A Desperate People, A Caring God

December 15, 2016

“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy.”

Psalm 72:4 (ESV)

It is hard to move forward when you feel overwhelmed. Many who suffer financial hardship feel it is a fight even to maintain an already discouraging existence. Many who have compassion on the poor and earnestly long for real change for the poor in our city feel the problems are too big, too complex, and too confusing. At times, prayer is the only first step we can take—expressing our sense of helplessness, hoping there is someone who cares and someone who can do something, resisting the alternative of doing nothing and giving up.

Psalm 72 can focus our prayer—our prayer is not just a general lament, but a specific and hopeful plea that God would provide someone who would be a human expression of His rule. Psalm 72 is a prayer for a king, and it is a prayer that the king would act with God’s justice. It is a prayer that longs for a leader who would be a help to the poor, and, even more desperately, it is a plea to help the children of the needy. 

Anyone who does not know how they will make ends meet will find the task of caring for their dependents an overwhelming one, one that only compounds guilt, shame, and hopelessness. Anyone who has tried to make a difference in a poor community knows the vulnerability of the children of the needy, and, therefore, the importance of caring for those children. Can we help the children when we are not sure if we can help ourselves? Who will help us?

The Christmas season is a time where we remember the birth of a child, a birth announced by angels, a birth of a king who, we are told, would fulfill the hopes and aspirations of all who lived before him. That birth is the answer to many years of desperate prayers. People who had been unable to turn their lives around have looked with hope to God, and the birth of Jesus signals a remarkable expression of the love of God, who has heard the prayers of his people. The one whose birth we celebrate expresses God’s presence in our world through the recognizable signs of healing, alleviating suffering, being present with the marginalized, and welcoming children. 

Is it any wonder that we read of instances in the Gospels of desperate parents rushing to Jesus for help with their children? What else can a desperate person do?

Whether we are experiencing poverty or hoping to bring an end to poverty, we are a desperate people. Desperate people who look to Jesus, however, find strength. Christmas reminds us that we didn’t come to Jesus. Jesus came to us.

The task of praying is not finished, nor is the work of responding to the needs of our neighbors. Both prayer and practical help are much more hopeful, however, now that we know who that “he” of Psalm 72 is: Jesus. He is the king, the one who is a just and true expression of God’s rule. He loves us and cares for us in our helpless estate. 

In that spirit, let’s pray for the poor of the people, and let’s pray for deliverance for the children of the needy. And let’s pray that God would be our helper so that when we feel inadequate to fulfill the call to be a human expression of God’s merciful care in our world, we would find wisdom and strength to discern ways we can defend the cause of the poor and give deliverance to the children of the needy.

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Scott Strickman was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He left his job in higher education in 1999 to move to Philadelphia to attend Westminster Seminary. After graduating, he returned to New York to join the staff at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church as associate pastor. He is also on the HFNY Board of Directors.