Suppose you lived in the ancient world and were suffering from a toothache. With no local dentists nearby, you had to find another health-care solution (and even if there was another option, you don’t want to know what people were doing to bring relief to toothaches back then!). Enter the doctrine of “signatures”! When suffering from a particular ailment, it was thought that the solution would often look like the problem. That’s right, it was believed that God, in creating the world, gave us hints as to what curative effect each plant or herb had by shaping said plant so that it looked like the human organ it was made to heal. So, if you have a problem with your brain (and who doesn’t?) or needed a little brain boost before taking your SAT’s, the best thing you could eat is walnuts because the meat of the walnut looks like a brain (not only that, but, Eureka! it is also protected by a hard outer shell much like the human skull!). That’s right, in his wisdom, God designed the walnut to look like a brain so that we would know the walnut would cure brain disease! And if you had a liver problem, all you needed to do was to find a plant that contained the “signature” of the liver in its appearance and take two gulps every four to six hours as needed. As a result of this insight, people believed the bloodroot (because of its red extract) would cure blood diseases and saxifrage, which apparently breaks rocks in half as it grows, would break up kidney stones. As a result, the common names for many herbs come down to us with their healing properties in tow. We have eyebright, lungwort, spleenwort and toothwort. And while you may still purchase and plant all of these herbs today, the nurseries want you to know that, while they might believe in their medicinal powers, the FDA is not so sure. Personally, I am hoping for the double-down power of eyebright because, according to one nursery, if you focus on the “eye” part, it cures eye inflammations and infections and coughs; but if you focus on the “bright” part, it helps poor memory. I felt it was critical to tell you that, but now I can’t remember why. All that to say, it’s important to know what your issues are and how to find healing.
According to the Book of Common Prayer, our prayer today should be prayed on the first Sunday in Lent, but in my opinion, it is good for the whole year (it’s the “O Come, All Ye Faithful” of prayers; sure, it’s a Christmas carol; but with theology like that, it’s never out of season!). Reflect on these words:
whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit
to be tempted by Satan:
Come quickly to help us
who are assaulted by many temptations;
and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us,
let each one find you mighty to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.
Where are we “suffering?” We are being “assaulted by many temptations,” and we are weak. Worse, the prayer seems to be hinting that, while God knows our weaknesses, we do not have such clarity. All we know is that when we are assaulted by temptation, we succumb; and therefore, we need help. How weak are we? We don’t know. In what areas are we weak? We are not sure. Can we tell when we are weak and most vulnerable? Not that we know of. Is there anything we can do to help us in our weakness? Absolutely. We can pray. And although we are weak, we can pray to Almighty God. And sometimes that’s enough. Just confessing that God is all powerful is all we need to change our thinking about our plight. But this prayer takes it a step further. It reminds us that Jesus was also tempted just like we are; and yet, he never gave in to sin (Heb. 4:15). And if that is true, then we have a high priest who will pray for us, even as he empathizes with our weaknesses. See, there is hope and encouragement for weak sinners like us.
But it is more than that. We are reminded here that Jesus, God’s “blessed Son” (read also, God’s beloved Son) was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. And if God was there with Jesus, he will be there with us. It is so easy to think that God abandons us in times of testing, but that is not true. Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan so that he could learn obedience through what he suffered (Heb. 5:8). There was a purpose in his trials, and God had him every step along the way. And so it is with us. When we are feeling the pressure of temptation, we can go it alone (which is the essence of sin) or we can remember that God is with us. We can feel that God has abandoned us in our time of need or we can remember that God loved his Son and, yet, led him into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted. I love this prayer because it puts a lot of things into a perspective that I need to hear.
Here’s the best line of the prayer: “Come quickly to help us.” Yes, God is Almighty. Yes, Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. Yes, we know that he did not give in to those temptations. But no matter how much good news that is, we still need God to come quickly to help us. We don’t need a God who dillydallies. We don’t need a God who dawdles. And we don’t need a God who meanders, hesitates, or shillyshallies. We need a God who comes quickly to help us. Now, I love this prayer. I love every line, but sometimes, you don’t have time for the whole thing. And if that is the case, feel free to pray this prayer within the prayer: “Almighty God, come quickly to help me!” And if necessary, “O God, quick, help!” And don’t worry about leaving the rest of the prayer out. Trust me, God will assume it is all included in the “O God, help” part.
And if you feel the prayers we’ve mentioned previously have yet to utilize that memorable turn of phrase for which the Book of Common Prayer is known, you will find it here: “and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.” Here’s what I know. When I am overwhelmed and ready to give in and give up and, yet, somehow find enough strength to pray, I want to know that God is “mighty to save.” The truth is, so many times when I pray, it feels that God might save, but he might not (when I am in a mood, the second thought is far more likely). But here, we are reminded that God is always “mighty to save.” And I need saving. The joy of this prayer is that, while it appears to start out being about me (I need help, I am assaulted by many temptations, I am weak, I need to be rescued), it really is about God (he is Almighty God; he was with Jesus in the temptation working out his plan; he is the God who helps his people; he is the God who knows our weaknesses, and he is the God who is mighty to save). When God passed in front of Moses as Moses hid behind a rock, he proclaimed his name before him. He said: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” When I pray this prayer, I hear these words in between every line. God is the Almighty one. He is mighty in compassion, mighty in grace, mighty in patience, mighty in love and faithfulness, and mighty in forgiveness and grace. Here’s my hope and prayer: May we all find God mighty to save us, no matter what trials and temptations we are going through.
And if God is mighty to save us and is more than willing to do so, then cue up the band. Sing it with me: “O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” You know it’s a good prayer when you pray it, and it feels like Christmas! In fact, that sense of Christmas is the signature of every good prayer.