When sorrows come, they come not as single spies. But in battalions… ~ Shakespeare
“Help” is the first great prayer. ~ Anne Lamott
Did you hear about the man who fell off a cliff? As he falls he reaches out and grabs hold of a skinny branch growing out of the side of the cliff. Momentarily saved he stops and considers his situation. What he needs is help to get back on top of the cliff. Even as he thinks this the branch begins to pull out of the cliff face under the weight of his hanging on to it.
So the man figures it might be a good time to start to pray. He shouts out, “God, if you are out there, help me. I’m asking for help.”
Sure enough the voice of God answers, “I hear you. What do you need?”
“I need you to lift me up so I don’t fall.”
God says, “OK. What are you willing to do to get my help?”
The man is desperate. His arm is tired and the branch is making serious noise like it is going to come pull out of the side of the cliff any second. So the man lays it all out there. He says, “I’ll go to church every week. I’ll stop cheating on my taxes. I’ll do a good deed every day. I’ll even start treating my wife better.”
God says, “Not good enough.”
The man wails, “That’s all I have. What do you want?”
The voice of God says, “Let go of the branch and I will catch you.”
There is a stretch of silence. Then the man calls out, “Is anyone else up there?”
One of the things that I know to be true about all of us is that we all have an insatiable hunger for stability, security, and peace of mind in a precarious world.
And, of course, marketers have found ways to exploit that primal fear of insecurity. Not too long ago I saw a television commercial for the ADT security system. It had a muscle-bound intruder breaking into a home and some ADT professional saw a blinking red light on his console monitor and called the authorities; thwarting the crime in just then nick of time. Then in funeral home director’s voice-over at the end the commercial: How much is peace of mind worth to you? Implication is that if you don’t buy their product someone will break into your home. Thugs are right outside, something is about to happen right now, unless you call their toll-free number—operators are standing by.
Companies capitalize on our desire for peace of mind. Allstate Insurance Company’s logo is actually a pair of hands. And at the conclusion of every Allstate commercial you hear in the deep, baritone voice of that actor say, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”
We all have this deep desire to be in good hands.
When my older sons were 7 and 4 years old I would tuck them into bed and listen to their prayers. My oldest son would go on and on in some of the longest prayers I’ve ever heard from a child. (He’s a preacher today) Then it was the four-year-old’s turn to pray and one night his voice was soft and quiet and I could barely hear him so I leaned over to him and said, “Clinton, speak up, I can’t hear you.” He looked at me and said, “I’m not talking to you.”
Much like we taught our kids the prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep.
It only makes sense that 2,000 years ago in a humble home in Israel a young Jewish mother would rock a little dimpled-handed and chubby cheeked baby to sleep, tuck him into bed, and say this prayer over him as his eyes closed in sleep. Then as he grew under her tender care they would recite these words together, and the little boy would learn as some of His first words and prayers these words of absolute trust in God,
Into Your hand I commit my spirit.
Sound familiar? You remember the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and know that he had been beaten, brutalized, and abandoned on a cross. And as his last breaths left his dying body, he closed his eyes in the darkness of death and whispered to his heavenly father that famous prayer from the cross,
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46
Jesus put himself into the hands of the God that he knew was trustworthy. He’d sung that song all is life.
The cross and empty tomb is God’s way of saying, “I see you, I know you, I love you, and I am here to care for the deepest and truest part of you—your souls. And when your doubts get so dark and you wonder how you can pray during such disappointments and pain, look to Jesus who has pioneered the path and blazed the trail on the cross. No matter how bad it gets, we have a promise from God’s Word that He will lift us up. The cross and the resurrection are God’s proof of his faithfulness.
When I was about 5 years old my family and I lived in Zephyr, Texas. The house that we lived in had a field out back that pastured two mean, old gnarly rams. My brother who was 4 or so and I were forbidden to play in the field with the rams. My dad reminded us that they were mean and dangerous. My dad knew about these things, for he knew all things.
It might not be a good strategy to forbid young boys from going exploring in a dangerous field. It arouses something in our DNA for adventure. So, we army-crawled under the barbed wire fence were off on our forbidden adventure.
We had a blast exploring the creek that wound through the mesquite grove. We fought epic battles and defended our positions and won the day. When our last foe was vanquished, we made our way back to the fence that bordered our back yard. In the corner of that part of the field there were two wood pallets that were on their edge to form a solid corner and a makeshift ladder over the fence.
After my little brother had scaled the fence it was my turn. I had my hand on the top of the wood when I heard snorting from behind. I wheeled and saw that I was face-to-face with the old, mean, gnarly rams. They were mad. Their eyes glowed red and blew fire out of their noses. I started to cry. For these were not pretend enemies, these were real. With head lowered, the biggest one hit me full on in the stomach slamming me against the wooden corner. I screamed as if this were a dragon blowing fire into my face. The ram backed up and charged again, slamming me for a second time into the wood.
I had never been attacked by a sheep before. I believed I was going to die. Suddenly in the midst of that horror, as the ram was charging in for the kill, I felt a strong hand grab the back of my collar and pull me up with such force that the ram missed me and head butted the wood barrier instead. I saw blue sky as I rocketed upward and then felt two strong arms squeeze me tightly until the tears stopped.
It was my father—I was in good hands.
When I was a kid we used to sing a song that means a lot to me.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
I don’t know what’s troubling you, but whatever it is when you lay your head on your pillow tonight maybe the Father is saying to you, “Child, just be still and toss those troubles up here and go to sleep. No use both of us staying up all night.”