On the tables at the back of our sanctuary, there are small baskets alongside the communion trays and offering boxes that are simply labeled “Prayers”. Each week after service, when I go back upstairs to lock up the sanctuary, I check each basket to see if anyone has left a note. Depending on which box they’ve checked, I will either share these prayers with the Leadership Team or the Prayer Chain, and these groups will join in praying with this person – for new health concerns that have arisen, to cope with the grief of a lost loved one, or in thanks for a new job. This week, there was only one sticky note in one of the baskets, and since it wasn’t specific, I thought I would share it with all of you. The note contained an ancient but simple prayer:
I was tempted to toss it. Help? Help with what? I need more information if you want us to pray for you. We need even more information if you want us to actually help you (catch the irony?). We have all kinds of means of doing this, but we can’t help you if you don’t know what’s wrong (remember your parents saying that?).
I chose not to throw the note out, and in the moment, I offered a quick and generic “God, you know what this person meant, so help them with whatever it is they need help with, please.” Over the past couple of days, however, this prayer has stuck in my mind, and a quick search tonight has reminded me that whoever wrote this anonymous note was on to something. Far from being unschooled in prayer, the author of this note was educated in the same tradition as people like Jesus and Paul, the school of the Psalms.
Help, Lord, because the godly are all gone; the faithful have completely disappeared from the human race! (Psalm 12:1)
In my distress I cried out to the Lord; I called to my God for help. God heard my voice from his temple; I called to him for help, and my call reached his ears. (Psalm 18:6)
But you, Lord! Don’t be far away! You are my strength! Come quick and help me! (Psalm 22:19)
Come quickly and help me, my Lord, my salvation! (Psalm 38:22)
Favor me, Lord, and deliver me! Lord, come quickly and help me! (Psalm 40:13)
Hurry, God, to deliver me; hurry, Lord, to help me! (Psalm 70:1)
Don’t be far from me, God! My God, hurry to help me! (Psalm 71:12)
Help me, Lord my God! Save me according to your faithful love! (Psalm 109:26)
I’m not sure what it is that is so striking about these Psalms – their simplicity, the voice of desperation, the lack of specificity, the sense that they’ve run out of words besides this one. In any case, it seems that these ancient authors, along with someone in our fellowship, realized something powerful: when we’re not entirely sure what we need, when things seem hopeless, when we don’t even have the words, a simple prayer like this is enough to get God’s attention (more than enough if we believe Paul in Romans 8:26). There is a good reason that this prayer has been repeated by countless people who have encountered difficulty in their life with God.
To whoever wrote this note, I will join you in your prayer. I hope that you receive the help that you need. I hope that if our community can be God’s hands and feet in this particular situation, you will find the words and the courage to let us know. In the meantime, just know that your prayer has been heard.