But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.
You may not be old enough to remember it, but in January 1972 an exciting new television show hit the air waves. (OK, you may not be old enough to remember when “airwaves” was how TV happened either!) The show was called Emergency!
The program’s story line centered around the work of “Squad 51,” a paramedic and rescue team of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. As an impressionable pre-teen in the early 70s, I found the show fascinating and exhilarating in every way. We had grown up with cop shows like Adam-12 and hospital dramas like Marcus Welby, MD, but Emergency! was something completely different. The life and death urgency of each situation, the heroics of the main characters, and the super cool new technology (remember the Biophone?) made the show an instant success. Not only that, but it actually changed the whole landscape of emergency care in the country. In 1972 there were only 12 paramedic units operating in the U.S. Just ten years later, over half the country’s population was within 10 minutes’ reach of a life-saving paramedic unit!
When life and death is on the line, every minute matters.
Psalm 70 is yet another song of David—a powerful prayer in which this “man after God’s own heart” is pouring out his heart to God in a time of need. Although we don’t know the specific circumstances, we do get a keen sense of David’s urgency and desperation. He begins with “God, please hurry!” (The Message). His need is deep, and it’s immediate. David asks God to “shame and confuse” those who are trying to kill him; to “turn back in disgrace” those who want ruin and humiliate him (vs. 2-3). In contrast, he also asks God to bring joy and gladness to all those (including himself) who seek God’s presence and salvation (vs. 4). He concludes his brief prayer with a humble confession (I am poor and needy), a faith-filled profession (You are my help and deliverer) and another urgent cry for help (Lord, do not delay).
Clearly, this is an Emergency! and every minute matters!
As I read Psalm 70, I tend to either identify with David’s predicament, or project my own urgencies and desperation onto his prayer. Either way, my attention is drawn to the first and last verses of the Psalm. But I might also want to look for myself in those middle verses, where David contrasts the ones who pursue the way of hurt and humiliation with those who seek the way of help and healing.
In Luke 10, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story, a man is attacked, robbed, beaten and left for dead. He is in deep need…immediate need…and every minute matters. Fortunately it seems, a couple of devout religious men come along. They see the man lying there unconscious, but rather than stopping to help they actually move to the other side of the road to pass him by! You can almost hear the man praying David’s psalm, “Come quickly, Lord, to help me! May those who want to take my life—those robbers—be put to shame and confusion! May those holier-than-thou church people who pass me by and say “Aha! Aha!” be ashamed and turn around. But may someone who truly seeks you…someone who longs for your salvation…even if he’s a Samaritan…demonstrate with his words and actions that “The Lord is great!” Lord, do not delay.”
Psalm 70 is first and foremost a cry for help. But perhaps it can also be a call to action. Martin Luther once said of this psalm, “This prayer is a shield, spear, thunderbolt and defense against every attack, presumption or lukewarmness.” What Luther identifies as spiritual “attacks” are seen and heard in the cries for help that echo all around us—even during this season of joy. Luther’s warning against “presumption” and “lukewarmness” hit a bit closer to the heart than we might like. Where am I in David’s psalm? Who am I in Jesus’ story? Am I the one who comes quickly to help, the one who seeks to bring God’s presence and salvation as well as benefit from it? Or am I one of those who smugly passes by, with presumptuous judgment or lukewarm indifference?
If you are hurting, may this psalm be a shield and spear for you this week. If you find yourself on a road full of needs and cries for help, may this psalm be a thunderbolt that awakens you to the opportunity to be the Good Samaritan…the hands and feet of Jesus…and to receive the joy and gladness that comes by following him. Remember, in a world of Emergency! every minute matters. Drink deep from Jesus’ well of salvation, share a cup of Living Water in his name, and always stay thirsty for him!
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