Psalm 3: Every Formational Story Includes Help
“Save me.” “Help me.” “Deliver me.” Who hasn’t prayed that kind of prayer? It more than fascinates me that the first genuine prayer of petition in the Psalm collection is Psalm 3. We do not get out of the starting blocks of life’s race very far before we encounter a desperate need for help. The heading of this Psalm is — “A Psalm of David, When He Fled from Absalom His Son.” Absalom stole the throne from his father. The ugly backstory is found in 2 Samuel 15. A genuine palace coup took place. “And the conspiracy grew strong” the storyteller reveals (2 Samuel 15:12).
Most Bible readers know the David story includes this messy chapter. Seventy-three of the Psalms are linked to this one Old Testament character, King David, and much of his story is pot-marked with these messy plots of various kinds. From King Saul wanting to kill David, to being hunted and hounded by fellow Israelites, to self-inflicted problems due to sin with Bathsheba, and the family crisis that follows, this David story requires lots of help. Before we get into the mess, here is David’s prayer.
A Psalm of David, When He Fled From Absalom His Son.
1 O LORD how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be on your people! Selah.
All throughout this spiritual gymnasium of 150 psalms the David story is filled with the need for help. Obviously it is here, but also in Psalm 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, and 142. These Psalms are packed with cries for Divine help from David. His life was immersed in struggle and trouble. Most of us readily see our own story in Psalm 3 and other Psalms like it. We pray for help. We pray out of deep need. We pray for rescue. Perhaps you notice with me that this Psalm is marked with 3 “Selah” reminders. These “signposts” apparently serve as rest stops, holy pauses, or places of biblical meditation. Psalm 3 is the first Psalm to include “Selah.” Seventy-one reminders follow. The earthy, cranky, and gifted Anne Lamott is blunt. She writes:
“It is all hopeless. Even for a crabby optimist like me, things couldn’t be worse. Everywhere you turn, our lives and marriages and morale and government are falling to pieces. So many friends have broken children. The planet does not seem long for this world. Repent! Oh, wait, never mind. I meant: Help…Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer…So when we cry out Help, or whisper it into our chests, we enter the paradox of not going limp and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk, and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness of trying to be our own – or other people’s – higher powers. Help” (Help, Thanks, Wow. pg. 11, 15, 39-40).
“Help” may be our very best prayer on any given day. Four times King David mentions “many” are seeking him ill-will (3:1-2 and 3:5). This “Absalom army of conspirators” wants to do David harm. To say it bluntly, they want him dead. This Psalm is a classic lament prayer: “God, things are an absolute mess and if you don’t help me, there is no help. I am down for the count unless you save me. Help.” I would imagine without much speculation that David realized his own sin had played a major part in this crisis. That night with Bathsheba, that murder of her husband Uriah, and that cover-up that followed, must all be swirling around David’s troubled heart. The last line of the prayer captures his true perspective and the viewpoint that all Christ-followers must take. When David prays, “Salvation belongs to the LORD,” he means, “Help is Yahweh’s!” In God alone, David finds his needed help. So, it is with us.
Help-prayers like this one, paradoxically and miraculously, enable us to un-self ourselves. The whole point of engaging these eleven prayers this summer is to remove the emphasis from our small life and puny agenda and place it squarely on the immensity and majesty of the God who created us, called us, redeemed us, and is now transforming us for His glory and purpose. I do not know of a better spiritual formation word than this one. Help.
I recall that Tulsa, Oklahoma summer night, nearly five decades ago, when I was drunk, entirely incapable of helping myself, laying in my own vomit, unable to lift my head. In that moment, I prayed that prayer so many of us have prayed, “Lord, help. If you get me out of this, I will never do it again.” Most of the time those prayers ring shallow, but not on this occasion. That help-prayer became my first step toward Him, toward entering a life-long apprenticeship with Jesus. I came face to face with my propensity toward alcoholism, toward brokenness, toward rebellion against the One who loved me and gave His life for me. A simple help-prayer was my awakening. Help is that holy four-letter word that counters and defeats all other unholy four-letter words. Help is enough. Help is the way home. Help is a grace-built bridge. Help is a gift. Help is the cross of Jesus Christ. Help is available right now.