Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I Need Help

I need help. Lots of help. All the time. Every day. And I bet you do, too.

I'm a high-functioning (i.e. over-functioning) detail-oriented (i.e. control-freak) person who prefers to get on with it (i.e. impatient) and not stop to ask for help (i.e. defiantly independent). And all of that means I need God in my life in powerful, hit-me-over-the-head, bring-me-to-my-knees ways every single day. What about you?

The collect for this Sunday is the prayer I need: "O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." There are three elements of this prayer that grab my attention this morning: one obvious, one familiar, and one knee-buckling.

First, the obvious: "O God, from whom all good proceeds." For some reason, the etymological link between "God" and "good" has been on my mind a lot lately. A few days ago, I haphazardly wished someone a "good day" and thought, "Yes, that's my job--to wish someone a good, which is to say a godly, day." God is good. God has revealed God's self to humanity as good. Even apart from revealed religion, philosophers of religion can identify the source of humanity's definition of God (or god) as good. Sometimes that good is above our perception, but, even when it challenges our understanding of what is good for us, we trust--we believe, we declare--that what God does is good and that what is good is of God.

Second, the familiar: "grant your merciful guiding [we] may do [those things that are right]." It isn't uncommon to ask God to help us do the right thing. When facing a difficult decision, when struggling with temptation, when writing or delivering a sermon, when taking a test for which we have not fully prepared, we ask God to help us do or say the right thing. Implicit in our humanity is an experience of failure. Paul says it well: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom. 7:15). We need help when it comes to doing the right thing. After a long day, in a season of stress, under a pall of grief, encompassed by physical pain, it is too easy to do the very thing we do not want to do--offer a curt word to one we love, pour that extra drink, cross that forbidden boundary. In those moments we need God's help, and we often ask for that help in our prayers.

Finally, the knee-buckling: "Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right." The hardest truth of all is that, before we can even ask for God's help in doing the right thing, we need God's help to see what the right thing is. Or, to put it another way, I can't even know what is right and good until God shows it to me. I am blinded by my own sin. That I need help in the first place--that I am a stubborn, prideful, conceited person--isn't clear until God reveals it to me. That's the powerful first step in a twelve-step program: "We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable." Step one is not a given. It is itself a revelation. And, as Christians, we recognize that God himself, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, has revealed to us our powerlessness over our addiction to our own distorted sense of self-worth. The truth that this collect conveys, therefore, is that God is good, that God has the power to help us, and that God has the power to help us see that we need help doing what is good.

I don't pray this prayer every morning, but I could. In other ways--in other words--I look for ways to submit myself to God and to ask for God's help. That help starts when I recognize that I can't even tell up from down. Like a swimmer bounced around by a powerful wave, I cannot even tell which way is up. But God can because God always is good. And a life spent pursuing God's presence each day helps me see that truth and the good thing that comes next.

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