O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.
Every hour of the Divine Office begins with this verse from Psalm 69. It's safe to say that we have St. Benedict to thank for that - Chapter 18 of the Rule lays out the plan for monastic Psalmody and it leads right off with these words:
Each of the day hours begins with the verse, God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me. (Ps 69:2), followed by "Glory be to the Father" and the appropriate hymn.
So it was a thousand years ago and so it is to this day. But why? We have to look back at Cassian again. In the tenth Conference, On Prayer, Abba Isaac concludes his two-part lesson by proposing a 'formula' for cultivating an perpetual awareness of God. This verse, he explains, contains all that is absolutely necessary:
Not without reason has this verse been selected from out of the whole body of Scripture. For it takes up all the emotions that can be applied to human nature and with great correctness and accuracy it adjusts itself to every condition and every attack. It contains an invocation of God in the face of any crisis, the humility of a devout confession, the watchfulness of concern and constant fear, a consciousness of one's own frailty, the assurance of being heard, and confidence in a protection that is always present and at hand, for whoever calls unceasingly on his protector is sure that he is always present. It contains a burning love and charity, an awareness of traps, and a fear of enemies. Seeing oneself surrounded by day and night, one confesses that one cannot be set free without the help of one's defender. This verse is an unassailable wall, an impenetrable breastplate, and a very strong shield for all those who labor under the attack of demons. It does not permit those troubled by acedia and anxiety of mind or those depressed by sadness or different kinds of thoughts to despair of a saving remedy, showing that he whom it invokes is always looking upon our struggles and is not detached from his suppliants. It warns those of us who are enjoying spiritual successes and are glad of heart that we must never be exalted or puffed up because of our good fortune, which it testifies cannot be maintained without the protection of God, for it begs him to come to our aid not only at all times but also quickly.
Abba Isaac beautifully explains why these words answer to all parts of the human condition, concluding with the exhortation to:
Let sleep overtake you as you meditate upon this verse until you are formed by having used it ceaselessly and are in the habit of repeating it even while asleep. Let this be the first thing that comes to you when you awake, let it anticipate every other thought as you get up, let it send you to your knees as you arise from your bed, let it bring you from there to every work and activity, and let it accompany you at all times.
It's such a short phrase; we may be tempted to pass right over it rather mechanically as we begin our prayer. It seems well worth lingering over in the moments between prayer, in times of difficulty or joy, frustration or elation, for it simultaneously acknowledges our dependence on God and our confidence in His love and boundless mercy. These aren't "magic words" - they're the cry from a child's heart to a loving parent! In them, we express our surrender and deepest desire: Come, Lord Jesus!