What causes you to cry out to God for help?
The writer of Psalm 86 was in a bad spot. “The arrogant rise up against me, God,” he said. “A gang of violent people want me dead” (Psalm 86:14). While I have never faced such violence myself, I have met young people in Honduras whose lives have been threatened by gangs.
Fortunately, some have been saved by Christian ministries such as Youth for Christ International. Through Bible study, music, and new friendships, they discovered that the Lord is “a God of compassion and mercy … very patient and full of faithful love” (verse 15).
Surprisingly, many gang members have respect for the Christian faith. “Normally there is no exit for a gang member short of death,” writes the scholar Philip Jenkins, “and the only grudging exception to this ‘morgue rule’ is when an individual claims a religious conversion.” Authentic conversion is literally a matter of life and death for these new Christians, since they could be killed if they were discovered to be faking their faith.
Many gangsters have taken the religious route out of gang life, and some have ended up as pastors. Churches in Central America are changing lives because they offer gang members what Jenkins calls “a new world of unquestioning brotherhood.”
You don’t need to be fleeing a gang, however, since God answers anyone who says, “Give your servant your strength” (verse 16). A mother of five named Elizabeth Foss says that her young adult years were defined by fatigue. “For nearly twelve years now,” she writes, “I have been sleep-deprived.” But through it all, God has given her strength. In her prayers, she tells God “that there is no way I will make it through the day under my own strength. I ask him to help me.” God always gives her strength, if not sleep.
God also answers anyone who cries out, “show a sign that you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me” (verse 17). When Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night before his death, he promised that the Holy Spirit, described as a Companion, would come to them (John 14:16). The Greek word is Paraklēton, a word that can be translated “Helper” or “Comforter.” The Holy Spirit is the clear sign that God comes to us in times of need as both a helper and a comforter.
Whenever we send up a distress signal, in Honduras or in the United States, God will come to us and give us strength. We are never alone when we face the many challenges of life.
Hear my cry, Lord, and be my helper and comforter. Amen.