In one of my darker seasons, I attended a church with Stephen Ministers, laypeople trained to walk alongside those experiencing hard times. My Stephen Minister and I went for long walks often. I did most of the talking, and the summary of what I said, week after week, was “I NEED HELP! I know who God is, and I know He can help!”
Adrielle didn’t give me answers or advice. She simply listened while we walked, and she prayed between walks. It really was the best thing she could do. Her presence and prayer were what I needed most.
My experience with Adrielle reminds me of what might be happening in Psalm 121:3.
May [YHWH] not let your foot stumble,
may he not slumber—the one watching over you.*
I’m not sure my friend Adrielle ever told me exactly what she prayed on my behalf. Perhaps it was something similar to the two requests of the psalmist’s friend:
1. That YHWH not let your foot stumble. Plenty of things can make us stumble.
- Fatigue. Are you ever so tired you can’t face another step?
- Lack of attention. Do you ever trip because you’re not watching your steps?
- A rough path. Do you ever turn your foot on a rock or a branch because there are too many to avoid?
Sometimes we are so tired of life that we falter in our faith. Sometimes we are so distracted that we don’t pay as much attention to what God says matters. Sometimes so many things are going wrong that can’t help but trip. May YHWH not let your foot stumble.
2. That YHWH not slumber. Ancient Near Eastern gods were not always on high alert. Sometimes they even slept. The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel illustrates this most famously. As the false prophets beg Baal to answer their prayer, Elijah mocks them: “Shout louder!…Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kgs 18:27 NIV). By contrast, when Elijah prays he barely says “Amen” before fire falls from heaven. Israel’s God—the God of heaven and earth—is always on watch.
But sometimes it seems like God is sleeping. Have you ever prayed and prayed for something, but your words seem like boomerangs? We are not the first to wonder such things. The Israelites wondered too.
- “Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord.” (Ps. 35:23 NIV)
- “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.” (Ps. 44:23 NIV)
When the way is particularly dark, we need friends to pray that God’s help will be visible and that he will keep us from stumbling. And when our friends face darkness, they need us to do the same. It’s the best help any of us can give.
* Many English translations read v. 3 as a declaration, not a prayer (e.g., NIV, ESV, NRS). The Hebrew grammar allows either. If read as a declaration, it expresses the psalmist’s “conviction that something cannot or should not happen” (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar §109e).