale today only…”), I do believe in the importance of acknowledging your own limitations. That means admitting there are some things you simply cannot handle by yourself.

(A side note: While I think we should go to God when we need help, I do not want to discount the role of a spouse or extended family members in complicated situations. Some matters require us to seek the help of loved ones, even when we’d rather go it alone. Some would suggest God’s help is in the family you came from or in the marriage partner you were meant to be with. Certainly couples or families can go to God in prayer together. The important thing is to understand no person is strong enough to encounter every challenge without any help of any sort.)

I heard the aforementioned sermon more than six or seven years ago, and it’s a simple lesson that’s stuck with me. But in the last few months I’ve been trying to use the “God, help” prayer on a more consistent basis, especially as it relates to high-stress, spur-of-the-moment parenting situations. Better to pray quickly and center myself to avoid disaster than to willfully let a situation escalate beyond control and then have to ask for forgiveness later, not matter how good a blog story/confession I might be eliminating in the process.

Unlike the Lord, my anger is not slow to rise. If anger is a pot of water, God’s boils like one set on my mother-in-law’s flat-top electric range, which is to say if you want spaghetti at dinner, you need to start the water just after lunch. Mine, on the other hand, tends to be more like a pot on the fast-acting gas burners we have in our kitchen. Turn you head for a few seconds and next thing you know it’s bubbling over, making a royal mess of everything. If only I’d paid closer attention to the roiling water and kept the heat source in check…

When I can’t think of anywhere else to start a prayer, I ask God for patience. Even when I do have other things to pray about, I tend to sneak in a plea for patience. I once tried my best to be exceedingly patient with the boys for a few weeks (I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but I did try) and sadly I wasn’t all that happy with the results, which made me think patience alone isn’t the answer. But it’s still important. Yet praying regularly for patience is not enough when I find myself starting to boil over. That is the precise moment when “God, help” needs to cross my lips, or at least my heart.

“Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” I believe that, and I believe it would be true even if I didn’t remember to ask. But the act of asking, time and time again, can make all the difference.

A prayer for June 5:

Lord, you are my help when I am in need. You sustain me when I cannot sustain myself. Please help me to understand and accept my limitations, to know when to seek help and whom to seek it from. I thank you for the blessings of my relationships with people I trust to carry me, and for the responsibility of providing that support to others. I pray that you give me the perception to know when I am needed, the strength to offer everything I can and the sense to call on you, for I know you will never fail. Amen.

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